Dutch people like normalcy. The Dutch expression “Doe normaal” roughly translates to “just be normal, already!” “Doe normaal” is the kind of statement your Grandma might say to you in church if you were blasting Hip Hop tunes from your iPhone during the Lord’s Prayer. But, it’s not your Grandma saying it, and you certainly aren’t 12 anymore. This time it’s your Dutch partner saying it, your colleagues thinking it, the shopkeeper whispering it under their breath, and your neighbours tsk tsking about it behind your back.

So, just what does “being normal” actually mean in the Netherlands? Well, the easiest way to define acceptable normal Dutch behaviour is to list the biggest offenders of non-normalcy. They are, in no particular order:

1. bragging
2. showing off or acting pretentious
3. discussing money (or how much you have or make)
4. showing a little too much personality
5. showing overt public displays of emotion
6. not following the ever-important unwritten rules and regulations of the Lowlands
7. acting or being perceived as too “weird”, “different”, “disobedient” or “foreign”

If you are out and about in the Lowlands and you hear the phrase “Niet normaal” uttered with contention under someone’s breath or said in conjunction to something you have just said/done, you can safely assume you have crossed some invisible boundary of socio-cultural norms. Congratulations are in order: you have officially been deemed “not normal”. Better re-trace your steps and see what exactly the fuss is all about – or – just get on with your business and accept it as a bizzaro stamp-of-approval.

So, as you can see Dutch people like normalcy ..and it can be proven. When asked to define the Dutch national character, 9 out of 10 Dutch people quoted the saying: “doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg”. Translation: just act normal, that’s already crazy enough!!

118 Responses

  1. Marjoleine

    You nailed it! It’s the one quality I can’t stand about my culture. The Dutch preach diversity but judge everyone who doesn’t fit the average mold to be “niet normaal”. Oh well, no place is perfect…

    • Rembrandt

      Don’t let the door of Holland hit your ass on the way out.

      • pim

        @Rembrandt: Thank you for being a prime example of the case in point here. Someone makes a point about the hypocrisy of the Dutch ‘diversity is good’ attitude, and since that is beyond what is acceptable to your standards of normality, the only argument you manage to bring is that that person should leave the country!!!! How much acceptance of diversity in opinion is that?

      • Ivan

        Just because she expressed her dislike for one aspect of your culture does not make her offensive towards the entire nation overall :/
        I’m just going to make one big assumption here and assume that beneath your nasty comment is an almost-guttural reaction which I’ve seen in my friends as well (who are quite “non-typical” Dutch, all the stereotypes taken into account…). And it boils down to “I’m so sick of people pointing out the drawbacks of our culture, we carry the title of the most tolerant nation in the world. End of story”. Which is a title that people here adorn themselves with quite easily here. However, one in six votes at some of the past years’ elections sort of says – a considerable chunk of the nation is not tolerant. Notwithstanding the non-tolerant people voting for some other parties that are right off the centre.
        I believe this is a great nation, you have a marvellous history and offer great opportunities for anyone who works hard. I was just trying to say – a bit of self-reflection now and then won’t kill you. Love xx

      • Nomynot

        hey Rrembrandt, doe is normaal!

      • OBOM

        Jeez man, the arrogancy to call yourself ‘Rembrandt’ in the first place …what have you achieved to deserve that nick?! In wich museum can I admire your works of art? Act normal, boyo. And please try to develop a sense of irony. We’re not known for that characteristic as a nation, but we can at least try to have a go at it, can’t we?

      • Karel

        Some of my friends are called Rembrandt… That’s their first name, it’s not a nickname. Why do you think Rembrandt is called Rembrandt? Because it’s his first name! (his last is Van Rijn).

      • Angie from the Bergen

        I am Dutch and I think that there will allways be someone that thinks you are being odd, but luckily there is also allways someone that thinks that you are perfectly normal. I think the saying: doe maar normaal dan doe je al gek genoeg. just means that whatever you think is normal is gonna be crazy for another, so just stop pretending. It also means a bit that Dutch people love the crazy but we obviously don’t like it when somebody is saying anything negative about our dear ol’ Holland. It’s our Dutch pride.
        YaaaaaaY/JeeeeeeeJ for Holland, I miss you and Shoarma!

  2. matteo

    strongly disagree on number 3. Dutch people often ask embarrassing questions about money like no other European would do. At at BBQ a Dutch couple I met 15 seconds earlier asked me how much I paid for my house… :-S

    • Maarten

      That’s different. Housing prices are an acceptable matter of discussion. Wages earned aren’t.

