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Are the Dutch rude or direct?

On my recent vacation to the Netherlands, I found the Dutch to mostly be very nice -- especially at shops, cafes and restaurants. Unfortunately, I had 2 encounters with locals in Amsterdam -- one young woman on her bicycle and one male on his scooter -- who behaved in a way which I would clearly describe as "rude" (i.e. the young woman yelling "idiot" to my face).

What I learned is that the Dutch have "road rage" on their bicycles and scooters the way Americans do when driving. Since it's often their primary means of transport to get from one place to the next as quickly as possible, they have zero tolerance for any obstacles in their way. Word to the wise is to not take their verbal "abuse" personally, as it's their cultural norm to be direct even though it comes across as rude to those unaccustomed to such bluntness.

Posted by
6876 posts

What is the etiquette for pedestrians and bikers sharing the road? In other words, did you breach any norms (or bike lane or roadway rules) before being called an "idiot"? Which one(s)? Gotta have the full context here...otherwise, it's appears like a very one-sided view.

A few months ago, I saw someone on an electrical scooter literally plow into a pedestrian in Venice Beach (CA) on a crowded walkway. I thought a fight was going to ensue and the guy didn't seem all that bothered by his action (to me it seemed like he lost control of the scooter and should have driven more slowly given his competence, or stepped off altogether because it was too crowded of a walkway). In many areas, bicyclists are separated from car and pedestrians traffic through barriers or at least lane markings (for their own good and safety, as well as that of pedestrians).

Posted by
3493 posts

Well, if you were standing in the bike lane or other transportation way obstructing their path then yes it is an expected response. Just be glad you didn't get run over by them. Pedestrians don't have the right of way with respect to bikes.

Posted by
1424 posts

I was in an Amsterdam walking tour when a cyclist roared through our group with a passing "idiot" comment. The guide was a local and said the cyclist was in the wrong for whatever reason. Jerks are everywhere.

Posted by
7 posts

While trying to get my bearings straight in finding a specific address on a Amsterdam side street, I stood in what I thought was a sidewalk and safe for pedestrians, but I was incorrect. The young woman hit me, I apologized to her, and she yelled "idiot" to my face before riding away.

Yes, in hindsight I know I was standing where I was not supposed to according to the Dutch. But in that moment and in reflecting, it's one experience of traveling to the Netherlands that put a damper on an otherwise great trip.

Posted by
6876 posts

Yes, in hindsight I know I was standing where I was not supposed to
according to the Dutch.

Local bicyclists probably have "pedestrian tourist fatigue" because you're not the only one who has done this, and it's endangering the safety of both people. Just try to think about this from their perspective instead of being bummed out over it. Tourists are, unfortunately or not, expected to acclimate to the local culture and its norms. Given how ubiquitous bikes are in Holland, it's like knowing road rules generally.

Here in the DC area, we have unspoken rules for using the metro escalators, which tourists routinely ignore or are unaware of ("stand on the right, pass on the left - don't stand in middle and block")

Posted by
308 posts

I belong to an online international expat group. A common theme of the posts of expats who live in the Netherlands is how they use directness as an excuse to be rude. Take from that what you will.

Posted by
349 posts

The Dutch are direct but calling you an idiot after you acknowledged being in the wrong and apologizing is just plain rude.

Posted by
5648 posts

As stated above, jerks are everywhere. Just this week, a woman on a motorized foot scooter in Downtown Denver ran into a legally blind man, holding a white cane, on out 16th Street Mall, a pedestrian zone. She rode off, leaving the dazed and injured man on the ground.

You may have not been where you were supposed to be, but someone who uses that as an excuse to run into someone else is using questionable judgment. There may be "idiots" everywhere, too, but rudeness and hostility aren't necessarily the best way to deal with them, for everyone's safety.

Regarding Dutch people, they've been some of the nicest folks I've met anywhere. One couple dining at the table next to ours in Nice, France comes to mind, as we shared travel stories while waiting for our meals to be served. And I have a cousin who married a Dutch man in Utrecht, then they divorced, then remarried. Sometimes things are good, and sometimes not so much, but can get better again!

