On obligatory conversation and the Netherlands

It's not customary to talk with strangers in the Netherlands.

In America, you don't have to talk to everybody, but it's normal to talk; and it's normal to offer some response. In Ireland — for another example — talking is what makes people comfortable with a stranger.

But in Holland, small-talk often makes people uncomfortable. It's not customary, and it's not necessary. You simply don't have to engage in conversation with people you don't know.

Sometimes the Dutch — and especially Amsterdammers — will casually ignore casual interaction. It's the kind of thing that can make you slink away, kind of hurt but not knowing how to feel.

This is not to suggest that the Dutch are unfriendly. If you need information, they would likely tell you what they know, and in a polite manner. A question is not the same as an attempt at familiarity.

Of course, negative experience in unacquainted talk is more likely in certain conditions — speaking English,* or being loud, or in Amsterdam. But it's not just you; and it's not just because you speak English; and it's not only true in Amsterdam. The tendency of the Dutch to not engage easily in small-talk is a generality, based more upon a deeper expression of Dutch culture than upon "rudeness" or lack of sociability.

It's just not customary to speak with strangers in the Netherlands. It's not required in every social context, and it's not always acceptable.

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*English-language speech will identify one as a non-native, but there is no language barrier once English is established.

It's insulting to ask "do you speak English," and awkward. A polite response might be "yes, a little;" but the average Dutch person speaks more than a little English and understands it in spoken form.

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