CLMN | Dutch openness


After spending quite some time in The Netherlands, it must be acknowledged that bragging about (Dutch) openness is commonplace here. My response to that is very subtle and spontaneous: OK, so tell me something about yourself that I feel like ‘Ow, OMG, these people are so open!’. I am yet to be surprised.

To be honest, I am yet to be surprised by an individual. The Dutch openness and tolerance is collective - and it’s real. Every day interaction here is one example of that, and calling the teacher by his/her first name is one of its characteristics. That could be deemed as rather gross and offensive in some other cultures.

Recently, I sent out an e-mail to a new arrival, an international (teaching) employee. The mail began with a very casual ‘hi’, so the following reply incurred: ‘Dear Mr. Haider, I am not sure the recipient of your email is correct. Please double check whether your email was addressed to a student colleague of yours, or to a professor of yours’. Irony: an assistant professor-to-be has turned things on its head, leaving me in utter dismay and confusion.

Still, I believe that that’s an individual, and rumor has it every individual is different. There can be people across the border who are more or less open and tolerant than the Dutch.

I have one more valuable lesson to take back home from my Dutch teachers. That lesson is about being modest, humble, and grounded. I don’t think I will ever forget our professor telling us that we could call him sir, but he preferred being called by first name. “If you call me sir, I will definitely respond. But when you call me sir, it will take me some time to figure out that you are actually referring to me”, he added.

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