      I’m not saying it makes sense, but that’s the cultural norm. If I had to guess I’d say it is because saying how much you earn is boasting while saying how much your house cost is complaining. The latter is wholly acceptable. Then again, maybe I’m completely wrong. I just know what my gut-reaction to either topic is.

      • Remco Janssen (@remcojanssen)

        Also, housing prices are a matter of (semi-) public record, mortgages can be found too. Therefore anyone can find out anyway, and it is the only moment to brag about how big a discount you got from the asking price. For instance in Sweden salaries (well, the tax records) are public record, it would be unappropriate not to tell at a party I assume – you can look it up easily.

    • Henk

      Exactly what I was thinking Matteo and it’s not just house prices or mortgages. In my experience (I was born in the Netherlands and lived there for the first 28 years of my life) a lot of people think it’s totally acceptable to ask a friend or acquaintance “wat verdien jij nou?” – “so how much do you earn?”. In the past 15 years I spent in Britain I’ve never heard that.

  3. me

    I always thougt that saying ‘doe (is ff) normaal’ was really normal at all…

  4. Anna

    “Doe maar gewoon, dat is al gek genoeg”. I hate that expression because it also curbs the fun. You can’t be overly happy or have a lot of fun because then you’re considered not normal. I would like to say: live a little, there is nothing wrong with having fun!!!

  5. Adriana

    Act the way you want to act! What is normal anyway? Who is to decide what normal behaviour is?

    • vanderventas

      That what is normal, are the normalities of the new culture you are living in.
      And everybody should try to adjust and accept to this new culture because it is working for centuries already without your foreign influence. Since a few years I life in Spain and accept Spanish normalities as well. Here in Spain people are talking behind ¨the subject of the stories back for weeks without feeling ashamed, people are likely to stop working without feeling responsible to finishing it, lie about everything even small things, always are complaining instead of try to make change yourself, animals are treated very bad, people aren´t interested in things which are from or happen outside the country, it is seen as logically that people like to enrich from government spendings when you have the posibility, Spanish aren´t very much into try anything new and/or make any change in business or life. However I don´t want to change these things that are ridiculous in my point of view. The differences in values and behaviour are culture even if things aren´t common in your opinion. There are a lot of things which are more beautifull as well in every country. I love to maintain differences in cultures for our next generations in Europe and not to become culture ignorant and shallow piece of land called the United States of Europe. ADMIRE THE DIFFERENCE!

      • jsk

        Dont change our culture because you need to admire the difference (you probably mean “diversity” but whatever)? That’s pretty poor argument. You mean to say “people should stay with their own kind, forever”, which is one of the central principes of conservatism. I love how the dutch are able to co-opt liberal values (tolerance, diversity, freedom of speech) to further conservative aims (privilege, hierarchy).

      • RH Omea

        Broad prejudicial statements tend to prove the author’s point. Many of the worlds greatest artists, poets, authors, composers, economists, scientists, innovators, and philosophers of the last 200 years have come from the USA. Generalizing about 330 million people is rather silly and is like me saying all Europeans smell bad or all Dutch ppl are cheap: narrow minded.

  6. Sabrina Adams

    They are super nosey too! A friend of mine had the raad voor kinderbescherming called on her because during a time of deep depression her curtains (god forbid) were mostly kept closed and her lawn wasn’t mowed to the perfect 1 inch height,

    • Bist

      This does not seem typical Dutch behaviour to me at all. Just seems like the neighbours weren’t the nicest people…

    • Jur

      So you think it’s a bad thing someone in a deep depression gets some personal attention?

      • Sabrina Adams

        I think it’s a bad thing when someone not knowing what’s going on risks someone else’s son being taken away because of the length of her lawn.

    • acolade

      That’s not a typical Dutch thing to do, come on. That could happen anywhere.

      p.s. Hope your friend is okay 🙂

      • Wee

        Well, as I’m working in mental health care I know that people in a depression often have difficulties giving their children the attention they need. The Raad voor Kinderbescherming is often seen as the institution that takes children away, which is a large misunderstanding and that is only done as a very last resort. They aim to help parents become better parents and it’s not a bad thing to check up on someone when they’re depressed and a parent.

  7. Marieke

    It is not about being “normaal” but about the fact that we Dutchies always seem to say this “doe normaal” thing. there is no judgement involved, it is merely a funny habit…….and it is true, we say this allllll the time!

