Today, Sophie shares her story with us: She is a twenty-something Canadian who moved to the Netherlands for love. In her eighteen months in the country, she has earned an MA in Media Studies, lived in three different cities and one village, and continues to fall more in love with her new home everyday. She started Sophie in Clogs as a way to document her life abroad—her travels and adventures big and small, her favourite city dwellings, and a lot of food talk.
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When I first moved to the Netherlands, a question I often got was whether it was difficult to get around when I didn’t speak the language. The answer was always ‘not really’ – obviously it’s very beneficial to at least try to pick up some Dutch, but what you’ve heard is true: the people around here tend to speak very good English. What I found much more difficult than the language barrier in the beginning were the (not so) subtle differences in communication styles between myself and the Dutch.
There is a very unflattering stereotype out there about Dutch people being rude, which I think must stem from a misunderstanding of their communication style.
At the other end of the spectrum, Canadians are portrayed as almost comically friendly and ridiculously polite … (See How I Met Your Mother if you don’t believe me!) Clearly, I was destined to have some difficulties! But, although I have admittedly had a few disheartening experiences while trying to adapt to this new communication style, most of the time it’s made for some humorous stories (at least in hindsight) and excellent life lessons.
Thank you SO much & other excessive cries
When I first moved here, one of the most immediately striking differences I noticed between myself and the Dutch was in the way we express enthusiasm and gratitude.
I have made many a Dutch person uncomfortable with my wide-grinned exclamations of ‘thank you so much!’ and my lavish use of superlatives. Prime example? Having dinner at a friend’s place. Back in Canada, it’s typical to proliferate thanks and compliments throughout the meal. Before the dish is presented to you: ‘Wow, this smells heavenly!’ As the plate is set in front of you: ‘This looks amazing, thank you so much!’ And, multiple times throughout (and after) the meal:
‘This is delicious! Wow, this is so good! Thank you so much!’
Now that I’ve lived in the Netherlands for well over a year, I do see how excessive this might seem to the non-initiated –
but when I first moved here, I simply didn’t get why my hosts could only manage small nods, or even uncomfortable shoulder shrugs as I sang their praise. Did they hate me? Had I done something wrong? It turns out that, generally speaking, Dutch people take excessive shows of enthusiasm as unnecessary and, at times, suspicious. Oops.
Slowly, I have learned to refrain from offering more than one compliment per dining stage, and have even been known not to comment on the smell at all. A true revolution!
A particular event stands out in my memory as pertains to the famous Dutch honesty. Shortly after I’d first made the move to the Netherlands, I was invited to spend a weekend at a friend’s place. Her mother’s birthday happened to fall on that weekend, and I was invited to join the festivities with a very nice dinner and a concert. After the performance, I thanked my hosts for the night out.
‘Well of course,’ my friend’s father replied, ‘You’re here on my wife’s birthday, so we had no choice.’
That sure felt good! (Fortunately I’ve come to know my friend’s parents very well and they are very warm, genuine and generous people.)
I have to say that the longer I live here, the more I come to appreciate this blunt communication style. My Dutch friends will always tell me if there’s something in my teeth or if I’ve done something they don’t appreciate. While difficult to get used to at first, I find it makes our friendships all the stronger.
Dropping my pleases and thank yous
The biggest challenge I’ve faced is getting people to take me seriously – specifically in bureaucratic settings.
About a year ago, I was suddenly forced to stop working through a series of miscommunications with the office in charge of my employment. Long story short: my representative had neglected to renew my work permit, and it would take an alleged six weeks (at least) to resolve the issue. I had lost my job overnight. I was devastated and grew increasingly frustrated as it became apparent that nobody in charge was willingly going to help me rectify the situation.
It was a very rough couple of weeks – I think I had at least one breakdown a day – but at the same time, it was with this drama (and the incredible help of my wonderful boyfriend and friends) that I learned to get things done for myself – and in just three weeks, I had my job back! Most interestingly, I discovered that the way to get people to comply with me was by writing what I considered to be extremely aggressive emails – which my Dutch friends constantly assured me actually sounded extremely friendly. What a difference from all the smiling I did in Toronto when I was trying to renew my passport under a time crunch!
Dropping my pleases and thank yous continues to feel unnatural to me but I’m fortunate that, since that particular incident, I haven’t had much need to do so.
I still haven’t mastered the art of “Dutch-style” communication. I’m convinced that, in spite of my increasing fluency, people in stores totally know that I’m an outsider – surely something to do with my overly-enthusiastic answers to questions like ‘Would you like a bag?’. Still, I see the learning process as interesting and fun. And, if nothing else, I’ve finally learned not to take indifferent service in restaurants personally!
Thanks for sharing Sophie! This makes me laugh as it is SOOOOO similar to the way the Greeks communicate. I think us Brits and North Americans are probably excessive. Be careful though: when you go back to Canada for a visit, learn to adjust as I have gone back to the UK numerous times, only to have to check myself as I am considered EXTREMELY rude!