Royal glitter in the sober Dutch egalitarian culture
Is there a Dutch identity? Is there respect without titles and formalities. The multicolored Dutch manage to combine royal glitter and soberness. They place their King in the middle of the egalitarian society. Together they guarantee freedom and democracy.
© Eleonore Breukel and Marcelo Baudino
Who are the Dutch?
The Argentinean born Queen Maxima of the Netherlands once said in an official speech “There is no Dutch identity”. That statement was not well received by the Dutch public. What she meant was that the Netherlands is so multicultural that it is hard to label it with one single identity. In large cities in the Netherlands, English is heard more often than Dutch and a range of skin tones can dominate in crowded streets.
Over the centuries people from all continents have come to the Netherlands in search of jobs, education, freedom of speech, a strong social system, and tolerance of race, religion and sexual orientation. Some came for the cannabis. It is a melting pot of people and languages. Immigration laws have become stringent. However, due to the open labor market of the European Union there is a large influx of European migrants, many come from Eastern Europe. Over time most immigrants adapt to the mainstream culture while changing that mainstream culture at the same time.
How egalitarian are you?
In the Dutch egalitarian society all people have the same rights and are treated equally under the same circumstances. The CEO of Shell or the Mayor of Amsterdam will be fined if they fail to pay a parking ticket or if they do not clean up after their dog poop on the street. The Dutch believe in equal rights, equal responsibilities and equal treatment – with the law as the authority – no matter who you are.
CEOs get their own coffee at work, the Prime Minister often commutes on his bicycle, and Queen Maxima’s kids go to a regular public school. A position of great responsibility doesn’t come with expectations of special rights or special treatment. This often confuses foreigners visiting Dutch organizations. Without formalities around status it can be hard to distinguish who the boss is. The Dutch communication style is also very informal and very direct. Respect is earned by training trust rather than through formalities, job titles or academic achievements.
Do Freedom and Trust sleep on the same cushion?
In the Netherlands they do. Freedom of speech, euthanasia, and use of soft drugs, are all permitted, but strictly regulated. There are laws, procedures and permits for just about everything. You even need a permit to cut down a tree in your own garden. All these regulations exist to protect both individuals and businesses. On one hand they slow down business processes but on the other hand it inspires trust. Like other Northern European countries, the Dutch trust the ability of their national institutions and the government to function well. Favoritism or bribing is punished severely. It is this trust which makes the social economic climate of the northern countries pleasant and predictable.
Soberness and glitter boost the economy
There is soberness in the Dutch culture, which contrasts greatly with the glamour and glitter of the Monarch’s annual ride in his golden carriage. Extravagance is often seen as wasteful and is met with disapproval. This has proved to be a positive trait during tough economic times when. However, it can be very embarrassing when one brings an unexpected guest for dinner – meals are rarely prepared with the intention of having left overs.
This soberness, or rather disapproval of abundance and excesses, is rooted in history in the various forms of Protestantism of the Northern European countries originating in the 16th century. Each individual had to earn his salvation through soberness, honesty and hard work. The Protestants opposed the Catholic papal supremacy and authority and they condemned the grandeur of the Catholic ceremonies, the lavish and sinful lifestyle of its clergy, and the adornment of gold, precious stones and paintings in their churches. The Protestant houses of worship were large and empty, with simple ceremonies and no adornments that might distract from worshiping God. The Dutch followed the severe Calvinist doctrine within Protestantism.
Of course the Dutch have changed and very few still practice any form of religion. However some of the old values are expressed in new ways. The Dutch will prefer a solid car like a Volkswagen over a show piece such as a Lamborghini and many prefer to have more vacation days than a higher salary. Often couples decide that one of the partners will not work for some years after having children to prioritize time for family life over the luxury of two salaries.
Even the royal family does not excel in extravagance or spending lavishly. Their expenses are always scrutinized by the public. They are thought of as walking advertisements for the country. Their suits and dresses are often the work of Dutch fashion designers. King Willem Alexander promotes Dutch water management and sports around the world. The royal family plays a large role in the local and global economy. Not only are they related to many wealthy European royal families, they are also part of an enormous network of the most important and powerful people of the world – from Barrack Obama to Ratan Tata and Bill Gates. Many of these people are not just acquaintances but personal friends.
When making state visits, large trade delegations accompany the royals. Dutch businessmen are introduced to local companies but also have the opportunity to talk to the royal family during their trip. It is always good to be “seen with your queen”.
Who wants to be queen?
Ask any woman in the street if she wants to switch positions with Maxima and the answer will be, “Oh heavens no, the poor woman”. It is hard to find anyone who wants to be king, queen or a member of the royal family. Members of the royal family are always in the public eye and must exercise great restraint airing their own opinions or simply being themselves. Even though Willem Alexander and Maxima have taken steps away from protocol to be closer to the people, every move, smile, and sentence is scrutinized. For the sober Dutch, status, money, glitter are not seen as attractive compensation for being a public figure.
Eleonore Breukel www.intercultural.nl