    • david corner

      Gosh, I grew up in Holland and your explanation comes as a complete surprise to me as I must have seriously misunderstood the undertones of my own culture.

      Marieke girl…. get real

  8. Linda

    Yup we’re all about normalcy here. But you could also interpret “normal” as healthy, reasonable, considerate, appropriate behaviour etc. So if you do something stupid and someone shouts “doe normaal”, it could just mean “behave”, or “think of the children” 🙂 Or someone could say “vind je dat normaal?” (do you think that’s normal?) as in: do you actually think that behaviour is appropriate? It has a slightly different connotation than just being “normal” as in average, or the same as everyone else.

  9. Kay

    Well, it has a side-effect of repression to it, for every behavior that is considered different. Off course I think and feel people should be considerate, but personally, I think Remdbrandt is not very considerate of marjoleine, who has a valid point. It’s kind of though being creative, smart or wired a little differently in Dutch culture. Is that a value we cherish?

  10. Thomas

    Doe maar gek, dan doe je al normaal genoeg 😛

  11. Erik Bakker

    “Doe normaal” is perhaps better interpreted as “Stop acting crazy” than “be normal”.

  12. Nic

    This reminds me of a day in NL in which something I did (not sure what) that made everyone on the table say “niet normaal”. I believe it was something related to my mobile phone.

    I was invited to a dinner, we were having pizza which I thought meant that it was not a formal dinner, and I had just activated my Dutch SIM card, sent a couple of SMS and then I got a call and left the room to answer the mobile.

    I didn’t speak Dutch by then, when I returned I heard someone saying “mobile telephone… niet normal” and then everyone said “ja, niet normal”

    What did I do?

    • Dutchess

      It is socially not acceptable to leave the table when everyone is eating(does not matter in what setting) dinner together. It is considered rude to leave before everyone is ‘done’. If it is a necessary phone call you are expecting tell that to the ‘crowd’. If it is just a friend calling and you are picking up when having dinner the people feel offended because they think that you would rather be on the phone than talking to them. If you are not used to it the following is also socially unacceptable: suddenly leaving the dinnertable to go to the toilette. That is not done! you must always excuse yourself if it is “unavoidable”! you ‘go’ before or after dinner. I hope this is some help!

      • Nic

        Wow :O Now I feel ashamed. I just hope they understood it was a cultural difference :S

        Where I grew up those rules apply, but only in a very formal dinner – like a dinner with your boss or the first time meeting the in-laws.

      • Ron

        But every Dutch person I know and see never put the phone down!

      • Diego

        Leaving the table before everybody is through is not acceptable in Italy either as we Italians are raised since childhood by our parents to stay sit at the table until everyone is finished.

  13. Sas

    I think this is something to do with living with a lot of people in a very small space. It’s much easier to accept behaviour that irritates when you can put distance between yourself and what irritates you. If someone is behaving “niet normaal” on a tram packed with people, it is very annoying indeed. Also, I think Japan has a similar rigid code of conduct that you shouldn’t deviate from. The typically dutch part of it is the belligerence… We dutch are very belligerent sometimes!

    BTW, love the site, I have never in my life felt so dutch! I actually do recognize lots of the behaviour you describe in myself, including but not limited to: agenda’s, birthday calender in the toilet and getting irritated by someone (family) forgetting my birthday, trakteren, going camping enzovoorts..

      • Remi

        Funny fact: only recently two politicians in a debate were telling eachother “doe normaal”, followed by “doe zelf normaal” (be normal yourself). It was niet normaal 🙂

  14. ablabius

    I always thought the saying meant: “Just act as you would otherwise and don`t try too hard to impress people.” or in other words: “Just be yourself.” At least that`s how it is used in my family.

    • Jules

      True for me as well. In my opinion it often means ‘please act natural and relaxed’ or ‘stop being histrionic!’ rather than ‘adhere to the norm’. Of course to actually have a notion of what is considered ‘natural and relaxed’ does require that you do know at least part of what is considered ‘normal’ in Dutch culture 🙂

      So.. There’s definitely is a way to interpret this as a negative tendency. In the end it all depends on how tolerant your dutch friends are.

    • bart

      For me thats the true meaning….

      Taking money as an example….
      You can discuss money, but you cannot brag about it.

  15. TalkingAboutTheDutch

    I am Dutch and it is by far what I dislike, if not hate the most about Dutch culture. The Danish Norwegian ‘Janteloven’ is quite similar.

