By Chris Smit

Most of the work I do consists of giving 1 or 2-day workshops and giving lectures (anything between 20 minutes to 2 hours, I consider a lecture) about cultural differences. And to ‘ease’ the delegates into to the subject of culture, I start talking about stereotypes; which are, of course, an incomplete representation of reality or a society. Sometimes they are true and sometimes they’re not true. Sometimes they’re in between.

Of course, I ask about what stereotypes people hold about the Dutch as well. Here are some: bikes, orange, marijuana (almost always immediately followed by the Red Light district in Amsterdam), cheese, and many more. And also always the word stingy or cheap (sometimes reluctantly or quietly, because they are afraid to insult me. Trust me, you can’t insult a Dutchman. We’ll insult you, though, or at least be rude to you, albeit unwillingly).

And so the word is out; the Dutch are stingy. But are they?

Are the Dutch Stingy?

When the people in my workshops tell me the Dutch are stingy, I tell them that it’s is not true. Instead, I tell my audience that the Dutch are… well, economical… Which almost always makes them laugh. But listen to my defense:

The Dutch, per head of capita, give more to good causes (such as a relief fund aimed at helping the victims of a hurricane disaster) than any other country in the world. Compared to our neighbors in the south, the Dutch, on average, give about three times as much as the Belgians. Using another source on this topic, the World Giving Index, the Dutch rank a respectable 13th place (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Giving_Index). Germany holds the 21st place, Belgium the 32nd place, and France holds position number …81.

For this poll, the following questions were asked: “How often have you…”

  • helped a stranger, or someone you didn’t know who needed help?
  • donated money to a charity?
  • volunteered your time to an organization?

The Dutch, per head of capita, give more to good causes than any other country in the world

Shops

Furthermore, the Dutch don’t have cheap shops either. There are many Dutch shops, that can also be found in Belgium, Germany, and France, that are economical, but not cheap. Here are some examples:

  • C&A (sells clothes)
  • Zeeman (sells clothes and assorted household items)
  • Kruidvat (sells anything from deodorant, candy, to protein powder)
  • HEMA (do you know what this abbreviation stands for? Hollandse Eenheidsprijzen Maatschappij, roughly translated: Single Price Company)
  • Blokker (sells random household stuff; but never what I need…)
  • Action (one of the recently most successful retailers from the Netherlands; they sell anything from light bulbs to towels to protein powder as well).

…To name a few.

These stores sell things that are reasonably priced and of reasonable quality. Which is different from selling cheap stuff.

From a Cultural Perspective

From a cultural perspective you could argue that these types of stores thrive here due to the Calvinistic nature or culture of the Dutch – who don’t do things that are over the top, work to live instead of the other way around, and believe in quality of life over quantity.

The Scandinavians even have a virtual law for this: “The law of John”. Whereby John shouldn’t think he’s better, more, richer, or above anyone else. The Dutch don’t use this saying, but do act accordingly. Which explains their love for economic shops mentioned before; why spend more when you can buy something of reasonable quality, for a good price?

Some Related Comparisons

If you look at the countries that surround us, Belgium and Germany, you will notice that overall, the houses in the Netherlands tend to be smaller. As well as the cars we drive; after all, a small car will get you where you want to go as well, so you don’t need a big car…

From a cultural perspective, the Dutch follow the same trend as the Scandinavian countries. One good example of an international success is IKEA. Reasonable to good quality stuff (who has an IKEA-free house?), for a reasonable price.

So, be honest; why pay more if you don’t have to?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Want to better understand the Dutch and learn how to work with them? Get in touch with Chris Smit at culturematters.com or send an email to chris.smit@culturematters.com.

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