It was one of those days. I was suppose to be catching an international flight in less than 2 hours. The taxi I had ordered was no where to be found but that was the least of my worries as I flew around my apartment stuffing random items into an over-sized suitcase. My father’s voice rang through my head “I think you like the drama of being late”. As I panicked to find my passport, the buzzer rang. I grabbed my bags and ran for the door. A full garbage bag caught my eye and I threw it over my shoulder and headed downstairs.

Outside, I glanced at my watch and threw the garbage bag on the curb. As I walked towards the cab, I heard someone yelling loudly over my shoulder. I glanced back and saw an middle-age Dutch man running towards me, arms flailing madly around him. Huh? What could he possibly want? Was that a garbage bag he was running towards me with!?  As he got closer I could feel his rage without even deciphering his tirade of angry guttural words: It was 15:00 and garbage was only to be put on the street AFTER 18:00!!!” He marched up to the cab, threw the bag at my window, before yelling ASO!!” and storming off.

That was my first encounter with what I like to refer to as Dutch Social Policing (mixed with a nasty temper, in this case). Dutch people have a penchant for getting up in everyone else’s business. Living in Amsterdam, on top of each other, doesn’t help the situation much.

The 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, everyone must abide by the rules. If you don’t, you can be sure a Dutchie will call you out on it.

I must say, I do have respect for this system but having not grown-up in such a sphere, I still have a hard time getting used to the finger-wagging and seemingly tattle-tale like behavior. One can’t help but feel like a scorned child when you are sharply told, not once but twice, by complete strangers that “drinking tea on a tram is NOT allowed”. Really? Come on! Does my quiet tea-sipping truly bother you? ..So much that you had to get up, out of your seat, and come all this way to say something?! Might I ask if you get paid for extra-curricular civil servant duties?

Or how about my favourite topic: the speaking of Dutch. “Should I be speaking Dutch if I live here?” “Oh, really. Thank-you, complete stranger, that never crossed my mind!!”

“Is my child going to go to Dutch school?” “Why, random-person-standing-next-to-me-in-line, thanks for asking. Perhaps we should go grab a coffee, become BFFs, and I can tell you all about my life.”

I’ll never forget seeing a fairly rough-looking British tourist on the metro with his feet on the seat in front of him. As the metro chugged on, various Dutch passengers would approach him to tell him that this was clearly not allowed. He’d glance at each of them in an utterly bored manner and continue about his business -feet remaining firmly planted on the seat.

After about 5 stops, and 5 different lectures, an older Dutch couple marched up to him and told him loudly in English that “he should remove his feet immediately!” He finally looked up, and said loudly “Really? Now what the f@# are you going to do about it?” The entire metro erupted into loud (Dutch) chatter of shock and anger. Someone summoned the driver and the next thing you know the disobedient infidel was promptly escorted off the metro, his exit met with hearty applause. (Clearly the older Dutch couple knew exactly “what the f@#$ they were going to do about it!!” 😉

And so dear readers, is this another endearing culture oddity one will come to appreciate over time? The Netherlands works:  its systems are efficient and effective, its streets safe, its parks clean. Do we have to put up with a little over-zealous good samaritanism in order to enjoy such spoils of luxury???

111 Responses

  1. Sekar Nareswari

    don’t forget also about the “lang tafel” culture that you have to sit with the rest of the guest and talk about whatever-sometimes-so boring-topic but you can’t leave the table and go home because it is not polite… errrrr… and the conversation can go on until 2-3 hours with only cookies and thee coffee… 🙂

    Reply
    • Michiel

      Stand up and leave! We don’t need your grumpy face!

      Reply
    • drblodski

      I thought this was the koffie kring of death? Another word i found which no Dutch person recognizes apart from the person who taught me it is klitten (which in English sounds like the plural or collective noun for clitorises (clitorides?)). This is the thing where you find a 4km stretch of deserted beach and a Dutch family arriving after you will choose to come sit about 1 meter behind you and then stare at you blankly when you look at them with a “wtf – do you want to sit on my lap maybe?” look.

      Reply
      • Angela

        I would just ask them to move… The direct approach is always best, even if one is uncomfortable being direct. It will serve you best.

      • Egmondt

        It’s not only the Dutch, here on Crete I see people huddling together (klitten) all the time. That is also the reason people go on vacation and choose package deals… they will go slightly out of their comfort zone, but not too much.
        All the better for us who are a bit more adventurous ((-:
        I’m Dutch.. sort of, but I live on Crete now, on the edge of Europe where things are more free, more real and warmer.

    • Thijs Roes (@thijsroes)

      Hi Sekar. I think you mean ‘na-tafelen’? It is perfectly fine if you want to leave ‘early’, usually you just signal it to your host early. Like before you arrive saying ‘can’t make it too late tonight’, or after you have arrived and have settled with your first drink. It’s still alright if you do it at the end of dinner, but then it’s more like: so I hope you don’t mind if… etc.

      No one will be offended, as long as you don’t stand up in the middle of a conversation 🙂

      Reply
  2. Rina

    Wondering how many comments you will get about the unwritten nature of these rules….
    😉

    Reply
  3. Bas

    Jup! We should. It might be annoying at times but the fact that many (although I think mostly older) Dutch people feel responsible to keep things nice for everyone is good.

    Would you like sitting in whatever this English guy had on his shoes?

    Do you like wading through garbage thrown everywhere on the street?

    I did this myself in the train. Asking teenagers to put their overly loud music off (I was in my twenties at the time btw), asking people who smoke where it’s not allowed to put it out… When I asked those people to change their behavior, many people supported me. I like that about the Netherlands.

    I feel proud that this English guy was escorted of the train.

    See it in this way, wouldn’t it be ridiculous if we have to call the police for everything?