    Be inside of the box. If you are out of the box and not like us, we will crucify you in our minds. Hell, I even think in part, it’s what killed my mother.

    to all Dutch Id like to say, wied jij je eigen tuintje maar en laat de mijne lekker wild bloeien.
    (pluck the weeds from your own garden and let mine flourish wildly.)


    Doe maar eens lekker gek dan ben je ook heel normaal!

    Go ahead and do something crazy, thats also very normal!

    • Desirée

      I like your comment.
      I hate it that we cannot be proud of our achievements. Or well, we can, but only in our minds. I also hate it that, when you worked hard all your life and finally have your own flourishing company, you can’t buy a big house or a fast car, because that means you’re stuck up and arrogant, and are flaunting your money.
      And I hate it that if you don’t work in a regular job but are an artist, you are not being taken seriously. A lot of people say that they are paying taxes for you to be able to not contribute to society.
      And lastly I hate it that when you are different in dress sense or personality, you’re looked at like you don’t belong here. And that’s even when you are just wearing a fedora hat as a woman.
      Other than that, I actually quite enjoy being Dutch. 😉

  16. Flip

    Another well known Dutch saying: ‘Steek je kop niet boven het maaiveld’, I don’t know the exact translation, but It means something like you mustn’t draw the attention/stand out of the crowd.
    ‘Anders word je kop eraf gehakt’. Otherwise you will be punished.

  17. findyourwingman

    I remember saying to a Dutch “doe het gek, dat is normall genoeg” and he just corrected me, saying that it was the opposite. Then I told him, “well not for me”. Then he looked at me strangly. He just didn’t get that I was expressing a point of view in a hunorous way. This is just typical Dutch normacy and this suck very bad.

  18. Kate

    I am Dutch and don’t like this rule too much either. Although I seem to be subconsciously ruled by it myself!

    On the one hand, I do not like it, because I believe in being different, being authentic. So I do certain things different than others. For instance: I eat dinner items for breakfast, I wear funny clothes. Most other Dutch people think this is funny and they think I am fun. Some of them think I am seeking attention.

    But I myself get this uneasy feeling about other people’s not-normal behaviour. I am trying to fight it though.

    For instance: my non-Dutch boyfriend is most of the time very loud (laughing, talking), even in a restaurant or the tram. In my very Dutch opinion, those are places where you are not supposed to be loud (and making more noise than the people around you is loud). I feel huge embarrassment but I hold myself back and won’t tell him to stop, because I want him to be who he is and I hate that I am so uptight. Who is going to die from a bit of laughter anyway? (well, if people could kill with their eyes…).

    Another example: I used to get very annoyed with my boyfriends American actions (to me they seem typically American, at least). First, during classes he actually answered questions! I asked him why, because it just seems like boasting to me. He told me he likes to show the teacher he knows the answers (you see … boasting) and he thinks the teacher doesn’t like waiting for an answer (but that waiting has a purpose … everyone in class gets an equal chance of answering a question without looking too eager to show off their knowledge). He also used a very fancy computer in class, which added to my idea he must feel good about himself (abd no, this is not good).

    Also, my boyfriend and his American friends name-drop like crazy, tell about the top schools they went too, the high paying places they worked at, the numerous volunteer jobs they had saving the world etc. etc. That is like the opposite of ‘doe maar normaal, dan doe je gek genoeg’. Now I know my boyfriend doesn’t mean it bad, because he is just telling it ‘as it is’. It’s just factual to him.

    But still, some Americans are just too obviously trying to impress. And they are very picky when it comes to who they talk to. It depends on things like money or power the potential conversation-partner has. Maybe this is too generalizing, but it’s necessary to show what ‘doe normaal’ means. One of the things about being ‘normaal’ does definately include treating the coffeelady, guard and secretary the same way as you do the director, your boss or even a celebrity. God forbid anyone would feel better than the other person! And just because you earn more, doesn’t mean you need a holiday home (prince alexander), you don’t have to drop your bike for a fancy car (politicians should go to the binnenhof by bike). Same for other groups of people. Top-sporter who won gold? Nice, but don’t think you are all that. Vip from another country? Nice, but don’t you think the law doesn’t apply to you. Artist who is successfull now? Great, but don’t forget it could be over in no-time, so you better behave ‘normaal’.

