By Bonnie Klap.
Having interviewed dozens of Ambassadors over the past two years, I think it is safe to say, that I have some idea what the general impression of many diplomats is of the Dutch. What struck me, was their recurring remark about the Dutch: “The Dutch are very direct.” Now what exactly was the underlying message of this remark? Was this a subtle way of telling the Dutch that they are a little too straightforward, perhaps even a tad rude? Surprisingly all the Ambassadors who discussed this topic, admitted that they were, at first, a bit taken aback by this bluntness, if you will, but over time they even came to appreciate this unique character trait, although it must have been nothing short of a ‘culture shock’ from time to time.
Especially for people from the Far East this way of personal interaction must have taken quite some getting used to, as their own customs require careful and extremely polite interaction with each other. An example: a person from the Far East would never bluntly say “No,” if he or she disagrees, but would carefully craft a tactful answer, going to great lengths not to hurt the other person’s feelings, but at the same time getting across the same message. So what is the conclusion here? Are the Dutch constantly stepping on toes with their direct behavior and making the foreigners in general and diplomats in particular feel awkward in doing so? The answer might surprise you.
While the many diplomats who experienced this directness, admitted being a bit bewildered at first, later on they genuinely came to value this trait. To underscore my point, allow me to quote an excerpt from the interview I did for the Wassenaarse Krant with Mr. Paul Arkwright, the former Ambassador of the UK to The Netherlands, who has since returned to his country.
“The Dutch can also be very direct. They are blunter than the British, but as a diplomat, bluntness saves time. Sometimes, if I have little time and want to speed up a meeting, I say: ‘I want to be Dutch now,’ meaning that I give short, clear answers. Having been a diplomat for 26 years, I can be as polite and longwinded as necessary, but sometimes I borrow the Dutch way to get on with it.” End of quote by, then, Ambassador Paul Arkwright. So I repeat my question: Direct or blunt? You tell me!