Entire books have been devoted to understanding the Dutch, but we’re really not that quaint and easy to adapt to. The following four traits are key to the Dutch outlook and should give you some idea of what the 'Hollanders' are all about.
Dutch society is characterized by an international outlook: children learn English, French, and German in high school. While they’re not always thrilled about this heavy load during their school days, as university students they all appreciate the benefits of this strong linguistic focus: 2009 research has shown that Dutch students are most likely to date international students. In fact, our crown prince Willem-Alexander even married Argentinean Maxima, so the internationalization process characterizes Dutch society on all levels.
Tolerance and respect are equally central to the Dutch mindset. All views are respected, and Dutch people are constantly in dialogue with each other to foster understanding of all elements in society. Queen Beatrix even emphasized the importance of welcoming people of all persuasions with open arms in her New Years speech. Respect and dialogue characterize the Dutch approach to all foreign elements, and you will have no problem openly expressing your views—whatever they may be.
Whether it is on issues such as religious freedom or abortion, the Dutch keep an open mind and respect all points of view. Things such as soft drugs and prostitution are not legal, but they are tolerated throughout the Netherlands, as is euthanasia. Very important is the absolute equality between men and women, gay and straight persons, and lower and higher incomes. Therefore, Dutch society is an egalitarian one. We have an elaborate social security system. The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. The government stimulates equality between men and women in higher functions. Religious freedom ensures that you will see Catholic churches, Protestant churches, mosques and synagogues in almost every city, including Groningen.
A popular Dutch saying is, “doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg,” which translates to “just be normal, then you’re already crazy enough.” This is emblematic of the no-nonsense attitude that most Dutch people have. They will not quickly try to impress someone by outer displays of wealth, and in fact are a little bit apprehensive about people who do emphasize their own status in their appearance. When a Dutch person shows interest in you, this is genuine; there are no affected manners as some other countries have. “How are you?” is not merely a polite greeting, but a genuine expression of interest in you, and you’ll be expected to answer—if you want to that is.
Finally, the Dutch are a very open people. Whether it is inviting a technician to have a cup of coffee when he’s repairing your washing machine or calling the teacher by his/her first name, Dutch openness characterizes almost all daily interactions.
An often misunderstood aspect of this openness is directness: the Dutch will not use flowery language to communicate their opinion, but will call them like they see them. But always with the best intentions: their directness is not to be rude or to correct you, it is simply their way of offering help and voicing their opinion. When a teacher tells you to correct something, he wants you to get a better grade. When a friend tells you that you have something stuck in your teeth, it’s not to ridicule your looks, but to help you look better.