    I hope the Dutch firmly remain proud of their country and keep feeling responsible for keeping the place nice and liveable for everyone, and keep fighting “ASO’s”

    Reply
    • Edwin

      and next you know you get stabbed to death for not minding your own business … People have been beaten up or shot for less … Good luck.

      Reply
      • Jan

        If we are scared of correcting antisocial behaviour, you end up in an even scarier society. Aside from that, the risk of that is lower than the risk of a traffic accident, does that mean that you rather stay at home?

      • Aron

        Yes, let’s all get scared. That is known to work out so well.

    • Nessa

      I wholeheartedly agree with you. We need rules in Society and maybe today in the UK things would be better if we had people willing to stand up for certain rules but mostly they are frightened to do this because of the response.

      Reply
      • Peter

        I’m one intimately acquainted with how despotic those unwritten ‘rules’ can be. It’s mob rule, in fact, with a generous dollop of collective bullying added. And totally suffocating, spiritually, in the end, in my personal experience.

        Materially, the Netherlands is a prosperous little nation. Spiritually, however, it’s on the level of North Korea. This was one of my main reasons for moving out permanently, a good twenty years ago. And pretty fast, too.

    • Angela

      I agree, it may be annoying but in realtiy I would not mind seeing more of it, and I am not Dutch.

      Reply
      • M. Sea Graverobber

        I have been living in Scotland for about 12 years and believe me the older generation would most definitely agree on this, but yea people are just so scared to respond in a direct manner.

  4. Sam Roberts

    Sorry to say but I find the Dutch can be a bit of a busybody bunch. They don’t shy away from asking acquaintances inappropriate, personal and sometimes intimate questions. That being said, there are those who are very bossy too. What’s that about? A Dutch expat on the other hand are more civil and frankly more friendly then others.

    Reply
    • brigitte

      Feel free to answer: “That is none of your business” if someone asks inappropriate questions. Or if you don’t feel comfortable to be as blunt as the Dutch: “I don’t feel comfortable discussing that information with you.”

      Reply
      • Angela

        I think many others besides the Dutch think they are inpolite to not answer. It makes them uncomfortable. It did me at first, but one has to realize it is not inpolite nor a problem to say in a nice but blunt way none of your business. The non Dutch have to realize they are just intrested in you. Get over the uncomfy feeling and be straight forward. They will not be bothered at all by it. You wll get use to it.

    • Annemieke

      Yes, I ask acquaintances very personal questions. 90% answers them, slightly relieved that finally someone cares.5% tells me they want to keep it to themselves, but thank me for asking. The remaining 5% blushes, stutters and then I know: They’re not Dutch :-). No problem if you don’t want to answer, I won’t hit you :-).

      Reply
    • patricia van der linde

      Ha ha! streets are safe huh? Seriously? Read the paper, and you will find daily stories about kids beating up other kids on the streets and getting away with a slap on their wrist by the justice system. How about dog and cat feces on the side walks. No one should put their dirty shoes on top of a seat on public transportation. Poor manners. I remember a a really clean and civil place when I was still living in the Netherlands during the late fifties . The Dutch have always had the habit of staring at people when you don’t conform to their standards. I remember sitting in the train once with my sister who is a little plumb. All the way until the end stop she was stared at in a disapproving and rude way. The Dutch are a very nice people and their system obviously works for them, but let’s not close your eyes to the many things that do not work as well.Read the papers!

      Reply
      • Marga Walker

        Are the Dutch carrying any guns(including KIDS) with them where ever they go…NO!!! that’s what was meant by SAFE !!!

      • Rik

        Reading papers is not a good way of determining how safe a society is.
        Papers are in the business of selling issues, not of bringing the actual news. Their main goal is to make a profit. Sadly, bad news sells alot better then good news, seeing as good news usually just means everything is staus quo. That’s boring, and not news and thus, doesnot sell papers.
        Dutch society is one of the safest in the world, and we dutch have a very poor view of ourselves I often think.
        Does crime happen here? Yes. Nobody denies that. And in some areas, its increasing, while in other areas, its declining. This is a normal process.

      • Astrid

        I don’t know where you live now, but people caring about such simple civil norms are exactly what makes it safe for everyone. If you just read the papers from afar every place in the world seems like a nightmare. The actual statistics are that crime is low, people are civilised and violence is very very rare.

      • Thijs Roes (@thijsroes)

        Crime has increased in the sixties and plunged since the eighties. Dog poo used to be a big problem, nowadays it’s still not New York but it’s getting there. I’d advise you to NOT read the papers for small-time crap like this and judge your own everyday experiences.

    • JaccoW

      @ Sam Roberts: You are absolutely right and there is no need to apologize for that.
      The thing is, what you would consider inappropriate, personal and or intimate questions are often considered normal conversation between acquaintances and friends. And yes, your sex life, how you raise your children and your view on the death penalty can be normal conversation. Asking them about their income on the other hand… 😛

      The bossiness is because they don’t have time for beating around the bush and need to get things done in the limited time they have.
      As someone who has lived abroad, this complete turnaround (It’s not, I will explain later) when in another country comes from the realization that not every culture works the same way as we do. Being blunt does not get things done in a place where people are used to being wined, dined and to have met your wife before doing business with you. It’s about adapting to be as efficient as possible. A.K.A. “Does this get things done?” Dutch culture simply allows people be VERY forthright about what they need from you. And some Dutch people who lack the experience with different cultures do not understand that some cultures operate differently and will just increase the pressure until you do understand. Reminds me of my Grandma who will just yell louder when someone does not understand her in Dutch. And the thing is, it even gets her everywhere. XD

