On Pretending to be Dutch #3: Strangers

There’s something rather alarming going on up and down the Netherlands, each and every day. And that is…

Strangers acknowledge each other’s existence.

Sadly, I’m not even kidding. Say I walk into the doctor’s office. Inside will be a waiting room with – get this – a coat rack. So you can actually take off your coat and hang it up. What’s going on there? All a reasonable person wants from life is to sit uncomfortably in our coats and hats and scarves, slowly growing warmer and pinker as we wait – lengthily – for our turn in the consulting room. Is that so much to ask?

Worse still, there will probably be people in there and – get this – they tend to say things to each other. Civilised things, like goede morgen.

They even make eye contact with each other.

What is a poor, confused British girl to do? All I want is to be able to act like normal: that is, avoid everyone’s eye (knowing that everyone else will likewise obligingly avoid mine), sit in a comfortable daydream until my turn comes up and then go get on with it. All this taking-off-of-coats and nodding-to-people and saying goede morgen is totally unacceptable. It’s almost as though I’m expected to be sociable.

With strangers.


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  • http://alexlaybourne.wordpress.com alexlaybourne

    This is so true. It is one of the things that I first noticed living here. People are just that much more friendly with one another.

    • Charlotte

      Yeah… it does make me wonder why it’s so unheard of back home. Are we really so allergic to each other?

      • http://alexlaybourne.wordpress.com alexlaybourne

        I think that it is sadly the case. I was also particularly fond of your views on Dutch Birthday parties. It was as though you read my mind.

        Have you done Pakjesavond and Surprises yet? We do it every year but us.

        • Charlotte

          Hm, Pakjesavond is Sinterklaas? We don’t really do it because we don’t have any kids, but my parents-in-law get us chocolate letters every year, heheh. Also I tried making speculaas last year, it is delicious stuff – interesting how similar it is to English gingerbread, but subtly different.

          Not sure what you mean by Surprises?

  • http://alexlaybourne.wordpress.com alexlaybourne

    Surprises are like secret santa, but rather than wrapping the gifts you have to make something, and hide the present in it.This year we had books, robots, dogs all sorts of crazy creations. Then you write a poem for that person, as mean or as funny as you like. We do it with the adults in my family (in-law) every year. There were 11 of us last year. Always a good night.

    • Charlotte

      Aha… that rings a bell! It isn’t something my in-laws do, but another British friend has mentioned it before. I can imagine it being fun (although I am definitely not up to writing poems in Dutch yet… gulp).

  • http://pearwood.deviantart.com Steven Tryon

    The Hollanders have it right, methinks. The US, at least the parts I know, are somewhere in the middle.

    One of the main reasons I much prefer traveling by rail over traveling by air is that people in and around trains will actually talk to you. When I say, “Hi, may I take your picture?” I have yet to say anyone say no. This old pilot hates airports and their paranoia.


  • http://blog.rachelcotterill.com Rachel Cotterill

    I grew up in a (northern English) village where talking to strangers was normal – imagine my surprise on moving to London!! :-) I hope it was nothing serious that took you to the doctors.

    • Charlotte

      You paint a pretty picture of village life there, Rachel. Personally I’ve gone from city life (albeit a small city, Lincoln) to isolated farmhouse back to the city, so I’ve never experienced village friendliness. Alas 😉

  • http://www.markasargent.com Mark

    As an antisocial person myself, I feel for you. I’m more comfortable ignoring everyone else than not, at least when it comes to real world encounters.