Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Dutch Manners

We've committed a predictable number of rookie traveller errors in Holland over the past few days. No surprise there; the interesting part is the reaction of those who encounter us. On at least four occasions, somebody has intervened with a quick fix that solved out problem. Nothing flashy. Just slam, bam, thank you ma'am and we're done.

Item, the bus driver told us out pass wouldn't work on his bus. But then he said--that's all right, it's only four stops, come ahead (the bus was only half full).  Item, we picked up the "expensive" plate in the self-service restaurant when the cheaper was all we needed.  The server insisted that we dump our food off the expensive plate and onto a cheaper. Item, the guard at the museum door signed his name to the top of the ticket so we could slip out for an otherwise unauthorized lunch break. Item, another guard trotted back to get us a map so we wouldn't have to recross out through security.

Call it kindness, hospitality, blah blah and you're right. But it's more than that: it's simple pragmatism.  In each case, our benefactor saw something that would help us at no cost to him (her)  and so they went ahead and did it.  Once again, we seem to be in a country where people just want to make things work.  I'm particularly impressed with the bus driver who obviously did not worry for a moment that he might get in trouble with a supervisor for breaking a bureaucratic rule.

There' also the matter of attitude: others have remarked that the Dutch have a strong streak of egalitarianism, in the sense of  "you're no better than I am" (stories about their universally negative response to the seeming pretensions of the Pope are part of the folklore).    So the help, when it arrives, is no-nonsense and direct. The server who told us to change planes seemed almost to be scolding us.  Of course she wasn't; she was doing us a favor.  Translated, the Dutch are not servile. What a relief.  Servile gives me the creeps.

In this respect --"you're no better than I am"--I can think of a surprising comparison.  Surprising to me anyway: that would be the Israelis.  That's another country where, in my experience, you son'r want to show too much attitude, but if you don't, then things will work out pretty well.

Another, related, Israeli/Dutch comparison: the food.  No, no, the Israelis don't do cheese, and the Dutch don't do salad for breakfast.  But in each place it seems to me that the food is (a) usually better than adequate; and (b) rarely outstanding.  Not too much show.

But I do like salad for breakfast.


New York Crank said...

Nah, I think it's more than only a matter of wanting things to work. There's sort of an ingrained niceness that's part of the culture. I say this on the basis of having been paid several times (admittedly decades ago) to go sightseeing in Amsterdam for weeks at a time (so I could write ads about the place) with an American guide who had lived there for 20 years and spoke fluent Dutch. Hence he was able to point out some stuff I might otherwise have missed. And after a while, I caught on to some of it on my own.

The Dutch were among the first Europeans to take care of the old as a matter of national policy. They retire comfortably. If they go into old age homes (largely at government expense) they're really very pleasant homes. They are similarly inclined toward national healthcare. And have been forever. I read recently that when you go on vacation, the government mandates that you be given a vacation bonus so you can better enjoy your time off.

From personal experience" An American cop who wants to enforce a jaywalking statute (never in NY, but maybe California) might bawl you out and hand you a ticket. In Amsterdam, a bearded cop stopped me, addressed me in three languages before he discovered I was an American (funny, you don't look American) and then said, "Please, do not do this again." Then he let me go.)

Example:Even deep-seated detestation is treated without cussing, vile language or overt meltdown rage. One of my clients, probably now long-dead, had fought with the Dutch resistance. We were talking about what there is to see in Friesland. "Not many Americans go to Friesland," he said. "But the Germans, they go. They like to go out in these little rubber boats." (I think he was referring to what we call rafts.) "We tell them, don't do that. The current is very treacherous and the weather changes rapidly. But you know how the Germans are. So they go in spite of our advice. And every year..." (and here he clapped his hands together joyously) "several of them drown!"

The Dutch are tightwads who good-naturedly recognize this as a national trait. My guide told the Dutch joke that they tell on themselves about a woman who goes to the butcher and says, "I'd like a quarter of a kilo of beef tonight."

"Oh? Are you and Mr. Smet having company?" replies the butcher.

Speaking of tightwads, i've given you enough for free.

Yours crankily,
The New York Crank

Ebenezer Scrooge said...

Dutch are like Israelis? Not in my experience. The Dutch might be brusque at times; the Israelis revel in their rudeness. Once you understand the Israeli code, it's not so bad. Back in my scientist days, I remember many productive chats with Israeli scientists. They were productive because I knew the Israeli code:

"That's nuts!" translates to: "Say a little bit more about this. I'm not sure I understand it."

"You're crazy!" translates to: "We might disagree about this point."

etc. (Translations are from Israeli to East Coast, not Israeli to Minnesota.)

La Sirena said...

You have got to be kidding me. I have lived here for six months and I find them to be the most arrogant rudest people I have ever come across. I have lived in 12 countries, and this one is definitely not one I would choose again.