      Keep in mind though, and this was an analysis that struck me a while ago, the Dutch have a peculiar view of “Tolerance”. It was about the Charlie Hebdo incident and how French people view Tolerance. Where French people will disagree passionately (I disagree. You are wrong and you are an idiot but we both feel the same way.), Dutch people have a different view (Let’s all calm down a bit to keep it nice for everyone.) that asks everyone to mind their own business as long as they don’t interfere in the lives of others. But when you do interfere in a Dutch person’s business they have no problem at all to tell you loudly what an asshole you are and why. The social pressure is usually enough for people to tune it down a bit after that. 😉

      I hope that sheds some light on how to interpret us. And remember, it’s not rude until we wish you to get cancer. 😉

      Reply
      • Peter

        If you’re Dutch, in conversation with a Brit, Irish(wo)man, American, or Canadian, and don’t wish to avoid to come across as rude, prying, or both, always start with asking if you may ask a personal question. You’ll notice that the courtesy will generally be appreciated – and even find that it may steer your conversation in unexpected directions. On the other hand: in case of a firm ‘No’ – which, incidentally, won’t happen very often, in my personal experience – both parties know where they are standing.

  5. Dorothy

    It is such a difficult thing to get used to and regardless of how long one stays, it still seems so over-the-top sometimes. Never shall a rule be broken! I love the Dutch but sometimes I just want to shake them 🙂

    Reply
  6. Leon

    As a Dutch expat now in the UK I can’t but applaud the tram incident. That kind of response of the tourist in question is uncalled for, so there’s really one good solution: “oprotten”.

    Having said that, yes, the Dutch are infamous for the impertinent questions (all ties in with their no. 4: directness). But, Colleen, you do realise you have no obligation to respond politely? : D If you think they should keep their nose out of your business, feel free to tell them so. Give them the proverbial “koekje van eigen deeg” ; )

    Reply
  7. Tim

    So, your solution is to ignore someones inappropriate behaviour (feet on the seat on the subway) instead of addressing someone on it’s inappropriate behaviour?

    The garbage bag and tea drinking is over the top, I totally agree, but the feet on seat guy is clearly wrong and even rude after being pointed to his behaviour multiple times……

    Reply
    • Stuff Dutch People Like

      I’m not his mother, I don’t have the right to scold him (appropriate or not).

      Reply
      • Marga Walker

        Is it going to take a MURDER ( daily in U.S.) happening in front of you, to say or do something to correct inappropriate behavior?

      • Willemeen

        If he does not want to be scolded at, he should behave properly. It’s like my mother used to say: if you want to be treated as an adult, then act as an adult.

        Putting your feet on a public transport seat is actually saying ‘I don’t care if other people have to sit in street dirt or cannot take this seat because I’m occupying it with my dirty feet’. It’s rude. It’s arrogant. It’s unhygienic.

        I am very glad to read he was escorted off the train. One thing I don’t understand though, is how you can be so rude when your visiting another country. I am even more polite and correct in other countries, because I feel like I am their guest.

        By the way, the tea-sipping strikes me as a little over-the-top. It bothers no one and if you happen to spill, the seats are not going to get sticky or anything (long as you use no sugar). I like to sip tea myself in a tram.

      • Jackie

        You are both in public space, in public property. Paid by everybodies taxes. We all have the responsibility for public spaces. In that sense we indeed are each other’s mothers and, as I see it, have the right to correct each other.

      • Nina

        You don’t have to be his mother. It’s rude and unacceptable to put your feet on a seat that everyone uses. It’s public property.

      • J

        You don’t? Who knows if I’ll sit on that seat on the following day?
        That’s exactly how you promote a civilized society, not only with having rules for everything but actually having people interested in having them being respected. That’s civism.

      • Stella

        Indeed, you’re not his mother. You’re his peer and may say something about misbehaviour – from adult to adult. We are not children who talk via the parents.

    • Karel

      Okay, I think you’re missing the point here, Tim…

      Your belief that it is “clearly wrong” to sit with your feet on the seat is in fact typically Dutch. In other countries people do not think that doing this is a sign of bad manners. They apparently don’t think it’s dirty for the next person to sit on a seat where they have just put their muddy shoes to rest. And they would not tell their child to put their feet down if they were behaving like this, either.

      This sounds weird to me too, Tim, I mean: how is this sort of lesson (no shoes on public transportation seats) not an automatic part of a child’s upbringing? Just in general, following written rules (no drinking in the tram, waiting for the red light) and unwritten rules (saying thank you when you receive a cookie) I would say is the most important part of a child’s upbringing in the Netherlands. I have seen that in other cultures *not* following the rules is actually an important part of the upbringing, such as in the US. There it is more important to break rules and be a hero if a situation calls for it. That sort of lesson is not part of Dutch education.

      Whereas the Dutch think that putting their feet up seats is rude, foreigners seem to think that minding the other person’s business is even more rude. In the Netherlands saying something about another person breaking the rules is seen as a good thin. If a Dutchie wouldn’t be doing this, you could be seen as a coward, you know. Standing up to the aso’s is a type of Dutch heroism. It’s just …. a different perspective.

      Reply
      • Stella

        In which all other countries is putting your shoes on the seats ok? I know in Swiss it is despicable & complained on and I can’t imagine Germany appraising such behavior.

      • The Old Astronomer

        Stella, where I live in Canada it isn’t viewed as a big deal to rest your feet on seats when riding transit. It is considered a bigger offense to butt into other people’s business. However, I was raised in a rural fishing village and I’m used to busybodies and their social policing. I have mixed feelings about it. I do appreciate the way that the Dutch follow the rules and ensure that other citizens do too. I find that Canadians (where I live) will follow all social rules and regulations, even when it isn’t a big deal, but we would never go out of our way to police the behavior of others. I always hear Americans mocking us because we form our own queues, we never cut lines, and we don’t jaywalk (even on empty streets).