Hope some guy in a big Nissan pickup truck treats the cyclist with better courtesy, if she ever crosses his path!

Posted by
1179 posts

The problem is that the local bicyclists probably have "pedestrian tourist fatigue" because you're not the only one who has done this,

This! It’s possible that you were the 5th person in the wrong spot for that day. And she was done with it.

You were in the wrong. It shouldn’t spoil your whole trip because you messed up for a few minutes. Learn from it, don’t do it again, have an improved life!

Posted by
5745 posts

Hey, at least you didn't receive an €800 ticket in the mail a year later, then come here to grouse that the Dutch police were cheating unsuspecting American tourists with outrageous scams...

(well, at least that hasn't happened yet... ;) )

It is true that this is probably a combination of "tourism fatigue" and someone just having a bad day. We don't always see people at their best (true of plenty of bicycle-pedestrian encounters where I live, too). I would not make broad interpretations of the character of Dutch people based on this incident.

Posted by
2139 posts

They are the world's tallest nation - maybe they look down on others?

Posted by
5648 posts

You might be on to something, ramblin' on, but with a country at such a low elevation, they have to be tall just to be as high as the rest of us. :)

Posted by
3789 posts

I decided to look at what an Amsterdam bike lane looked like and almost all look like bike lanes in North America except for one that was red cobbled and at the same level of the sidewalk. Only a single grey brick like separated it from the sidewalk. So it is going to be pretty difficult to believe she was in the right 'lane'. If a motor scooter, they are banned from bike lanes, so again, the sidewalk wouldn't be his. Being one who tries to see both sides of the equation, it could well be that you were the recipient of a stack of incidents for their day.....but it doesn't make it right, or even correct.
My limited experience is that it is difficult to keep out of a biker's way. Sidewalks on bridges are narrow and if you are hesitating at the corner where bikers turn right, you could get clipped by an elbow on their way around. Even trying to hug a building or bridge rail isn't always adequate buffer. This doesn't make pedestrians in the wrong and due for verbal back lash or impact.

I was often in Amsterdam shortly after 7:30 a.m. due to early arrivals from Africa with long layovers. Even though bike rush hour hadn't started, it wasn't an easy walking scenerio. Coupled with the vomit, garbage and left overs from the all night revelries, it doesn't contribute to giving any warm fuzzies to the city.

Posted by
2574 posts

Despite other posters seemingly trying to apologize for the cyclist this is abhorrent behavior not to be condoned even if you happened to be standing in the wrong spot. So if you are in the wrong spot are you a legitimate target? Come’on!

Posted by
971 posts

As you say yourself, since it is their primary means of transport the Dutch behave the same way on their bicycles as Americans would do in their cars when facing obstacles. How would people in your home town behave if some tourists started bumbling around in the middle of main street in prime rush hour, blocking the road? Would you expect a few people to honk at them, maybe calling them idiots as well?
I live in a city just as famous for it's bike lanes as Amsterdam and I use a bike for my daily commute and bumbling tourists can be truly annoying. If someone stepped out in front of me on the bike lane and I hit them, I would probably call them an idiot as well.

Posted by
8995 posts

I've been to Holland over twenty times; one of my favorite places on earth. Having said that, even though I haven't had any bike rage directed towards me, I have witnessed and been in the firing line to a lot of angry behavior in customer service settings at shops/restaurants/hotels/airport. More so than any other country in the world I've been to. While I have no problems with Dutch directness, what I saw seemed to indicate that an above average number of locals don't like getting paid to deal with the public.
Won't stop me from visiting and enjoying the Netherlands in the future....just an observation I've made.

Posted by
8394 posts

Totally agree with Morten and emma. I don’t think she was rude at all. Being called an idiot in that situation was justified. She was not targeting you as two posters said, she did not run into you on purpose, you got in her path. She would have stopped and not hit you if she could have.

