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Five Biggest Mistakes to Make in the Netherlands

Foreign students sometimes feel the desire to adjust themselves to Dutch customs and traditions. In some cases they’d better suppress this desire. 

1 Do not try to talk Dutch
Of course the Dutch appreciate the attempt foreigners make to address them in Dutch. But they are remarkably eager to respond in a language of which they are convinced it is English. This Dutch English, or Dunglish, roughly follows the rules of Dutch grammar and syntax. The words however are more or less English. ‘Hay, you there, you may not bicycle here, it’s a stoop, only foot gangsters.’

2 Do not try to understand Dutch democracy
In many countries citizens can vote for one party with one leader, who of course will be chosen. In other countries, America for instance, there are two parties that nominate a candidate for the nation’s leadership. The candidate who gains the most support gets elected.

Dutch politicians believe that ‘the voter is always right’

In the Netherlands there are as many as twenty parties to choose from. The two most popular parties are obliged to form a government together, because Dutch politicians believe that ‘the voter is always right’. Typically Dutch is the tradition that cabinet ministers from party A are made responsible for carrying out the election promises of party B, and vice versa. This tradition destroys the credibility of both parties and improves the popularity of the Dutch monarch who is smart enough to make no promises at all.

3 Do not try to eat typically Dutch meals
For a very long time Dutch cuisine was considered a contradictio in terminis. And, let’s be frank, even today cuisine sounds somewhat exaggerated for mashing potatoes, meat and vegetables, still a widespread Dutch violation of the laws of good taste. Experiments in Dutch hospitals show that the amount of complaints is increasing considerably if a plate does not show the colours green, brown and yellow. (When meat, potatoes and vegetables are served separately, the Dutch are gladly willing to mash them personally: they even have a word for this unsavoury practice: prakken).

The most popular food in the Netherlands is actually a Belgian invention: patat

Over the last decades Dutch cuisine has changed a lot to include pizza, paella, burritos, foo yong hai. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The most popular food in the Netherlands is actually a Belgian invention: patat (for some reason that’s French Fries in English). It’s for sale everywhere and the Dutch eat patat anywhere: in star restaurants, but on the hoof as well.

4 Do not try to look clever
Act normal, that’s weird enough. This proverb characterizes Dutch mentality. You’d better not brag, boast or draw the longbow. Even the slightest sign of being pretentious is considered inappropriate. Foreign students better think twice before showing that they did their homework or giving the right answer to a teacher’s question.

The best grade to achieve is a six (out of ten), just average

This behaviour might be subject to ridicule and even lead to exclusion. The best grade to achieve is a six (out of ten), just average. A six shows that you have done enough, but, more important, it also shows that you did not do too much. This mentality, which is called zesjesculture (a culture of paltry sixes), has lead to serious actions: school administrations have launched programs in which students are invited to excel. These programs are not too difficult: every student should be able to complete them, because every student ís excellent is his own very personal manner.

5 Do not follow Dutch road signs
In any other country it is wise to obey the traffic rules and road signs. In the Netherlands that would be very dangerous and, moreover, time consuming. No country in the world gives travellers so many directions in so many situations. The Dutch themselves have got completely immune to these regulations, because they have learned that it’s impossible to act accordingly.

The bicycle lanes outnumber normal roads

A little bit of the confusion is due to the bicycle lanes that outnumber normal roads. Although it’s useful to keep in mind that an orange painted lane is for bicycles only, don’t rely on that rule-of-thumb entirely. You may find yourself driving in a private garden, an underground car park, an airport landing strip or a motorway, nevertheless.

Cartoon: Sam Peeters / Lamelos