    • Robbert Michel (@RobbertMichel)

      For all intends an purposes though, the garbage thing is not an unwritten rule. Per area of Amsterdam they have them nicely published online. (example A’dam Centrum: https://www.amsterdam.nl/publish/pages/692048/waste_guide_centrum_2015.pdf ).
      Amsterdam has a lot of people living on top of each-other, and has no wish to become a big garbage heap like Napels ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naples_waste_management_issue ). As a result there are heft fines for placing your garbage on the curb outside the right times (150 euro per bag), and they will check the contents of the bag to figure out who the “previous owner” was.
      Many people are afraid of a slippery-slop type thing.
      If one person puts out their garbage at 15:00, then other people start doing it as well (“already? are they coming early today, I must have missed a warning”). Now I understand that you ware going to catch a flight, but here is where the other part of the slope comes in.
      If 3 hours early is OK (and we are already talking the day before), then why isn’t a day earlier OK (thus garbage 2 days on the street), and if 2 days is OK, I guess I can just dump all of it on the curb on monday morning… who cares what the schedule says.
      I would think that you’d prefer not living in a city where all the garbage is on the street at all times.

      Reply
  8. Jeanne

    I live in the Netherlands (a Canadian) and if I shared my thoughts on the above, I probably would be shot or at least kicked ot of the country. 🙂 It has been a ride adapting to their customs and habits but yes, they work very efficiently and they all seem to be able to abide by their ‘rules’ so I guess we must as well to get along okay in their country. You know, the while in Rome thingy. 🙂 Gosh I would love to meet you sometime. Almost went to your last book signing in Amsterdam. Groetjes van Jeanne

    Reply
    • w

      As a former Dutchie living in Canada, I think the Dutch should be more polite and mind their own business. I suspect my views on the above are much like yours.

      Reply
    • Laura

      Of course you wouldn’t be attacked for giving your opinion 🙂
      The “gentleman” in the tram, who was a guest to our country and talking to older people (therefore obliged to be respectful according to the unwritten social rules), had been warned repeatedly and reacted in a very inappropriate manner. The reason we point out his behavior, is so that he has a chance to correct himself before the ticket guy comes by and throws him out anyway. Also, they are right to point out that it’s actually forbidden. Not to mention incredibly rude for the people still looking for seats or the people having to sit on a dirty chair after he leaves.
      I’m glad I got called out on stuff like that (also by total strangers) when I was young. It makes me a more polite and pleasant person today and I pride myself in the manners I have learned because of it 🙂

      Reply
  9. Liz

    You should see what a society is like without such rules … appreciate it, because it keeps everything nice and clean and orderly. There’s a reason those rules are there – it’s not just to make life difficult for everyone. I think Dutch people value quietness, orderliness and cleanliness, and if you live in the Netherlands you should respect that and respect them.

    Reply
    • Peter

      Still, I feel that there are double standards in play here. I know for a fact, for instance, that some pubs in Flanders refuse to admit Dutch punters. Historically, visitors from the ‘big cities’ in the west especially (Amsterdam and Rotterdam areas mainly) have been known to behave abysmally (read: with staggering arrogance towards locals and their customs).. And what to think of cars with German license plates being deliberately damaged, time and anon, when ‘Oranje’ lose their next meet with the German Mannschaft? Why, I have been working in the UK tourist industry for a while – and on numerous occasions I could sink forty fathoms deep because of unbelievable stupidity, incredible ignorance and, to boot, gross bloody-mindedness as to local etiquette as displayed by Dutch groups and individuals whilst abroad.

      Reply
  10. andrea

    Yes, definitely! As a Dutch person, now living in a 3rd world country, I say yes. Sure, it might be annoying for the non-Dutch and even for some Dutch people, but seriously…it works!
    Here people do whatever they like and nobody gives a damn. Men pee wherever they want and it smells! People throw garbage everywhere and it is a mess. They do not care about the environment or each other and that is absolutely terrible!
    The streets, parks, forests, beaches, public swimming pools etc etc in the Netherlands are clean. If people nagging and complaing to others about their mistakes is what it takes to keep it all clean and organized, so be it! Otherwise, come and enjoy the sweet smell and sight of urine, shit and garbage here in Central America and learn to appreciate what you have in the Netherlands!

    Also, in my opinion it was a good thing that the British guy was kicked out. Being rude and disrespectful is not going to make this world a better place. And is that not something we all want? A better place to live in?

    Reply
    • Stella

      Remember the famous Swiss cleanness and politeness So sorry to tell the cleanness is gone since the nineties, when the Asian fugitives didn’t give a damn on the local manners and rules. The youth looked and wondered why they themselves should keep all the rules in their own country.

      (The famous good manners never were overall good and are nearly gone now, leaving some iron rules behind)

      Reply
  11. Mary

    This made me laugh. according to my Netherland-born parents, you are describing Germans. I’m Canadian and I am married to a German and living in Germany. They are way more relaxed about these things here compared to Amsterdam. But maybe I have just adapted to my environment and I don’t notice it anymore.

    Reply
  12. Eleventh Monkey

    Loved this post! As a Dutchie currently living in the UK, I am way too often appalled at feet on the seats in public transportation. So disgusting and rude. My husband is Japanese, another culture that loves following rules and social policing. And Japan is even more efficient, effective, so much more cleaner and safer than the Netherlands. The whole feet thing is absolutely not done in Japan. We both get pretty upset when we see it, but we’re not in our own countries so we don’t confront the perpetrators. Proud to hear how those Dutchies handled that tram situation, though!

