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Lesson Transcript

Michael: What topics are taboo in Dutch?
Atie: And what are some things you should avoid doing?
Michael: At DutchPod101.com, we hear these questions often. In the following situation, Karen Lee and Hilda Gerrits are chatting in a good atmosphere while drinking coffee. Everything changes when Karen asks the forbidden question.
"How much do you earn?"
Karen Lee: Hoeveel verdien je?
Karen Lee: Hoeveel verdien je?
Hilda Gerrits: Daar praat ik niet over.
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Karen Lee: Hoeveel verdien je?
Michael: "How much do you earn?"
Hilda Gerrits: Daar praat ik niet over.
Michael: "That's something I don't talk about."

Lesson focus

Michael: In this lesson, we will be exploring
Atie: taboe onderwerpen
Michael: or "taboo topics" in the Netherlands. The Dutch are known to be very open and direct, but there are some topics that are considered impolite to discuss and which can make people very uncomfortable. When in the Netherlands, one should know what not to say, and which topics to avoid in order to make sure you are not offending anyone. We will be looking at several of these topics.
[Recall 1]
Michael: Let's start our discussion by taking a closer look at the dialogue. Do you remember how Karen Lee says "How much do you earn?"
(pause 4 seconds)
Atie as Karen Lee: Hoeveel verdien je?
[Recall 2]
Michael: Now for the second sentence. Do you remember how Hilda Gerrits says "That's something I don't talk about.?"
(pause 4 seconds)
Atie as Hilda Gerrits: Daar praat ik niet over.
Michael: In this dialogue, Hilda is upset about the question because people never discuss salary in the Netherlands. How much you earn and how you manage your finances are considered a private affair, even among friends! The Dutch do not like to discuss topics that could place people in any kind of hierarchy. Any talk about how much you own or earn, basically any discussions to do with money or wealth that is not business-related, can have that effect.
Another thing to avoid doing in the Netherlands is referring to Dutch people as Germans. This would be upsetting, as there is a history of rivalry between the Netherlands and Germany. For instance, you wouldn't ask:
Atie: "Ben je Duits?"
Michael: "Are you German?" If you did, a typical response to this might be:
Atie: "Jeetje! Nee. Ik ben Nederlands."
Michael: This means, "Gosh! No. I am Dutch."
In fact, you should avoid commenting on anyone's ethnicity while in the Netherlands. You also shouldn't refer to anyone as 'black.' The Netherlands is a diverse country and, despite the fact that the Dutch are generally open and direct, race is a sensitive topic. Slavery and colonisation are a sensitive part of the country's history, which makes race a more delicate topic than it might be in many other places.
Another Dutch taboo is refusing a handshake. To do so is seen as very rude, and someone who is Dutch might see this refusal as a show of disrespect or even disdain. If you cannot shake hands for religious, cultural, or health reasons, you must remember to explain this to someone who is Dutch. You could do this by saying, for example, "I am sorry. I prefer not to shake hands."
Atie: "Het spijt me. Ik geef er de voorkeur aan geen handen te schudden."
Michael: It might also be good to explain further by saying something like, "It is seen as rude in my culture."
Atie: "Het wordt in mijn cultuur als grof gezien."
Michael: While the Dutch have no problem with using their hands for handshakes, they do not like to use them for eating. With the exception of specific types of food such as pizza, chips, bread, or meat with a prominent bone, eating with one's hands in the Netherlands is not socially acceptable.
If, for some reason, a person needs to go against this norm, it is good to apologise and give an explanation. Someone could apologise by saying, for instance, "I hope no one minds if I use my hands."
Atie: "Ik hoop dat niemand het erg vindt als ik mijn handen gebruik."
Michael: And, in order to explain further they might add something like, "This is how we eat in my country."
Atie: "Dit is hoe we eten in mijn land."
Michael: Remember, in the Netherlands, people are generally open and friendly so they will be understanding when you explain your particular eating practices. They may respond by saying, for example, "That is absolutely fine."
Atie: "Dat is prima hoor."
