Subscribe to Newsletter

Enter your email and get newsletter from Greg Shapiro

3 Ways Dutch Diplomacy Is Different

Date: Friday, January 15, 2016
Category: Blog, News

This week’s ‘United States of Europe’ update: ‘3 Ways Dutch Diplomacy is Different.’

For the first half of 2016, EU summits will be hosted by the Netherlands. The Dutch are known for their belief in equality. Specifically, if you act bigger than everyone else, they’ll cut you off at the knees.

The Dutch are also known for being tolerant. But that doesn’t mean they’re not still judgmental as hell.

Here are my 3 reasons Dutch diplomacy is different.


The Dutch pride themselves on being open & direct – sometimes at the expense of politeness, or tact. Or dare I say Diplomacy.

I was once introducing my mother to a group of Dutch people, and someone commented on her outfit. Not ‘nice outfit,’ but rather: ’It’s too bad American clothes are all so baggy. But of course that’s because you are all so overweight.’


Or, it’s actually the lack of chauvinism. The Dutch seem to be allergic to anything resembling bragging. When dealing wth the Dutch, it’s important to ‘Doe normaal.’ Just act normal. Be yourself. And it’s important NOT to do ‘opscheppen’ or ‘piling it on.’

IF you start talking yourself up or acting bigger than you are, there is a built-in Dutch bullshit detector that will kick in and take the legs out from under you.

For example, in Dutch meetings, it is NOT okay to say ‘My idea is great!’ However – remembering Point 1) – if you say ‘Your idea is stupid’ that’s OK!

And why stop there? Dutch meeting partners may continue by saying, ‘Your idea is stupid. The place you come from is stupid. And your beard looks like you have pubic hair on your face.’


When Dutch honesty is mixed with ‘Dutch Courage’ (alcohol), it’s like a truth serum that makes them share every single observation and judgement that comes into their head, no matter how inappropriate.

Frequently after a show, I’ll have someone come up and say:
‘I saw you onstage! You were not very funny. You’re so loud! Such an American thing. I think it’s to hide the fact you’re so ignorant… That means stupid. Wow, you look angry now. Are you going to shoot me with your gun? Bang! Bang!’

In fact, remember that Greek press conference in 2015 when everyone was wondering what Dutchman Jeroen Dijsselbloem said to the Greek Finance Minister? It was probably ‘You are stupid, your ideas are stupid, and your haircut makes you look like you have cancer.’

In America there’s the phrase ‘Never discuss politics in mixed company.’ In the Netherlands, expect uninvited political commentary in the first two minutes of your conversation. Even right after Sept. 11, I’d have Dutch guys come up to me and say, ’You know America had it coming, right? You funded the Saudis. You armed the Afghans. You should have seen it coming.’ At the time, I wanted to punch the guy. But in retrospect, I wish there had been more drunk Dutch guys in the Bush White House.