    Reply
  13. simon

    All interesting points being made. I’ve lived here now for four years, following seven in Brussels and from Australia. I can say firstly compared to Brussels, or Belgium, the Netherlands is amazing! So clean and efficient and when something is being built, renovated, cleaned, it gets finished! I like the simple rules set up. Simple to follow, keeps the system moving! True, the garbage bag incident is over the top, and the tea, not sure. I drink coffee and no one says boo! I like that the Dutch have nothing to
    hide in the questions and comments. That they tell some little shit to get his feet off a seat, great! That would never happen in Brussels or Australia! And look at how their societies are! 🙂

    Reply
    • Laura

      I love that you love our directness! You might be the first non Dutch Dutchie to do so! 🙂
      The garbage thing is an actual written rule, which everyone should follow for the streets not to become a total mess. The guy screaming about it, should’ve just taken a chill pill and told her calmly, but ah well.. They can’t all be as graceful and charming as you and me ^^
      Wouldn’t know about the tea, I deliberately avoid public transport at all times,, my car has a very nice speaker set and a lot of awful nineties cd’s 😀
      However I do think you’re right, it only serves our community good!

      Reply
      • Thierry

        Oh the garbage thing is an actual rule? never knew and im dutch myself. been for the whole 22 years of my life. 😛 we usualy put our garbage out at like 7AM on the day its supposed to be picked up. but garbage bags are a no no actualy here. the plastic ones for plastic once a month i believe. but all garbage goes into the GFT bins. got more than that wait till next week. thats how our Muncipality wants it. and something to note. should you ever come into villages here(this is for the expats and such 😛 ) dont be suprised by people just saying hello and whatnot. on my way to work in the morning i travel trough another village and the amount of people saying “goedemorgen” when i pass them is rather large 😛 or small talk conversations in the local grocery store with complete strangers.

      • Stella

        Eating and drinking in the bus and metro is forbidden, is a written rule. In the train it is allowed, but in the trains there is less chance of shaking, disbalancing and abrupt stops. It was forbidden after to much complaints on spilled “patatjes mét” i.e. mayonaise stains on your cloths.

  14. Eva

    Funny you talk of unwritten rules and you use written rules as main examples. while not drinking in public transport is a written one as food and drinks can soil other people’s clothes or worse, cause Burns. As is putting your feet on a Seat across from you is. When you have something underneath ,like dog poop, it will soil the Seat and clothes of any one who wants to sit there. Same goes for when you can place your household garbage is written on the local laws. The only unwritten ones are about the choise of school for your kids and what language you use while in the Netherlands. Those rules you just mention casually, like they are no big deal.

    Reply
    • Stella

      No feet on the seats is a written rule too. I saw it coming up. Was one of the first folks putting the problem-feet on the empty seat in front. Feet without shoes or feet with shoes on a paper or bag. Must say: I learned it in my first international railway journey, where you pull the seats to the middle for a room-filling bed.
      But then the indifferent, loud, lazy ones took over. With the headset on closed off of the world, taking the whole compartment as their own universe. Even kindly asking to get that seat was answered like the above mentioned British poor hero, who was so badly humiliated for its behaviour, hihihi. So the public transport had to make this rule of no feet on the seats.

      What I cann’t understand: why is this very unmannered man cried for? Aren’t the Britih gentlemen honoured for their very good manners, which is the opposite of the above pictured metro-hero who got an everlasting dutch scar on his soul?

      Reply
    • Chris Kemperman

      I don’t want be an “ant-fucker”, as the Dutch say. But I have to agree with Eva on the unwritten rules. These are written rules. They might come across as being over the top. When you don’t like a rule or law you should address that rule or law, not the person or people telling you to stick to them or simply not abiding by them. In short: If you don’t like Macbeth, don’t complain about the actors, complain about the play write! Having said all that. The choice to apply a rule/law or not is unwritten and seeing as the Dutch are very direct(read: somethings just simply rude) the overall affect might be desirable the means are most certainly not (always).

      P.S I love this blog! I keep discovering things about myself that I didn’t know were considered typically Dutch to the outside world. Thanx y’all!

      Reply
  15. wendy

    LOL I totally agree on that blog BUT…. Honestly I’ve observed the exact same behaviour in England and Germany hehe I would say it is a Northern European thing

    Reply
  16. Sean

    Society is nothing if not a set of commonly accepted social norms. When social norms are publicly violated without challenge or consequence, society breaks down. In my opinion, the Dutch have struck a healthy balance between enforcing social norms in public spaces and tolerating maximum personal liberty in the private sphere. The small discomfort you feel at being corrected for your public pecadillos is certainly offset by the huge enjoyment you take from living in a safe, secure, efficient, and tolerant nation where diversity and civil liberty are cherished and protected.

    Reply
    • Erika

      Double agreed! I’m not Dutch (living in NL and loving a Dutchie though), and I’m perfectly happy that people do this type of ‘social policing’. As said: benefits far outweigh the costs. No need to go overboard, obviously (like the garbage throwing thing), but if people haven’t learned basic manners and respect for others during their upbringing, it’s up to the society to correct them 🙂 Hey, it could be counted as free (if a bit radical) manners and etiquette lessons! 😛

      Reply
  17. Andre

    That drives me bonkers, glad I left. Other than visiting family I will never go back.

    Reply
  18. Tigris010

    rule #1: never say: “Really? Now what the f@# are you going to do about it?”

    Reply
  19. Tammy

    How about being told very firmly that meat AND cheese on your bread is excessive. One slice of one or the other, not both. With butter of course…

    Reply
    • Stella

      Then you don’t know the expression zuivel op zuivel is voer voor de duivel/dairy upon dairy feeds the devil, for it was in older times an exess.