Posted by
2328 posts

I loved Amsterdam but did find the bikes a bit overwhelming--enormous packs of them everywhere, though I had no unpleasant encounters as I made sure to stay in the proper lanes for pedestrians it was still much more than I have seen in any other cities here or in Europe.

Posted by
7 posts

If being called an idiot is going to ruin your trip, please don't come to London you might experience a lot worse!

@emma - I've been to London 4x, spending 20+ nights there over the years. It's my favorite city in the world; have had very positive experiences on all of my visits!

I decided to look at what an Amsterdam bike lane looked like and almost all look like bike lanes in North America except for one that was red cobbled and at the same level of the sidewalk.

@Maria - This bike lane was at the same level as the sidewalk. It was a rather quiet street during the morning and I was only standing in that spot for a few seconds before getting hit. Never saw the cyclist; she approached me from my blind spot.

I have witnessed and been in the firing line to a lot of angry behavior in customer service settings at shops/restaurants/hotels/airport. More so than any other country in the world I've been to. While I have no problems with Dutch directness, what I saw seemed to indicate that an above average number of locals don't like getting paid to deal with the public

@Michael Schneider - Interesting observation. In 6 days in The Netherlands, every customer service experience I had was attentive and pleasant.

Posted by
8394 posts

On one of Rick Steves’ shows on Amsterdam, he shows a 6 (?) story large parking garage... for bikes only and it was full. Huge bike culture there.

As a tourist, you have to be aware of your surroundings and not cause a problem for someone else.

Posted by
11292 posts

Are the Dutch rude or direct? Yes.

They can be both, and it's a fine line, since a large amount of directness is culturally ingrained, and when this tips into rudeness is often in the eye of the giver and the recipient of the comment.

Certainly, if you don't want to get yelled at and cursed at, you have to be very careful near bike lanes, all over Europe. What you experienced in Amsterdam, I've also seen in Berlin. I'm not apologizing for it - but I can't stop the locals from doing it, either.

My favorite comment on Dutch directness is from Lonely Planet: "This is not a country to ask someone, 'does this dress make me look fat?' unless you're really prepared for the answer!"

Posted by
8293 posts

There are many bike paths in my city ... they even get ploughed in the winter. If anyone on foot saunters or strolls onto a bike path, much yelling will ensue from the university students and business people cycling on their way downtown .... none of it polite.

Posted by
1871 posts

We’ve visited many times. And there have been places where I swore I thought sidewalk, cycle path and roadway merged and re-emerged. I like the Netherlands. I like the Dutch. But for heaven’s sake, the OP made a mistake, was hit, apologized for getting hit, and still got reamed out. That transcends nationality in my book. Not even, Are you OK? Nope, a jerk. Last autumn in Vienna we saw a cyclist hit a pedestrian. We ran to help, everyone in the crosswalk did, and the cyclist was first to offer aid. . I’d like to think that too transcends borders.

Posted by
1023 posts

You need to be very careful with the Dutch--things are not always as they seem.

For example, Pennsylvania Dutch ARE NOT DUTCH AT ALL!

A Dutch Uncle is a stern and reproving person.

A Dutch Door is only HALF A DOOR!

A Dutch Oven is just a pot, IT IS NOT an oven.

When you are in trouble, you are "IN DUTCH"!

And finally, a Dutch Treat is NO TREAT AT ALL!

With love and affection to each and every one of my Dutch friends, who have heard my rant many times in the past.

Posted by
8394 posts

Huge bike culture here in SF and in Marin County just north of the GG Bridge, if you got in the way of a cyclist here you could be severely injured and called much worse than idiot.

Did anyone ask the cyclist if she was ok?

Posted by
5262 posts

My wife got clipped by a cyclist near Vondelpark, who just kept going. A nearby Dutch pedestrian apologized for the cyclist, saying he had been in the wrong. Those bike lanes can be hard to identify for those of us not used to them, and of course bike-riding is much more common in Amsterdam, and other European cities, than in most North American cities.

I've been hit once and nearly hit other times by cyclists on the sidewalks in my home town, including where there were dedicated bike lanes on the street but the cyclist chose to use the sidewalk. The verbal abuse in those cases has come from me -- usually to a fast-disappearing wrongdoer. (Maybe it's my Dutch ancestry.)