Michael: Now, let's talk about trains. In some countries, a ride on the train can be a bit of a bumpy or shaky experience, so children are often seated because it is safer and more stable than standing. This is not the case in the Netherlands as the trains are safe and the journey tends to be quite smooth. When using public transport in the Netherlands, people give up their seat to anyone who is old, pregnant, or disabled. It would be seen as very impolite not to do the same. For example, if an old man gets on the train, a person might offer their seat by saying, "Please, take my seat."
Atie: "Alstublieft, gaat u zitten."
Michael: The old man would be very grateful, I'm sure.
However, don't expect a positive reaction if you ever cut a queue in the Netherlands! As in most Western European countries, it is very rude to cut in front of other people. If you are in a big rush or have very few items to pay for, your only hope is that the people in front might make way for you, if you ask politely. Make eye contact with every person in front of you and slowly move forward with each person's permission. Perhaps people will be understanding, but your progress will be at the discretion of whoever is in front of you. Remember to communicate if there is a special reason for skipping the queue. For example, you could say, "Please could I go first? I have very few items."
Atie: "Mag ik alsjeblieft eerst gaan? Ik heb heel weinig dingen."
Michael: or "I am late, I still have to fetch my daughter from school."
Atie: Ik ben laat, ik moet mijn dochter nog van school halen.
Michael: In this lesson, we learned about taboo topics in the Netherlands and how to avoid talking about them so as not to offend anyone. These topics pertain to, among other things, social norms and societal expectations such as those related to children, parenting, social occasions, and money.
Cultural Insight/Expansion
Michael: Apart from the topics we mentioned above, let us mention a few more that you better keep in mind when you visit the Netherlands.
Let's begin with: walking off the pedestrian lanes. Doing so could be hazardous to your health! This is because bicycles are the primary mode of transport for many people. In fact, there are more bicycles than there are people in the Netherlands. Any given person may own more than one bicycle because there are different bicycles for different activities. This means that there are dedicated bicycle lanes everywhere and these are usually painted red. If they are not red, then there are pictures of a bicycle placed along the lane every one hundred meters. Be sure to stick in the pedestrian lane, though! Someone on their bicycle might warn you by shouting something like:
Atie: Ga uit de weg!
Michael; or "Move out of the way!," but they might also just knock you out of the way without warning. Be careful.
Michael: The Dutch are known to plan ahead. For this reason, it's a good idea to never show up unannounced. One should always plan in advance when making arrangements in the Netherlands. Do not expect to make spontaneous, last minute arrangements.
The Dutch also prefer to be clear and straightforward. Do not dance around a question because that would be a waste of time and you might find the person you are talking to suddenly resentful.
In the Netherlands, when it comes to children, it is important to always communicate with the parent and not the child about any wrongdoing the child may have done. It is no one's place but the parents' or teacher's to correct children's behaviour. It is also unacceptable to tell any parent how they should or could raise their children.
Another example of when one should not give advice is in any situation where a Dutch person has not tried something before or is attempting to make a decision. They like to figure things out for themselves and to learn from experience so that they can form their own opinions. If the outcome of their attempt or decision is good, it would be acceptable to say "I told you so."
Atie: "Ik zei het je toch."
Michael: But one should never say "I told you so," if the outcome is bad.
Finally, when it comes to giving gifts, do not give someone money as a gift and, when you do buy a gift, make sure you use colourful paper to wrap it. Any alternative is seen as lazy and therefore as an insult. Also note that any gifts given will be immediately unwrapped. If you don't know what to buy, a gift card is always a good option.
Now that you are armed with knowledge of which topics are taboo in the Netherlands you will be far less likely to offend anyone by mistake when visiting this wonderful country.


Michael: Do you have any more questions? We're here to answer them!
Atie: Doei!
Michael: See you soon!