      Reply
  20. Anna

    So how does this relate to your #62 post about the Dutch being ‘asociaal’ when they’re not queuing? https://stuffdutchpeoplelike.com/2014/07/04/no-62-not-queuing/ when you were triggered into doing some social policing yourself? I mean, you’re saying Dutch people are at the same time anti-social and heavy on social policing. I’ve lived in the UK and I’ve been more often told off there for things I felt were ridiculous (e.g. for cycling the wrong way in a one way street), than when I lived in the center of Amsterdam near the red light district, where visitors/tourists do often behave very ‘anti-social’ yet are mostly ignored by the locals who accept this as a fact. Right now I live in the US in the Washington DC area, and I notice that here people are constantly reminded that they need to behave (e.g. in the metro, every stop an intercom voice tells us to ‘step back for people exiting the train’, there are posters everywhere telling people they need to make room for disabled people, etc). So I feel social policing is actually more institutionalized here and I’m often worried that I am breaking some unwritten rule or that (being Dutch) I am not polite enough. That said, I’ve had the exact same experience in Amsterdam with a garbage bag that I put out early because I had to get on a plane and I someone on the street was yelling at me for doing so…

    Reply
    • rob

      To be honest. I’m Dutch. Yes, there are written and unwritten rules. However the character of people is depending on town, city but most often of Province you are. You can’t say totally it is Dutch. On the country side there is more social control but also correction most of the time.

      However: Our nation is build on tolerance, respect to each other, some principles and above all complaining! Also we are always in a hurry. (that is where the directness comes in)

      Here is also where our Royal house comes in with the difference to other Royal houses: When we were beneath Spanish rule in the past. The Spanish persecute the people who didn’t obey. A great great great family member of our Royal house now take the lead in a rebellion against the Spanish –> mostly because freedom of believe (and so speech/opinion with that) and the raising of taxes.

      So yes,

      We have Illegal. You may never do this.

      Gedoogbeleid: This is all small illegal things, but if you do it and you don”t bother anyone. The police doesn’t have the power to prosecute all offenders, so they are fine with it.

      Legal: all things that are allowed by law.

      In this way also there is a reaction in cycling in the wrong way! If you don’t bother anyone we don’t care and no we are not point to everyone again and again.

      However be aware older people are respected! So if you are in a tram with your shoes on the opposite couch and no one say’s something about it, it does not always say they don’t care.
      But older people represent the teachers for the younger generation. So if you offend older people, you can be kicked out fast!

      And yes sometimes there are inappropriate questions because we are directly. However it can be a way of joking/fooling around to have a subject in a conversation or to break the ice/sillence. Make you part of the groups trust. Or A way to give trust. In case of foreign people: you don’t know how this works so just say you find it inappropriate.

      Reply
  21. Rik

    Being dutch myself… I never ever heard of not being allowed to drink tea on the public transport, and it sounds stupid to me. You are literally not hurting anyone with it.

    Regarding the feet on the seat. It’s considered impolite because it’s considered unhygienic (sure I spelled that wrong). What if you had stepped in some dogpoo and haden’t noticed, or not cleaned it properly, or stepped in what you thought was just a small puddle of water, but was infact some assholes pee. So that’s where that comes from. And that’s not even considering you are taking up two spots on your own, which is also considered impolite.

    Reply
  22. Ramon

    Being born and raised in the Netherlands, and having left (for the US) in the mid 90s, I can tell you that the Dutch have an annoying penchant for social control and “bemoeizucht”. This is one of the reasons I’m glad I left. Not because it’s better abroad (oh actually, it is!) but because it allowed me to pull the “foreigner” card of not having to fulfill certain cultural expectations.

    Reply
  23. gerardp

    Well, we definitely dislike “what the f*** are you going to do abboudits”, even though this only works in Holland. Abroad, sticking our big, dutch noses in everyone else’s bizz, is surely less appreciated 😉

    Reply
  24. bertine

    I don’t recognize this at all! But I live in the North. Amsterdam is like a weird mixture of extreme tolerance and silly habits on the other and, which is strange 🙂

    Reply
  25. Angela

    I would not mind more rules, like wait for your turn, let people out first of trams, trains, lifts, etc. Let the old and feeble go first, hold the door open for others as you go out the door, and yes take one seat on public transpertation. Certainly do not put your dirty feet on a seat! URGH. Do not stare at others, Do not tell me what language to speak when I am not speaking to you. If you do not have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all. Now that would be a nice society indeed. I applaud anyone who has the voice to tell any idiot they are being rude. I do it and you know what I do not care if I am nagging… and I am not even Dutch.
    If a parent can not parent I will tell the kids who act out to stop. Funny story, I was with a bunch of American kids, parents. The kids all grabbed a seat, some of them were small, very small. My daughter is very tall, VERY tall. )age6 but 132cm) Anywho. I said who will give up a bigger seat so Claire can have be more comfortable. The kids looked at me like I had a horn growing out of my head. The parents were rather uncomfortable, disaproving in fact. I was told that it was what it was, first come first get. I thought that was rude! I realized as an American I had become rather Dutch. I know for fact if that was a room full of Dutch kids, a child would have gave up their seat for my daughter.

    Reply
  26. Jopie

    yes, you certainly should, however not all af them are unwritten, ever noticed the noticing we cloggies have everywhere, good example is the inburgeringsexamenoffice Amsterdam, there’s mote notes on the wall than sand on the beach, which on their own have a “can’t do this, not allowed” sign in front of every entrance……

    Reply
  27. Marieke

    I actually think that it’s more about the way Dutch people express their opinion, rather than the fact that they share it. Dutch people (especially those living in metropolitan areas) can be rather blunt. I am originally from a small town in the South of the Netherlands and it still amazes me how direct Dutchies from the big city can in expressing their opinions. Yes, they are being honest and they might be right about something, but to someone else (Dutch or different nationality) their choice of words might come off as terribly rude.

