If The Truth Hurts, Then What is a Lie?

When we announced that we were moving to Amsterdam different folks shared their thoughts about the Dutch. Some of the accounts were hearsay, people just saying things they’ve heard somewhere prior. For example: “The Dutch are down to earth, and practical,” they said. “The Dutch are blunt,” they said. “Once I was asked if I had gained weight because my butt appeared bigger,” someone said. “The Dutch are a lot of fun. I partied with them all the time Country X, ” they said. What stood out the most was when a Dutch citizen said, “whatever the case many be, we are at least always honest.” 

It’s all fun and games to have these discussions in the time leading up to moving somewhere you’ve never been before. However, we concede that it is not good practice to generalize an entire group of people. While there are definitely commonalities that exist among individuals of the same country, we know that one size does not fit all. 

Everything intertwined, bikes, cars and pedestrians.
Everything intertwined, bikes, cars and pedestrians.

Cyclist and their bicycles dominate the streets and walkways in Amsterdam. Even in designated areas where cycling is prohibited, people still ride their bikes. Imagine walking through one of those designated areas on a cold, windy, and rainy day just minding your business when all of sudden you hear a loud sound out of nowhere.  Please keep in mind that the street is made from hard cobblestone and wet from continuous rain showers. There is also a steel tram track in the middle.

Upon impact, there is a loud sound that occurs only when a human body and a bike simultaneously hit the ground and slide to a screeching halt. The sound radiates throughout the entire street, echoing back and forth off the surrounding buildings. Everyone within a 50 foot radius stops and turns toward the direction of the sound. The guy who fell is laying on the ground looking disoriented and most likely embarrassed by the fall. Within seconds of the bike mishap, a random individual asks “are you okay mate?” Then, not even one second later, another person shouts, “you shouldn’t be riding your bike here anyway!” Shameful laughter immediately followed the last outburst, then the guy got back on his bike and pedaled away. 

Expert multitasker cycling through the city.
Expert multitasker biking through the city.

Some may feel the last outburst can be characterized as ”kicking a person while they are down.” Others may simply find the comment unnecessary. Regardless, the comment is true, and it’s also comedic irony at its best. After a month of being of here, small and minor examples of Dutch “honesty” have reminded us that we are indeed living in another culture and have lead up to this example that perfectly exemplifies what some consider to be honesty and what others consider bluntness. It forces you to examine the notion of what it means to be nice or polite especially at the expense of being truthful. In the Unites States, stating the obvious can often be the first step in causing a conflict and sometimes even considered inappropriate. Can you imagine witnessing a car accident and seeing a person fly through the windshield, then saying to them “you should’ve been wearing your seat belt anyway!” The knack of stating the obvious doesn’t come easy for everyone, but what can you say? Through it all, at least someone was honest.

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2 Comments

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  1. I think it’s easy to be “honest” if you don’t have to worry about being punched in the face. So I guess maybe the Dutch agree amongst themselves not to retaliate when people laugh at each other. Do you think they take themselves less seriously than Americans?

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    • Thats a good question. I think the lack of retaliation in the face of that type of honesty has more to do with how the Dutch define self-pride. The society is more egalitarian overall. Meaning, no one person is perceived to be better than another based on surface differences (how they look, what they wear, etc.) and even the idea of “being better than someone” isn’t very prevalent. I think when you remove that mindset, there is more space to be honest without offending and causing anguish.

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