    I am not sure what to think. Not being too full of yourself seems to be healthy. But I do think it can be negative, because these normality ruled can hold you back. You end up trying to not be too good at anything, people are not embracing their talents, they end up not having the possibility to openly enjoy the success they have earned and deserve.

    At least I am trying to not let the ‘doe normaal’ rule get in my foreign friends’ way. I try to remind myself their behaviour feels uneasy to me because of my background.

    • Diego

      I think you have described the quintessence of the “doe normaal”

  19. Iris

    My husband is Dutch and I’ve spent a lot of time in the Netherlands, but don’t live there. I’ve always felt a lot of pressure to conform when I am there. I think one of the things you could add to the list of `being normal’ is being extroverted. I’ve lost count of the number of Dutch people who find it incredibly worrying that I am naturally quiet, need longer to decide something, do not talk all the time in a group and need time to myself instead of always being out and about, doing things spontaneously, socialising and being the centre of attention in big crowds of people. I’ve been called weird, crazy, stupid and immature for being an introvert. I’m pretty sure some of these people think I am autistic because I’ve heard that word thrown around to describe other people less introverted than me!

    • Nancy

      Wow, Iris! I can really relate to your comments. I grew up in the midwest of America, the grandchild of four people who immigrated from the Netherlands. During my childhood, I was surrounded by the children and grandchildren of other Dutch families, at school, in my neighborhood, at church etc. I felt the same social pressure you described. The clear and all pervasive message was that I should “fit in” and “be friendly and outgoing” etc. I was a reserved and quiet kid, who was NOT excited by big group activities and team sports. I just wanted to go read my books! 🙂 It was an exhausting community for an introvert.

      I am much happier, 30 years later, in the multi cultural San Francisco Bay Area in California. People here are not perfect, but they seem to be more accepting of people, and their unique styles. This open minded attitude is one of the reasons my husband and I moved to California, and are still here 25 years later! I hope you will try to not let this Dutch pressure wear you down. Sometimes, when extroverts hassle me, I smile and remind them, “We can’t all be so talkative… extroverts need introverts…to be their audience!” This usually makes them laugh! Let’s enjoy our differences and love people
      for their individuality. Let’s bloom and also let others bloom!

      • desireefotografie

        I know exactly what you mean.
        When I was in elementary school, my reports would say ‘Desirée is a quiet and shy child who keeps to herself a lot’.
        I am still quiet 20 years later (except when I’m with friends), and still like to keep to myself. Although I do dress ‘weird’: hats, purple hair, high heels and dresses…
        I am what they call a ‘dreamer’ or a ‘thinker’. Unfortunately, most businesses and bosses only want ‘do-ers’. I am not the one who speaks up all the time in meetings, I listen, I think, I form an idea or solution and the only thing I say will be something constructive. Needless to say I hate brainstorming sessions… I am convinced this is (one of) the reason(s) I can not hold a job. Bosses don’t know what to do with me because I don’t show initiative all the time. I am not pro-active. Now I’ve started my own business as a photographer. Which allows me to think about and figure out assignments before I do them.

    • Dorien

      I just read an excellent book about introversion I recommend to all my fellow introverts. It changed my life, because it changed the way I see myself. In western society (not only The Netherlands) extroversion is the ideal, but around one third of the world is introverted. And usually stigmatized as shy, insecure and non-social. I’ve always known I am none of those things, I am just naturally quiet, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I now see it is as something to be proud of, and it makes me feel strong. Because I now know how to put my introverted qualities to best use, in work and in private.
      The book is by Susan McCain and is called ‘Quiet. The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking’.

      Happy reading!

    • Iris

      Hmm, there’s only a few situations where I could see how being an introvert could create a problem for Dutch people. Even though you can be quiet, and that’s perfectly okay, you should for instance shake hands with a firm grip, look people in the eye when speaking and be honest. Basically if you give a sloppy handshake, don’t look people in the eye and if you are always too nice, too positive, too accomodating then people might think you are dishonest. And that’s a bad thing according to Dutch people: it’s better being what you consider rude, as long as you say what you are really thinking.

      Being quiet – if that’s how you feel and are – shouldn’t be a problem, because that’s like being honest. But your story gives me the impression that the Dutch people you met think you have something to say (or hide) but you are not saying it, so they try to drag it out of you. So next time you are in the Netherlands, try something else: don’t act more extrovert, but just tell people that you don’t like to talk too much. That’s like being honest and open and the Dutch people will probably respond well to that and won’t take it as an insult (that you don’t want to talk to them).