    I find that you can still ‘tell someone off’ for putting out their garbage bag early, but use nicer words when doing so. That way you’re just as well pointing out the rules, but avoid unintentionally insulting them.

    However, that British tourist was clearly crossing the line. He should have taken his feet off the bench after the first person pointed out that this is not allowed in NL.

    Reply
  28. jean-pierre

    you sould try to travel around, it is a tiny country whitch have great sides, b.t.w. Amsterdam is still a city not a country.

    Reply
  29. Linda

    Don’t forget the loud music bursting through headphones, having elaborate talks on the phone in bus, throwing piecebof paper or can on street. All wont be forgiven 😉

    Reply
  30. Johanna

    How can I add “PICK UP YOUR DAMN DOG POO” to the Dutch social police list? It doesn’t look like it has made it on there, and the results are horrific. Ditto spitting in the street. Not something I thought would be a problem in the supposedly civilized surrounds of the Netherlands. Hideous.

    Reply
  31. Jan Willem

    We Dutch love rules in our organised society. Example?

    You’re not allowed to cycle 2 metres on the pedestrian zone, pay the fine of € 55,00, which exlcudes € 7,00 administration costs! Except when you’re younger then 7 years, until 6 years you’re allowed to cycle against an old nasty witch in your neighbourhood!

    Reply
  32. Annelies

    Such a funny post…and I too have MY story. I was in Amsterdam in May. I could hardly wait to have the poffertjes I remembered from my childhood. Piled high…butter dripping. To my disappointment, my small plate came with only a pat of butter in a foil container. I asked in my best Dutch “if I could please have a bit more butter”. The hateful look I got was not the only shock. The butter was thrown at me by a woman with complete anger. My cousin later said “I cannot believe you would ask for more butter”. Oh well….lesson learned.

    Reply
  33. De ijscovrouw

    I agree that sometimes it is annoying. For example when i eat a sandwich on the bus (just food that doesnt leave stains or smells bad) and people get all hot and bothered about it. However i like how we keep things clean and organised. If someone is littering we tell them to pick it up, to keep our streets clean. I once told a child to stop touching all the food in a buffet restaurant, because that is just unhygienic. Some people are Aso’s or just really clueless about why their behaviour is wrong, so pointing it out helps to keep things orderly.

    Reply
  34. Lisa Jochim

    Great post! Getting yelled at or educated firmly from one adult to another is never fun or cool. The trash thing… really? Calm down. We’re trying to get our trash out to be taken away properly. It’s not like you set it out there 3 days ahead of time. Tea sipping? Is coffee sipping allowed? And the teen on the train… sure.. ask him to please put down his feet and when he behaves like he did.. kick him off the train. But don’t try this in America… he’d be waiting at the next stop with his buddies waiting for you to get off the train. Having an opinion and a mouth is one thing but you’d better be ready to back it up. As my husband says.. don’t get yourself into situations you can’t get out of.

    Reply
  35. l

    uhm… I’m dutch and I always put my feet in the seat in front of me in the bus. and never have I heard anyone complain about it. maybe that’s the cultural difference between the west and the east of the Netherlands…

    Reply
  36. Chris

    Yet they seem to not have any problems with cutting in line and running red lights and giving you bad service but if you throw out trash on the wrong day /time suddenly social behavior matters.

    Reply
  37. westernworld

    i take the dutch in your face approach any day over the backstabbing judgementalism that sits at the very heart of anglo culture.

    Reply
    • Arie

      Me too. When first interacting with Britons I thought they were very polite. After 2.5+ years, I found I was utterly wrong.

      Reply
  38. just a person

    I come from a place where people tend to mind their own business. If you were to put your feet up on a seat on the train here no one would like it but they also would not say a thing to you unless they needed the seat. If I were to be corrected by someone I didn’t know for something like that I’d be surprised but I’d just comply especially if I was visiting another country. .__.

    Reply
  39. Linda Heeringa

    we hold a common sense of decency in high regard here, yes. But like i said, it’s common sense! BUT, reacting in a rude way to the lack of common decency, is often forgotten and people forget that they can be just as ‘asociaal’ as the person they point a finger at. Like your neighbor with the garbage bag.

    Reply
  40. Chris

    yeah, it works like that only in old Dutch neighborhoods and small towns. Whole neighborhoods in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, den Hague are filthy and unsafe. And I am sure that the local Dutch don’t say a God dammed thing to the misfits. Police also won’t react because they are too scared.

    Reply
  41. thesmallgirl

    it’s funny that you mentioned the metro as an example. I moved to the Netherlands recently, and what I could not help to discover at once is that all the trains are extreme dirty – at least compared to my homeland’s trains, which is kind of a shock, as that country is much poorer than the Netherlands. The same is true for my language school – which is even more surprising. (It is not a cheap one at all!) Usually I take my handkerchiefs and put them to the seat before I sit down – so the dirt can not transfer to my clothes. My teacher even told that it is just stain, and not dirt… So the Dutch clearly don’t give a damn if it is about clean clothes, and think I’m a freaky Poirot fan, 😀
    (By the way, the streets are also much more dirty than what I’m used to, and clearly they don’t care, as there are ony a few litter bins on the streets, if any.)

    Reply
    • Arie

      I guess you’ve never been to Italy thinking that public spaces/transport in NL is dirty…. There are many public bins in NL. I remember one time I was in Germany and couldn’t find a bin for many many streets.

