Moving to another country. Starting a life in a completely new setup. It can be so exciting; it can be empowering; it can make you feel strong and brave. George Santayana once stated: “There is wisdom in turning as often as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar: it keeps the mind nimble, it kills prejudice, and it fosters humor.” I very much agree with him. However, sometimes moving out to another country can make you feel like this: ?!?!?!?!. In other words, confused, overwhelmed and frustrated.
Being half Dutch and half Mexican and having also lived in Chile, I know very well how much the Latin American culture can differ from the Dutch culture. Sometimes the differences can make me want to rattle people in Mexico back and forth and ask them why they just don’t behave like the people in the Netherlands and vice versa. Luckily for the people around me, I don’t do it. Through the years I have learned that keeping an open mind and a sense of humor helps a lot to cope with these situations. However, since I know how hard a culture shock can be, I’ll give you some information that might help you to understand Dutch people better.
Maybe you have heard of the Dutch saying: “Doe maar normaal, dan doe je al gek genoeg”, which means “Just act normal, then you will be crazy enough”. Although the culture is always changing, you could say that this old saying still typifies the Dutch national character a bit. Although there is not one type of Dutchman, you could say that the Dutch people in general are less expressive than the Latin Americans. Mexicans have, for example, very strong facial expressions. If they like you, you can tell that quickly. In the Netherlands it’s not that; I’ve often had trouble reading people’s faces. It’s not that Dutch people are unkind, but they are simply not used to express emotions as much as Latin Americans do.
Another example is that Mexicans often say sorry and thank you. Mil gracias (meaning: thousand times thank you) is often heard in Mexico, but saying more than once or twice sorry or thank you in the Netherlands, might be seen as an exaggeration.
My biggest tip regarding expressiveness is: be aware of the difference, but don’t restrain yourself too much because in the end you will always be too much of something for someone. Express yourself as much as you like and pay more attention to what Dutch people say. If they apologize, give you a compliment or say thank you, they will probably do it because they really mean it.
Being picked up by friends to go to a party of someone's cousin (who you don’t know yet), being invited to a weekend trip with people that you have just met, being invited to a party of a colleague of your housemate. These are a few examples of situations that I have experienced in Mexico and Chile, but almost never in the Netherlands. So don’t take it personally if you have never been invited to a night out with a friend group of a person that you see quite often. The thing is: Dutch people in general prefer to keep their friend groups separate.
So what to do if you want to become friends with the Dutch? The easiest way to get to know Dutch people is by becoming a member of a study and/or a sport association or by joining a committee.
Another tip on making friends with the Dutch is to plan appointments almost one or two weeks in advance. Also try to never cancel an appointment. Meeting with friends is less spontaneous in the Netherlands than in Latin America and what was agreed first, has priority. The good thing about this is that if you invite someone to come in a week, that person will most likely really stand in front of your door in a week.
Finally, be aware that friendships grow slower here than in Latin America, but don’t forget that by doing little efforts, you’re planting seeds for future relationships.
When working with Dutch people it’s important to keep in mind that the Dutch are very direct. So dare to say your opinion; try to say what is really on your mind with clear and simple language. Dutch people don’t like and are not very used to vague/diplomatic language. It might be hard to get used to it, but once you do, you will probably like it, because it leads to very efficient teamwork.
Another thing that you should consider is that the Dutch try to use their work time for work and only work. Nevertheless, they might be open to socializing after work, with possibly a beer in their hands!
All in all, there are many differences between the Latin American and Dutch culture, but despite our differences, we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike. We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike. (From Maya Angelou’s poem Human Family)
Daniela van Schagen