      I am Dutch and rather introverted myself. I don’t have much of a problem with it in the Netherlands. In the US however, I feel many times overpowered by people who are extrovert (or more like: rushed, loud, hyper).

  20. No. 12: Lekker | Stuff Dutch People Like

    […] observing meal times (dinner is served at 18:00 precisely), scheduling appointments and generally acting normal. However, watch the tone of this one, as your opinion could also be being dissed and dismissed as […]

  21. Bob Chandler

    My wife is from Friesland, where we currently live. We are returning to Florida in a couple of months. I ride often on my bicycle, even in the rain when necessary. I live as the locals live, and try to enjoy my time here. I cannot, however, help but think the Dutch in general are a defeated bunch of folks, worn down and kept repressed by myriads of rules, laws, taxes and government intervention on all planes of existence. When I am presented, on rare occasions, with the opportunity to talk to a stranger, it is usually quite enjoyable. But often to break the ice, so to speak, one seems to nice a pick ax of the largest magnitude. I am an extrovert; I love talking to and relating to people. In my humble opinion, life is too short to do otherwise. I do, however, feel that I fit in much better at home in Florida than I do here. This is my 17th visit to NL in the past 13 years, so I do speak from an experienced perspective. I have nothing against the Netherlands, and certainly not against the Dutch themselves. I wish them happiness, prosperity, joy and drier weather conditions. I do indeed look forward to returning to sunny Florida.

    • Bob Chandler

      Sorry for the typo. I meant to write “one seems to need a pick ax of the largest magnitude.”

    • dux

      Your story sounds pretty typical of Friesland rather than the Netherlands as a whole. I was born in Friesland (relocated to Amsterdam when I was 22, lived there ever since) and the mentality there is a lot more rigid and less out-going than in other parts of the Netherlands. This is a well-known stereotype of Northern provinces in the Netherlands: they are introverted and rigid people, but also honest and hardworking. I think you might have been more comfortable in the Western parts of the Netherlands, where the bigger cities are and people are a lot more outgoing, or in the South where there is a more catholic and outgoing mentality, compared to the somewhat stiff protestants in the north.

  22. nicky

    Thank you!! you are brilliant! your blog is spot on. Can’t wait to get the hell out of shit place but you provide soo much true and hilarious

  23. Jeroen

    I think the translation of “doe normaal” (just be normal already) is a bit off. Thing is, it is not about whether or not someone IS actually normal, it is about how someone is acting or behaving at that moment.

    I think it might be a tad confusing for those who do not fully know what “doe normaal” (also frequently used as “doe eens normaal”, or when someone is a bit more irritated “doe toch eens normaal”) means. It is not saying that the person isn’t to our standards or not, it is his or her behavior at that point of time that is simply unwanted, regardless what we think of the person itself.

    “Act normal” is, as far as I know, also a generally accepted English phrase, I don’t think it is necessarily just us Dutch who use it.

    • Mrs Lucy M Newbery

      I am an 86 years old English lady and have found this site very interesting and thoughtful about my Dutch friends. I understand “act normal” as “behave yourself” especially to a youngster who is acting silly or being naughty.

  24. bartez2vu

    Actually, the phrase ‘doe normaal’ does fit into the Dutch tradition of so called tolerance. Tolerance is basically saying; I disklike what you stand for, but hey, you can still live next door to me. ‘Doe ff normaal’ basically says; its ok for us to share the same space, but you have to behave as close to the norm as possible..

  25. Bart

    hmmm in my opinion the Dutch dont really preach diversity. The Dutch themselves, especially people from Amsterdam (me being one of them), highly praise a tolerant attitude. Being tolerant is, in my opinion, something different than accepting the differences between people (or preaching diversity). Tolerance is nothing more than seeing differences and finding them weird, but at the same time not actively trying to remove these differences from your society. You just tolerate them being there, but without really accepting them.

    ‘Doe normaal’ shows that the Dutch are not that keen on diversity. They do tolerate unexpected behavior, but also try to steer it into some more generally accepted behavior. Doe normaal!

  26. bartez2vu

    hmmm in my opinion the Dutch dont really preach diversity. The Dutch themselves, especially people from Amsterdam (me being one of them), highly praise a tolerant attitude. Being tolerant is, in my opinion, something different than accepting the differences between people (or preaching diversity). Tolerance is nothing more than seeing differences and finding them weird, but at the same time not actively trying to remove these differences from your society. You just tolerate them being there, but without really accepting them.