      Reply
  42. Ace CB

    I still find it grating, but I try to let the social correction go. What really irritates me is when someone it pointing out your faults and they’re also doing something they shouldn’t.
    I the rain a few weeks ago, while it was still very dark at 8 o’clock I was walking my kid to school. Admittedly I didn’t look as well as I could have crossing the quiet little street, so a woman called me out while on her bike. She wasn’t in danger of hitting us or slamming on her breaks. But she was wearing all black on a black bike without her lights on in the dark. Perhaps I would have seen her better if she had a light on. All I could think was, “Hi, Pot, I’m Kettle.”

    Reply
    • lagatta à montréal

      All black on a black bicycle is normal; people in cycling-friendly countries don’t wear “hi-viz” unless they are sportifs. But it is the law to have lights on after dark. Yes, it is dark at 8am in the darkest part of the winter in the Netherlands.

      Reply
  43. andyjmaclean

    I don’t recognise the socially policed Holland described. In my experience (7 years in A’dam, Den Haag, Leiden & Haarlem) there is no social policing in Holland at all. People throw their litter where they like, people spit, leave their trash and footprints on the seats in the train and carpet the pavement they walk on with with their gum.

    Yes, in a densely populated country like the Netherlands you’d expect to see the opposite, but in reality, you don’t. You see narrow-lanes blocked by thoughtless bike parking. If you’re carrying a heavy box through town you need to say “pardon” every two seconds to shift the i-zombies from your path. If you see a crowd of kids look around their feet and you’ll see the evidence of a spitting-habit that is almost patholgical.

    I like Holland and wouldn’t live here if I didn’t. That doesn’t mean I don’t have complaints though, and the subject of social policing (or the lack thereof) is my primary one. Anyone who’s lived in Italy knows what real social policing looks like!

    Reply
    • Fiona

      Totally agree with Andy! Never ever seen social policing in the Netherlands. Dutch people live in their own mico-cosmos, they don’t see what is going on around them.

      Reply
    • Arie

      I agree. I wish it were different because some people that get raised by dogs, get away with antisocial behaviour. Also, ‘Holland’ is not a country.

      Interesting you mention Italy. I spent a few days in Naples last year and was shocked: When I was out on the street in the evening (between 8 PM and midnight) I saw people with really young children on the streets, and several men who hit their kids (I mean little kids, 3 years of age or so) in public. If that’s the social policing you speak of, I want none of it. Funny also since Naples is the filthiest city I’ve seen (I’ve never seen so much dirt and litter, so many potholes in the street or so many illegal immigrants/homeless people sleeping in bushes). Bucharest was a lot cleaner I found. Perhaps you are speaking of Northern Italy?

      Reply
  44. mm

    Honestly, throughout the years I lived in the Netherlands I saw exactly the opposite- many Dutch people with their feet on the seat in front, personally I find it disgusting

    Reply
  45. Shannon

    Literally the SAME EXACT THING happened to me with the trash. My flight to the US was in two and a half hours, so I took the trash out as I was renting an apartment on Airbnb. I was chased down the street by a Dutch lady who made me take my trash back to the apartment since it was 5 hours before the trash was supposed to be put out.

    Reply
  46. Benedict

    In Brabant nobody tells other people what to do or not. That’s what we enjoy about the Netherlands: The almost american attitude “Nobody tells me what to do”, everybody respects the otherone or at least swallows their anger.

    Reply
    • Angela

      I live in Eindhoven and I beg to differ… But and a big but, it is fine by me. I think if you NEED to be told how to act so be it.

      Reply
    • Peter

      I was born and raised in Brabant myself – but my experience is diametrically opposed: social policing excessive, when I grew up. Especially during my teenage years.

      Reply
  47. Arie

    Was’t there a recent news items discussing research that showed that the Dutch are not that great at ‘sociale controle’ compared to, for instance, Germany and that this is why some ‘aso’s’ can just persist in their antisocial behaviour?

    Reply
  48. MarkN

    We don’t find it strange at all to do some social policing once in a while. In fact, it’s considered a mark of a better neighborhood if people are willing and able to call eachother on their behaviour.
    The metro example is great because it shows exactly why things in the Netherlands are just ever so slightly better than in the rest of the world. In other countries the metro seats are so incredibly filthy that you might as well sit on the floor of a public restroom. Here, we explicitly do not allow for you to put your shoes (with all the dirt from outside and maybe even dog poop!) onto the seat… thereby creating a safe space to sit down for everyone, even when wearing nice clothes to a formal gig!

    Reply
  49. Mossel

    I once stood with my bike on a zebra crossing, waiting for the lights to turn green. A Dutchie from meters away walks over to me. No bc he wanted to cross the street and I was blocking his way. No. Only to tell me that I was blocking other people’s way. But I do appreciate this. That’s what makes this country so orderly and safe and pleasant to live in. 😉

    Reply
  50. Roelof

    Obviously I am one of those people:
    I am living in China and never got used to certain behavior.
    Some time ago I was passing a car by foot, The window opened and the woman on the passenger seat threw some orange peels and a napkin out the window. Just in a reaction, I took the stuff from the street and threw it back on her lap. She was very shocked and looked at me with big eyes. I told her, in my best Chinese, to be an example for her children, who were sitting on the back seat.
    My (Chinese) wife was very angry and told me that I was not in Holland and that I should mind my own business, which I do most of the time.

    Reply
  51. Fred Ducque

    During our visit to the Netherlands, whenever we would pause on the street to look at our map or tour book, someone would almost always come up and ask “Do you have a question?” or “May I help you?” THAT is the good part of this “social policing”! We loved it

    At first we would sometimes reply that we were fine (we didn’t want to be a bother), but our helper would get such a sad look on their face that we began to always have some question on our lips. That way, our savior could help us and we could have a nice conversation too!

    We loved the Dutch!

    Reply
    • Jan Willem

      Very true, I also recognized the disappointment when we feel not needed! Haha! Ithink we also are proud to present our musea and so on.

      Reply

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