Geographically opposite therefore culturally opposite?


So I have been in Utrecht for nearly a month now and admittedly I didn’t expect to encounter much of a cultural difference between Australia and the Netherlands when compared with the cultural difference between Australia and other countries. I am also reluctant to highlight cultural differences I experience here because my experience of Australian culture is unique as is everybody’s experience with their national ‘culture’, even if there is such a thing as a ‘national culture’. I think it is difficult to define a national culture because there are so many sub-cultures within the national culture .In addition to sub cultures within the national culture I am hesitant to generalize upon Dutch culture because it is my opinion that it is different for each individual. That said generalisations although imprecise can help us to understand our own cultures as well as ourselves better. So let it be known that what I write here are mere observations, generalisations and hypothesises my view is subjective and if you really want to learn about culture it is best to just immerse yourself in it.


In this blog I would like to write about the geographical differences between Australia and the Netherlands and how these differences may have influenced the two cultures. Australia is an isolated country while the Netherlands is often referred to as ‘the gateway to Europe’ due to its proximity to other European nations. Australia is very large while the Netherlands is very small. Australia has varying landscape from north to south, east to west while the Netherlands has more or less the same landscape throughout the entire country. I need to mention here that about 40% of the Netherlands is below sea level and without the coastal dunes and man made dykes this percentage of the country would be under water. The Netherlands due to its small size is much more heavily populated than Australia.


The first difference I noticed about the Dutch is they are far less judgemental and more tolerant than Australians. When I went to the red light district in Amsterdam I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the girls in the windows and I said this to a Dutch girl who took us to Amsterdam and she simply said “why? It’s their choice” and she was totally right it is their choice. Dutch tolerance is easily demonstrated by their liberal stance on marijuana, prostitution and euthanasia. I have also seen this tolerance while being a ‘foreigner’ in this country. I cannot speak Dutch and never once have I felt as if it bothers the Dutch that I am in their country and can’t speak Dutch. I believe the Dutch tolerance comes from centuries of having ‘foreigners’ pass through their country as it is ‘the gateway to Europe’. In Australia we tend to be a little less tolerant perhaps because we are so isolated and haven’t had centuries of conditioning in diversity.


The other ‘big difference’ I have noticed so far is when you pass Dutch people on the street they rarely smile at  you and in Australia I am accustomed to passing people and smiling at them. Similarly the hospitality industry in the Netherlands from my experience is nowhere near as polite and friendly as the Australian industry. As a foreigner I interpreted this as rudeness. I then learnt in one of my classes that the Dutch perceive ‘over-friendliness’ as insincerity. It now makes sense to me but at first the lack of acknowledgement of my existence by other people was incredibly frustrating (yes, I’m self centred I know). Once again I can link this cultural difference back to geography. This country is so populated compared to Australia that it just isn’t practical to smile at everyone you pass.


It’s too early to conclude on the title question of this blog. I’ll be sure to write more on this topic. Thanks for reading.

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1 Response to Geographically opposite therefore culturally opposite?

  1. Pedro says:

    Hi Hannah,
    Interesting and enjoyable blog. Thanks for sharing. I came across it because I might get posted for work to Utrecht. I have to disagree on the diversity bit. I’ve lived in northern Europe for a couple of stints and they are a lot more racist than metropolitan Australia. I grew up in Qld, like you, which I found very racist, so the Cairns viewpoint isn’t typical. I’ve been living in Sydney for many years and Sydney and Melbourne are the complete opposite to Qld (and northern Europe). Probably something to do with 30% of their populations being overseas born. Australia has always been in top three most ethnically diverse countries in the world (with US and Canada). From soon after English / Irish /Scottish / Welsh arrivals, Australia had a lot of immigrants from China, Pakistan, Afghanistan – then a wave from Holland and Germany – then another English wave – then a wave from Italy and Greece (Melbourne’s the second largest Greek city in the world after Athens) – then a wave from Eastern Europe – and then a wave from Vietnam, China (again) and India. When I say waves, I mean tens of thousands. 38% of Sydney-siders speak a language other than English at home. Have a ball in Utrecht. Thanks again for your blogging and best of luck with it.

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