When the Dutch queen – who’s Argentinean – emigrated to the Netherlands, an interviewer asked her to describe the Netherlands. With a cute Spanish accent she answered in Dutch: ‘’the Netherlands is tea with one cookie and big windows without curtains, so that everybody can take a good look inside.’’ In my opinion she hit the nail on the head, but the Dutch weren’t so happy with her answer. That’s not because of the part about transparency and openness of course. Dutch people are known to be stingy. Ask an expat and he’ll confirm. The term ‘’going Dutch’’ wasn’t picked out of thin air you know. But ask a Dutchman if it’s true that Dutch people are stingy and he will most likely say: ‘’No, we’re misunderstood!’’ Are the Dutch really just misunderstood? Let’s have a closer look.
Stingy or thrifty?
Dutch people say they are thrifty. That’s true. They don’t waste their money. ”Why drive when you can cycle? Weather or no weather, I’m not made of sugar! And why buy lunch when you can bring lunch from home? Why buy a luxurious car when you can buy a less expensive car? Why throw out expired food when it still smells good?” I used to have a wealthy teacher (teaching was just something he did on the side) who always asked supermarkets for expired food. ‘’The expiration date is just the end of their warranty, but it can still be good.’’
While I think it’s useful to know that you don’t have to waste food that’s still good, I think this was a bit extreme, seen the fact that this was a wealthy man. And that’s the thing: their thriftiness can be a great value, but they often go too far, leaving the rest of the world thinking ‘’what a cheapskate’’.
I actually don’t mind the way they are thrifty or stingy (you choose) with their own purchases and personal choices. What bothers me is the fact that sharing is not part of this culture. It bothers me because generosity and empathy are related to compassion (rahma) – and you know how much I value compassion. But I understand why they don’t share.
The Dutch mindset
I am in the position that I am part of the Dutch culture while I can also look at the Dutch culture with foreign eyes. I understand that Dutch people don’t think they are stingy, because that’s simply how they were raised and how everybody around them behaves. I suspect all the wars and crisis in the past (WWI, WWII (especially the Dutch famine) and the crisis in the 1930’s) have to do with Dutch thriftiness. What’s also important is that the Dutch culture is focused on individuality. It’s about working hard and taking your own responsibility. You first, then your neighbor – and the neighbor should actually just have his stuff together.
That’s the mentality here. What may seem selfish to a non-Dutch person is only normal to a Dutch person, and that is why they don’t get why the world thinks they’re stingy. You have to know that they don’t mean to be selfish. Their standard is just different from most people. They think they’re thrifty, while others think they’re just stingy.
To illustrate what I mean with sharing not being part of their culture I will describe some of my experiences during high school. None of these people were poor. In fact, some were quite rich.
The names are fake but the situations are 100% real.
There is no sharing; only borrowing and trading
- I ran into Nicole, who told me she was going to buy a box of popsicles and asked me if I wanted one. ‘’Sure,’’ I said. She came back and we ate popsicles at school with four other classmates. The next day she came to me and said: ‘’hey Lina, you still owe me 40 cents for that popsicle, because the box was €2,40.’’ Apparently I missed the part about the deal I signed. I gave her the 40 cents and learned my lesson, namely to never expect something for free.
- Back in the days before we had a scannable public transport card we had a paper card with fifteen strips that needed to be stamped. You needed to stamp at least two strips to go anywhere. Sarah was one strip short and Lynn had an empty card, so Lynn said: ‘’you can have a strip of mine if you give me the money for that strip.’’
They just don’t get the idea of sharing. When you have a bag of candy and you open it and put it on the middle of the table, they won’t get that you meant they could eat with you. You need to explicitly tell them they can eat with you. They often try to trade with you, like one potato chip for one candy.
Sometimes they won’t even loan you money
- Sarah was telling me about her day at the mall with Ellie. They went to McDonalds to eat. Ellie ordered food and said she would look for a table. When it was Sarah’s turn to order, the girl behind the register told her she can’t take cards because of a technical problem. Sarah never has cash on her, so she walked over to Ellie and told her she couldn’t use her debit card. ‘’Oh.’’ *Ellie continued eating* Sarah was really hungry and told her those fries looked really yummy. After Ellie was full she said: ”ok you can have some fries”. Sarah didn’t tell me this as a way to complain about Ellie. She was just explaining that it sucked that she couldn’t use her card and therefore remained hungry.
Sometimes they even sell their food
- I went to the supermarket with Sarah. On Fridays they had a special offer on croissants: 4 for €1, instead of €0,70 each. She bought four croissants, but she figured out four would be too much for her. ‘’I will eat two, save one for my sister and then there will be one left. Maybe I can ask Lynn if she wants to buy it from me for 25 cents.’’
They freak out when you borrow money
- My friend was 60 cents short on something and so she borrowed 60 cents from this girl. She had never borrowed something from her before. Three days later (there was a weekend in between) she opened her mail and saw two emails of that girl, reminding her not to forget to pay her back.
- Dave and Ellie are talking: ‘’Ellie, you still have to transfer €1,50 to my account. You still haven’t done it! I want you to transfer it today, with 10 cents interest.’’
- They always tweeted each other things like ‘’you still owe me X, will you bring it to school tomorrow?’’ and ‘’I won’t see you tomorrow, so will you transfer it to my account?’’.
As I said, these are experiences from high school. I get that high school kids have less money than adults, but adults aren’t actually that different. I’m in college now, I’ve had internships and I see people around me all the time of course. I know the way Dutch people think. Sometimes couples argue at the cash register over who will pay – just saying.
What to keep in mind
If you ever visit the Netherlands keep the following rules in mind when dealing with Dutch people:
- Always pay for yourself.
- If you must borrow money, pay it back as soon as possible – even if it’s just a few cents. If you don’t do that they may not mention it, but they will definitely die inside.
- Try to use your stuff only. Make sure you always have your own pen and paper or whatever. A lot of people hate it when you ask to borrow their stuff.
- Don’t expect them to share anything. It doesn’t mean they hate you. They just have a very individualistic culture. Try to understand that.
- You can take one cookie, unless they really insist you take another one.
- Gifts are not over €15 (I’m talking about adults).
- You can’t eat over. They count the potatoes. Seriously, they make food for exactly the number of people at home, so you shouldn’t expect to get food unless you were really invited for dinner.
So are the Dutch stingy? It depends on whether you’re Dutch or not, because the Dutch seem to have a different definition of stingy from the rest of the world. If you’re not Dutch, then yes; they’re stingy. If you’re Dutch, then no; the rest of the world is just too generous.