Why I stopped smiling at unfriendly Dutch strangers

I grew up in America. It’s a place where the customer is always right. We’re taught to be as friendly as we can be because friendly people bring in sales. The better you treat a client, the more likely you are to keep their business. I’ve been trained to smile when I make eye contact with anyone. This doesn’t go over so well here. I felt like I lived among unfriendly Dutch.

That may be something lost in translation.

The article, Keeping It Real on Stuff Dutch People Like tackles the idea that Americans are “fake friendly” while the Dutch avoid it like the plague. I understand where it’s coming from but as an American I find it funny. I would rather a person pretend to be nice to me than have them be blunt. It’s the society I was raised in. For the first year I smiled at every stranger and was met with glares. So of course I do my best to not smile now. It makes me stand out as “un-Dutch.” But it always makes me feel an unfriendly Dutch citizen.

And then there’s the topic of “How are you?” For me it seems normal to ask people I know. I wouldn’t ask that question of a stranger. So I sat down and thought about it. How many times had I asked people about how they were?

The answer is far less than expected. I see the in-laws once a week and I usually ask how they’ve been. I saw my tutor once a week (unless it was twice!) and I would sometimes ask her how she was. It’s a normal thing for me. Maybe this is why the Dutch are “unfriendly.”

The article above addresses the idea from the Dutch point of view. “Why are these people asking me how I am? Do they care?” The point behind it is, yes I do care… But only about the people in my life. I would not go up to stranger at a party and ask them how they were. But then again I don’t speak much to strangers to begin with!

So it’s interesting that this is a general assumption, that all Americans are like this. I can picture strangers meeting at a party and asking how things are. It leads to other topics that can be addressed. “Yea things are doing well for me. I read this book or I bought a car.” Asking how things are can be an icebreaker in certain situations. But I find it hard to believe that strangers would approach each other on the street and ask this. “How are you” is more of something you see when you have to deal with the other person for an extended period of time.

It’s an interesting cultural difference that I find nice to look into.

Over here people find it more interesting to talk about the weather. Instead of being “American polite” and asking how they’ve been, the first sentence usually is “The weather is so nice today” or “Wow the weather outside is terrible.” And this I can compare to the American “How are you?”. I don’t care much about the weather. I spent most of my time indoors so I don’t get too much of the weather. Regardless of how it is outside, I have the windows open (unless it’s really storming outside!). Sander is often mad at me especially in the winter!

So if someone came up to me, I would rather them be “American fake” instead of “unfriendly Dutch”. When people comment about the weather, I usually have my go to phrase: “That’s The Netherlands!”

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