Posted by
3936 posts

Walk over the Brooklyn Bridge and venture into the half that's for bikes and see what gets said to you (well, we didn't walk in the bike lane, and I don't think anyone called anyone an idiot, but there were def one or two - 'get out of the bike lane' comments).

There are just so many bikes there - it took me almost a minute to cross the 'road' in Vondelpark because of all the bikes.

Posted by
1199 posts

To say that "bike culture" is big in the Netherlands is one of the biggest understatements Ive heard. This is the parking area at the Utrecht train station:

There are thousands of bicycles commuting all over. Bicycles have the right of way, before people and before cars. That means, when you step off the sidewalk, you better be darn sure you've looked carefully for bikes. Now add tourists gawping, and tourists renting bikes with no knowledge of biking protocol. If you dont understand bike culture before you go, you might be a little bit of an idiot. Ive been called names many times while biking in Amsterdam. I am an experienced cyclist but even there the chaos is hard to avoid, so I take the names in stride. Im a visitor and Im getting in the way. One of my parents is Dutch. One of the first words I heard was "Pass op, fiets!" - "Watch out, bicycle!" (the other was "Gott verdamme" ;).
But Ive been told Im direct, and rude, so maybe thats where I get it ;)

Posted by
10344 posts

For what it's worth, we think the Dutch are great. And they speak excellent idiomatic American English, the best I've heard in Europe. We've had the same experience with Belgians.

Posted by
228 posts

Kent : They speak American English so well because American movies shown on TV or in the cinema are never dubbed ! Only sub-titled . So they hear our American English all the time .

Posted by
380 posts

We've just returned from the Netherlands. Yes, the bike lanes are crazy especially during rush hours. And sometimes, it's hard to tell what is a bike lane. We took extra care and time to look both ways before crossing. Because there is the bike lane, the car lane and tram lane, it was be very confusing and overwhelming to the tourist.
However, we did not encounter any bike road rage. I was looking the wrong way and almost got hit. The lady stopped in time. I apologized and she was very nice about. In the morning rush hour, we saw two ladies almost crash, they were pleasant to each other about the near accident. It was all smiles.
I don't think you can make a generalization based on two incidents. Maybe they were having a bad day. I would blow it off that it's their problem and move on.

Posted by
173 posts

I'm pretty sure she is a serial bike attacker who runs into clueless tourist...just to yell at them...happens all the time

Posted by
3332 posts

Word to the wise is to not take their verbal "abuse" personally

Being called an idiot constitutes personal verbal abuse?

You were in the middle of the bikes' path and thus in the wrong as well as in a very dangerous situation. Admit it, you were an idiot for putting yourself in the middle of bike traffic intentionally or not. Feel relieved that neither you nor the cyclist were injured!

When I've been called an idiot (or a lot worse) when I've cluelessly done the same thing as you did, I say "you're right" while I'm getting out of the way then laugh that some stranger just called me an idiot and she was right!

Come on....verbal abuse this was not!

Posted by
28087 posts

+1 for Continental.

Something else she may be able to relate to - I have been (rightly) called much the same in German when making a particularly stupid manoeuvre driving in the northern Black Forest, distracted by storks.

Posted by
23 posts

Also, just because they are called "bike lanes", you'll also find mopeds/scooters and even Smart Cars using them. Similarly, the tram lanes can be used by buses and taxis, so the lane may look clear, but that doesn't mean a taxi won't zip out of a clogged road to take a shortcut.

Posted by
9 posts

A Dutch friend "warned" me about the directness, etc., before my first visit (just finished my sixth) but I never saw it. That said, I'm from the Chicago area and we get accused of that so maybe it seemed normal to me.

Bikes are big. They have the right of way. The Dutch are pretty good to people across the board -- saw much more kindness than even the hint of rudeness -- but impede in any way their cycling and you set yourself up for a problem.

You will always find jerks but I didn't see a disproportionate number there.