“Going Dutch” on stereotypes


Stereotypes are all around us. There are stereotypes about race, hair colour, gender, but also culture. There is a very fine line between stereotypes and prejudice and it is always interesting to see when someone refutes a stereotype and provides a completely different image of that specific culture, especially when it also undermines prejudice. Haven’t we all at one point said “They can’t help it, it is their culture” and it turned out to be false?

When looking at stereotypes about the Netherlands and Dutch people the words cheese, clogs, wind mills and tulips come to mind. However, more negative stereotypes include legal marijuana or even being cheap, rude and direct. Even though some cultural stereotypes will always be true to some extent, most of them are completely inaccurate. In this article, we will attempt to refute or confirm typical stereotypes, urban legends and misconceptions about the Dutch.

The Netherlands and Holland are one and the same

This is not a stereotype per sé, but more an urban legend. It is also technically not true. The Netherlands is the official name for the country, but Holland is more widely used, even by Dutch people when referring to their country in English. Officially, Holland (North and South) are only two provinces out of the twelve. People from the provinces Friesland and Limburg can get quite offended when foreigners say Holland instead of the Netherlands. It is similar to calling the United Kingdom “England”.

Dutch people always ride their bikes

This is true. Dutch people and their bikes are inseparable. Come rain or shine, they will ride their bikes. Helped by the fact that the country is as flat as a pancake, with the exception of the province Limburg, and that cyclists often have more rights than motorists, cycling is made easy in the Netherlands. It is, by far, the easiest, fastest and most eco-friendly way to get around in cities and for short distances.

Dutch people smoke marijuana on a daily basis

This is false. Of course, there is a segment of the Dutch population that does enjoy smoking marijuana on a regular basis; more accurately 466.000 out of approximately 16.500.000 inhabitants according to a National Drug Monitor study run by the Trimbos Institute in 2010. In fact, only 26% of the population has tried marijuana at least once in their lives. These numbers show that marijuana is immensely more popular among tourists than Dutch citizens. However, the pending “wietpas” (marijuana card) will soon prohibit non-Dutch citizens from buying marijuana in so-called “coffeeshops”, which will most likely lead to the decline of marijuana usage in the Netherlands in the long run. This law has mainly been introduced to reduce the number of drug tourists, particularly from bordering countries Belgium and Germany, who buy marijuana and take it across borders.

Another major misconception about marijuana is that it can only be found in Amsterdam, which is completely false. Even the smallest cities across the country have coffeeshops where marijuana can be bought. Officially, the soft drug is not legal in the Netherlands, it is simply tolerated.

Dutch people are cheap

The expression “to go Dutch” must have come from somewhere, so it is safe to say that this stereotype is true. It is not uncommon for the Dutch to split the bill when going out to dinner, and even pay only for what was consumed, as opposed to splitting the bill equally. In 2010, McDonald’s put the Dutch Deluxe on their menu in the Netherlands and the TV commercial focused on the cheap side of the Dutch. It opens with a couple on a date, enjoying their Dutch burgers, after which the man bursts the bubble and says “By the way, you owe me money for that burger.” It cannot get any more Dutch than that, although the argument can also be made that the Dutch simply try to be fair.

The Dutch live in wind mills

They do not. There are indeed many wind mills in the Netherlands and historically, they were much needed as well. Since most of the Netherlands is situated under sea level, wind mills were used to pump sea water to the correct side of the dykes in the past. This allowed the Dutch to actually live in the country. Some of the old-fashioned wind mills which can be widely found throughout the country are still used for this purpose today. Different types of wind mills were used to cut wood and grind flower, as well as to pound old cotton so it could be used for paper. Nowadays, the country also has many modern wind mills (wind turbines) which are mainly used to generate energy.

Naturally, stereotypes are not true for everyone, even when they are true in general. Not every Dutch person rides a bike and not every Dutch person is cheap. Perhaps it is easier to think in stereotypes because they are so common and widespread, but it would be better to keep an open mind and discover the cultural traits that form a person’s character from first-hand experience and to leave stereotypes for what they are.  Did you for example know that tulips are originally from Turkey and wind mills were invented in China and Persia? Also, did you know that the Dutch are very sociable and when the weather is good, they all gather on the many terraces especially set up by restaurants and bars to drink a glass of wine or beer? And it is not always Heineken, either!

By Malou Tulleken

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