    ‘Doe normaal’ shows that the Dutch are not that keen on diversity. They do tolerate unexpected behavior, but also try to steer it into some more generally accepted behavior. Doe normaal!

  27. Chris

    I think this has nothing to do with “act normal” but it is more and expression of using common sense or as we say here “boerenverstand” 🙂

  28. paulo

    read geert hofstede books on culture,they explain all those cultural differences

  29. thammy24

    lol My mom sometimes said ‘doe normaal, dan doe je al gek zat’ , ‘be normal, that weird enough already’

  30. Anne Rademaker

    There is a “kronkel from Carmiggelt ” that says……Ooit een normaal mens ontmoet…….en beviel ‘t
    Did you ever met a normal person? And did you liked it…..

    That how it is……….what is normal???

  31. Yos

    I think Dutchies are a pretty tolerant bunch. They don’t care who you are, what you believe in, whoever you wish to sleep with, as long as they, we, aren’t confronted with it. Which isn’t the same as not accepting differences; it just isn’t socially accepted to show off said differences. ‘Doe maar normaal,’ is, in my opinion, telling someone that what they are doing isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s just inappropriate.

  32. samipso

    I think there are different ways of using the expression.
    You could use it sub-assertively indicating someone should change their attitude.
    Use it to bluntly and directly tell someone to start acting in a respected manner.
    Indicate to someone inquiring about your ideas/ plans that you are not interested in adventurous thoughts/ undertakings. (A:Hey, wanna go to Spain next month? B:Doe normaal!)
    Reaction while in awe of someones luck. (A:I just won a million euro! B:Doe normaal!)

    I like a related expression: “Doe eens gek, gooi je haren los”. Indicating that all it takes to go all out, is untying your hair.

  33. Dave Mull

    My immersion in Dutch culture began some 20 years ago when I started hanging out with walleye anglers from Grand Rapids, Michigan, whose last names ended in “sma,” “stra” or started with “Van.” Good, solid guys who would give you the shirt off their backs and were always one-upping each other with how much less they paid for something than their buddy did for a similar item. Then I married a “stra” about five years ago, and learned a dash of black pepper made food too spicy and even considering adding garlic to a dish could get you banned to the barn. I love Dutch people. They always come to a complete stop at stop signs and are the moral compass for Planet Earth.

    • Karel

      Not sure this applies to you, Dave, but I met Americans with a Dutch background and they did not feel at home in the Netherlands at all. That’s because the people who moved from Holland to the USA took with them the customs and morals of about a century ago … and they keep living that way. Which is only natural. When I moved away from Holland, all the things I took for granted became more important. While I did not listen to Dutch music when I was living in the Netherlands, I now listen to Dutch music quite often.

      Anyway, the moral compass for Planet Earth? The Dutch-American people I see on tv are mainly those people who are intolerant and could therefore never be the moral compass of planet earth. It’s true that the Dutch are intolerant in many ways (I mean, they DO want things to go their way), But their ‘rules’ have changed over the years. For instance, the Dutch would say that a person is ‘niet normaal’ if you think being gay, having an abortion, allowing euthanasia is a problem, because the Dutch believe that people should be able to be who they are and make rational decisions about their own bodies (not my opinion, this is what everyone Dutch I know thinks). The Dutch-Americans I have seen are more conservative and thus don’t adhere to these Dutch rules and therefore are in the opinion of the Dutch ‘niet normaal’.

      So commonality is; they want to do things according to their ‘rules’, but the difference is: what is considered ‘normaal’ differs. And so … the Dutch and the Dutch-Americans are really very different.

  34. Nancy

    Hahaha, great comment, Dave! I’m a Dutchie from Grand Rapids…name ends with “ga” …all my grandparents immigrated from the Netherlands. I think you really got the American Dutch community perfectly described! I left in the 1980s, for school, but discovered really flavorful food here in California, and never moved back!! I was just home, for a visit, and can confirm that…My family also despise spices, love to discuss how little they pay for things, want be sure everyone stays ‘humble’… and are very conservative, honest, solid people. They just need their RULES, and want everyone else to follow them! Love them
    P.S. and never bring any new foods to the family reunion! 🙂

    • Karel

      Probably your family moved away from the Netherlands before the Indonesian Rijsttafel arrived, spaghetti became a hit, and tacos became a regular dinner item. t’s not just stamppot here anymore! Of course, any foreigner visiting the Netherlands would say that there’s still no spice in these foods, as all dishes are adjusted to the Dutch taste.

