Friday, June 30, 2006

Dutch Culture 101 - Individualism and the art of "leaving eachother alone"

Many people believe that the Dutch are quite liberal in their ways, thus the legalization of marijuana prostitution, Amsterdam being the gay capital of Europe.

The reality is that the Dutch are not liberal in their ways, and are as stubborn and conservative as its neighbours and maybe even more so. Women conceal their bra straps in the street and still women take care of the children most of the time in the Netherlands. They also have prejudiced images of foreigners and are not afraid of saying that will be perceived of being somewhat racist. Such as “Yeah, Aldi is a cheapy store, you can see all of the Muslims there.” You can also see this from the Zwart Piets which are white men that colour their faces in black coal portraying the black slaves that were shipped over from North Africa in the past. They think this is "funny" as they dress these Piets in funny clothing and make them act very silly, degrading in contrast to the calm polite white man in a white robe who is their owner and Sinter Klaas. BTW Dutch society is completely segregated and it is as if there are several separate societies that do not meet even down the generations.

The actual truth is that the Dutch are complete individualists. They are completely into their own worlds and try not to invade other's privacy. This can be a good thing, if not invading other's privacy consist of being considerate of others around you so you don’t bother them. This is not the case in the Netherlands. People will bump into you without excusing themselves, they will talk very loud in trains and other public transportations, people who are supposed to provide you with service will be very rude, neighbours will turn on loud music which will blow your ear drums out till which ever hour they wish to.
Their not invading others privacy is that nobody goes up to any of them to tell them this is wrong or inconsiderate. This is also why this country is infamous for having the most dog dung in pavements and parks for dog owners refuse to do hold any compassion for others who will eventually step on them. I think this is also why they are so direct, in bad ways as well as good, for they forget how it feels on the other side. So most of the time, they will not point out something being inconsiderate, but will just so the same thing or something of the sort themselves.
On the other hand, invasion of one’s privacy is considered very impolite or just plain “wrong.” For example, they will consider asking someone for drinks or for dinner in less than two weeks notice will be a breach of privacy because they are invading one’s freedom to have other plans. You should always ask two, three weeks in advance. Also probably it will be considered rude to go up to a person who has his headphones on too loud in the morning commuter’s train, for it is that person’s own liberty even if it is harming others privacy. Actually I was shouted at due to the fact that I pointed out to my neighbour who had played loud Dutch folk music outside for the past two months from 10 AM till 10 ~11 PM that was so loud that you can hear it clearly even with the windows tightly shut. When I went over to their house to ask if they could possibly put it down, because I was sick and it was giving me headaches because of the drums, and then they criticized me saying “We’ve lived here for 30 years and nobody has said anything and you come and say something about my music?” It offended them that this foreigner from nowhere came over and invaded their privacy. I wasn’t going to back down. I told them that I was sick and would really appreciate it if they could just lower the sound down a bit so that we “all can live”(I emphasized this bit). They looked at me as if I was strange and keep emphasizing the fact that they lived there for 30 years and I was the only person who gave them problems. I gave them problems. At the end, they didn’t lower their music one bit even after my two visits. They also own dogs which bark throughout the night.
Of course, they are not wrong per se, it is just that they have different principles, and it is VERY different from anywhere else I’ve lived and other places in general. Whichever the case, Dutch individualism should not be confused with liberalism… and as they say here to foreigners who complain, “If you don’t like it emigrate!”
Maybe that is my only solution.

No comments: