The number one question I get from almost everyone while I’m visiting the States is “so how do you like Amsterdam?” And I almost always say, “I love it!” And I do. I love it. But sometimes I have to back up and remind people, as well as myself, that it’s no utopia. Although it comes close for me, not even Amsterdam can be perfect. So while I’m away, I figured it would be a nice and cowardly time to mention a few things I don’t like about the Netherlands and (some of) her people. This way, I won’t have to look anyone in the eye right away. It’s not a lot. Just a few things.
1) Say “excuse me”
Dutch people will bump the shit out of you and just keep walking. It’s never or rarely intentional. But it can hurt, emotionally and physically. And they never seem to care. On a tram, in a bar, on the sidewalk, in your house. Saying “excuse me” just doesn’t seem to be a thing. At first I found this shocking and incredibly rude. I’m the type of person who will apologize for just about anything. Even if I bump into a table, I’ll thoughtlessly say “I’m sorry.” My father tried to break me of this habit with little success, other than making me conscious of my craziness. So from my place of crazy, I probably overreact to inconsiderate Dutch bumping. But is this what it’s like when at one point, hundreds of years ago, you briefly ruled the world, Dutch people? No one matters but you?! Not impressed.
One theory I’ve heard about the lack of “excuse me” culture is due to the fact that it’s a peaceful, non-confrontational society. Since everyone is aware that no harm is meant by an unintentional bump or entrance into someone else’s personal space, there is no need for apologies. Alright. I get that. But as a sensitive American who bruises easily, I’m going to need you to say “excuse me.”
2) Forget about Sundays
Unless you live in central Amsterdam, you can forget about finding a store open on Sunday. There are a couple of exceptions I’ve found in my neighborhood. But since store and restaurant owners seem to operate on a whim, no guarantee ever exists that something will be open this week simply because it was last week. Don’t get me wrong. Lazy Sundays are great. But I also have a tendency to have lazy Saturdays. So more than once I’ve failed to get things accomplished earlier in the weekend, leaving me without many options to get things done until Monday – or even Tuesday if I’m counting on one of those places closed on both Sunday and Monday. That’s annoying.
3) Politically incorrect
Don’t tell a Dutch person what can or cannot be said. It seems to bring up the strongest emotions they can muster. “Hell no. I won’t succumb to being politically correct!” Calm down.
I believe this resistance stems from a time in the ’60s and ’70s when political correctness was almost a mandate. And now the concept of political correctness is despised because it implies a lack of critical and/or independent thought. That alone I would accept if it was accompanied by some critical thought about the issues at hand. But instead, it usually just seems like an excuse for being inconsiderate of historical and social matters, and just plain rudeness. Offensive depictions of people of color on television as childish, stupid, and/or uncivilized are pretty common and unquestioned in the name of “humor” (these stereotypes are clearly understood even when the language isn’t). I’ve heard countless hateful remarks about Muslims immersed in anti-immigration debates. And let’s not forget my favorite annual blackface tradition.
I’m sorry, Dutch people. But it’s not funny and it’s unacceptable. No, f* that. I’m not sorry (my dad would be proud). You’re just wrong.
4) Ignorance is bliss
So I hear schools in the Netherlands only recently began teaching students about the history of Dutch imperialism, slavery, and other shameful aspects of their past. And I’m not sure what they’re actually teaching young people now. But this explains why folks my age and older seem to be oblivious about matters of race and how they actually ARE relevant to the Netherlands. “Racism doesn’t exist here” is such a common phrase. It would be nice if it were true. And it would be true in the absence of all history. But it’s just not. When the majority of non-white people in the country have immigrated from former Dutch colonies, where white social, political, and economic power have dominated for generations, and they continue to hold a subordinate position in Dutch society, the effects of history are undeniable. But when you don’t know anything about the history of Indonesia or Suriname, for example, it’s easy to genuinely believe that everyone’s equal, opportunity is available for all, and those who live in poverty have chosen to do so. Must be nice to live in a bubble of equal opportunity and color blindness. But the rest of us live in a much crueler reality.
5) Dude, make a move
I’m still single. STILL. And now I’m looking to fall in love and marry a Dutch man to help me stay in the country (slightly joking). But my efforts on this front are going to be harder than I expected. I’m not exactly sure what’s going on with this situation. What I gather from asking around a bit is Dutch men are less likely to make a move than Dutch women. But I’m shy. And I have no moves. So does this mean I’m out of luck? Perhaps not if I step outside of my comfort zone and begin approaching the fellas. But haven’t I already done enough by moving? This one might be more my problem than anyone else’s. But it’s my right to place blame. So in this case, I’d like blame cultural differences for my present single state.
And there you have it. The things that frustrate me about the Netherlands. Alas, no place is perfect. At least I haven’t found it yet.