Gaze or Timbre? On Non-verbal Communication in the Netherlands

February 17th, 2015


Psychology & Sociology

This text was fully written by humans.
  • Understanding non-verbal communication in the Netherlands is challenging for an outsider like me, as staring has a different meaning and the subtle cues make it difficult to determine someone’s intentions.
  • Many foreigners struggle to feel accepted and perpetuate stereotypes about the Dutch being cold and empty. Despite considering giving up, I decide to put more effort into building relationships and appreciate the Dutch preference for deep conversations and long-lasting friendships.
  • Although non-verbal communication poses difficulties, I believe it’s worth facing them as the Dutch value honesty, enjoy others’ success, and make loyal friends. I’m willing to go through misunderstandings and learn proper non-verbal communication for the sake of building connections.

To Stare Or Not To Stare? — That’s The Whole Question In Non-verbal Communication in the Netherlands.

In Polish culture, persistently staring at someone is seen as rude, pretentious and may be considered a taunt. While in the Netherlands, it has a completely different meaning.

Admittedly, the locals here have mastered the use of their eyes as an exchange of information. The Dutch, flirting with each other, do not use any compliments or other verbal signals, do not turn red on their faces, do not use any specific facial expressions. They talk as usual. The only difference is that they look at each other in a different way.

It sounds romantic — but there is a problem with it. In fact, the effect is so subtle that even the indigenous people are, in most cases, not sure if they like someone or just think they do.

In such a situation, an outsider like me has virtually no chance when it comes to reading someone else’s intentions. I can only guess based on some verbalized cues such as frequent references to Poland and Polish culture in a conversation, quoting my own words from many months ago or asking me a lot of questions and listening to the answers patiently.

So far, I have learned how to confidently recognize that a Dutch says A and thinks B, but I still can’t guess what B means, so this knowledge is quite worthless. But I’m on my way.

What Kills Your Happiness as an Expat: The Non-verbal Communication.

Above all, the problem is that happiness is usually right there — you just can’t see it. Many foreigners give up because they don’t feel accepted. They keep on repeating stereotypes about cold and empty Dutch people.

I was also on the verge of giving up. I was seriously considering leaving the country. At one point I thought to myself: “Hey, living here is so comfortable and quiet! Beautiful place, good research, tolerant people, nice work to be done … disagreement with the Dutch is the only flaw, so before I finally give up, why not try again and put more energy into it? That’s a game worth the effort.”

It is true that the Dutch describe themselves as shallow. But I personally do not believe that it is that bad. After all, they start normal families, have a habit of maintaining friendships throughout their lives. And in their free time, they mostly spend their time drinking beers in the bars. This might be finesse, but it indicates that they prefer a good conversation to more “silly” sorts of fun like watching movies or dancing.

Why I Enjoy The Dutch After All — Despite the Non-verbal Communication.

And I don’t believe that there is nothing to talk about with such people. Besides, I enjoy the fact that the Dutch think a long time before getting to know someone and make decisions very carefully.

It also works better with friendships. I have the impression that every single time I do something creative and progressive, my number of Polish friends decreases … Poles simply hate successful people. The Dutch have a much healthier attitude: they enjoy your success, but at the same time, they do not seem to turn their backs when you fail like Americans often do. They are not easy to get to, but they are truth-tellers and make firm, life-long friends.

Overall, I feel that it is worth it to face the difficulties and give the Dutch a chance. Even if it means gazing at people back and forth and going through hundreds of misunderstandings on the way to learn proper non-verbal communication.

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Please cite as:
Bielczyk, N (February 17th, 2015) Gaze or Timbre? On Non-verbal Communication in the Netherlands. Retrieved from:

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