  35. Milly

    Loved reading all these posts. It’s given me insight into my new Dutch boyfriend. He is beautiful looking and a very natural person. No airs or pretension at all. In Amsterdam where he’s from. He is calm, considered and very conscious of not standing out too much. Even though he does, because of his looks. I never understood why he would sometimes punctuate certain suggestions I’d make like “You would look great in hats,” because when he plays with mine indoors, he looks fantastic. He is a seriously good looking guy with a great jawline and profile. His response would always be “No, I’m fine just being normal.” But every time we are in London (where I grew up) for a few weeks, he goes CRAZY!!!!! I kid you not. Without prompting, the guy wants to hang out in Shoreditch. He is busting out in Ben Sherman shirts, funky punk ties, shaves his hair, wears trilby hats, different colour trousers or jeans. scarves for belts, nail-varnish or eye-liner. The dude transforms! Of course I ask why the fantastic change. His answer “I feel free in London.” He went on to explain that the freedom he feels in London is not just physical, it’s the psychological freedom of not feeling people mentally obsessing over deciding whether or not you remain the same person within, therefore they should be okay with your aesthetic expression. He said “I love my people, our way of life. But I also get fatigued with Dutch personal aesthetic politics etc.” I had no idea it could plague people so much. The Dutch have perfected seeming completely un-incumbered by what another individual does in life, with themselves, their politics etc, provided they do not negatively affect those around them. Yet it seems that this is only a front. And not what is actually true. And only another Dutch person understands the undercurrent of disapproval. The French (I am half French) are the same, Only they are aggressively overt in their intolerance. Hence why the French wear a lot of Grey and muted colours. They despise anybody who stands out, unless they come from what they consider Exotic cultures.
    Thank you all for your posts. I’m learning a great deal.

  36. No. 62: not queuing

    […] done something I never dreamed I would do, something I’ve grumbled and blogged about. I learnt my lesson on “never say never in this country, but as these innocuous sounding words […]

  37. melissa

    i don’t understand why people like the Netherlands , it’s such a boring country.
    I’m dutch, and i want to go to the UK or america.. But why The Netherlands?

    • Henk

      It’s only become boring to you because you’ve always lived there Melissa. To other people it’s different, new, exciting!

  38. Aslynn Meyers

    One of the contradictions I’ve noticed about Dutch society is the contrast between being normal and their tolerant (or as my Dutch wife argues, “too tolerant”) attitudes. Would be great to read a post on what seems to be a very deeply rooted contradiction in their culture!

  39. No. 65: Social Policing

    […] Dutch have a certain code of unwritten rules and social etiquette that must be closely observed at all times. To maintain order in a tiny over-crowded country, […]

  40. Helene Illston

    I am a Dutch transplant for many decades now and I just tripped over your blog posts. I love it. Even though I’ve been in this country for 5 decades now those “doe normal’ has been so ingrained that even now i adhere to them. Funny thing is I didn’t even know it till I started reading your blog and could totally relate to the logic of my ancestors and former countrymen/women.

  41. Dutch Courage

    I have to strongly disagree with #6 on the list … as you may have noticed by now, we view a lot of things as being worth it to ‘gedogen’. We have so many regulations that not to many people really give a rats ass about most of them.

    Also, i have noticed that in the last couple of posts you have become a lot more negative and frustrated about the things you point out … Just act dutch please, if you dislike spreads then demand to bring some cheese; if you don’t like the 2euro meals for those on welfare, go to Ikea on the wednesday; if you don’t like white leggings, don’t wear them… Getting frustrated over these things is just not worth it, sure some of these things may be worth it to point out, like the spreads (but after the ‘stamppotten’ could you really be surprised?); or the white leggings, though you probably weren’t here when we so elegantly pointed out why ‘just black leggings’ caused the infamous ‘camel toe’, surely no other than the Dutch would be so kind to point that out for all you ladies (without full body mirrors). And after 5months of blackness, i can see why you would wear white leggings in our chilly spring, and yes, those skirts make great sense if you were around for the ‘camel toe’ upheaval…

    Anyways, i hope your tone will turn back to amazement and humour instead of dreaded frustration. And perhaps it’s time you connect some dots and tell non-dutch people how to work around some things, like stating wtf you want on your sandwich during communal lunches … no dutchy will look weird, they might ask you to pay it in full though, but at least you get and STATE what you want, we like it that way… don’t beat around the bush remember 😉


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