Are you in conflict with Dutch culture?

Are you in conflict with Dutch culture?

Let’s begin this discussion with some self-reflection. Read the following question and choose the number that fits your answer best.

Do it spontaneously. This is important for the rest of the story, so just do it!

conflict dutch

Then, answer the next question honestly.

Do you feel a conflict between your own and the Dutch culture?

Not at all          So & so          Very much so
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Keep both scores in mind.

The bicultural self

The questions above are similar to those asked by researchers in contemporary psychological experiments with interest in whether and how culture may influence our mind, emotions and behaviour. They are targeted especially to people who have who have lived in a second culture for at least five years.

The first question applies better to expats from notably less individualist cultures than the Dutch culture (such as South European, Asian or South American), as it represents a typical and basic difference with these cultures. It could, however, be based on any basic difference between the Dutch and another culture.

Research has demonstrated that expats from a different culture who cope actively with the demands imposed by this new culture, by initiating new activities and forming new networks, are most likely those who tend to identify themselves as individualist and score little or no conflict (less than 5).

Is your answer in the direction of individualist? If so, then self-reliance, reluctance to depend on others or accept demands from others, i.e. individualist, has evoked positive associations which are consistent with Dutch culture.

Do you recognize yourself here and, in spite of a possible collectivist culture you grew up in? Then you just met a serious aspect of the "bicultural mind." Consciously or not, you have adopted a "Dutch" orientation.

Literary example of the bicultural mind

A nice literary explanation is one provided by Eva Hoffman, who emigrated from Poland to Canada at the age of 13. The quote is characteristic of those who develop a bicultural mind:

"... this self - my English self - becomes oddly objective... it exists more easily in the abstract sphere of thoughts and observations... [in this self] there are no sentimental effusions of rejected love, eruptions of familiar anger... "
(Eva Hoffman, Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language, 1998)

She recognises her new self-knowledge, which she call her "English self." But she also distinguishes it from her default self with its familiar emotions. The question is: are these latter emotions still functioning?

Culture consistent respond patterns

Now imagine that you are among good friends in your own country. In that context, ask yourself the same question.

dutch culture questionnaire

Conflict chair by Aviad Gil conflict dutch culture

What is your answer now? You may identify yourself differently in this situation. Have you rated yourself now as more collectivist? You may then call yourself bicultural: you have developed the cognitive ability to respond consistently to the demands and norms of either culture.

In this context, collectivist may well have connotations such as sharing, being caring and responsive to the needs of friends, and liking loyal, stable and mutual relationships. These associations are positive and typical for a traditionally collectivist culture.

Maryam, a senior scientist and a bicultural of Iranian descent who has lived in the Netherlands for more than 10 years, when asked whether she presents herself the same way in the Netherlands as when she visits her home country, very spontaneously and very decisively said:

"Oh my God, I would be very much ashamed if I ever, when I am visiting my country, presented myself the way I am doing it here."

She is obviously aware of the cultural difference, although she might never have realised it.

Not everything is negotiable

The fact that biculturals are able to consistently switch "cultural frames" (see the chair!) need not mean that they have never experienced cultural conflict.

The road towards the adoption of new orientations, especially when they contrast with pre-existing ones (e.g. individualistic vs collectivist), is a process of a critical ongoing negotiation, often unconscious, which is chronic and may vary per domain.

No longer bothered by conflict means managing, over time, to achieve control over it. You may have adopted nearly everything from your host culture and have assimilated to it.

But, you may have become a true bicultural: you upgrade some of your default ideas, rooted in the culture of your childhood, but in parallel you do not sacrifice those self-aspects, values or beliefs that for you personally are of primary importance.

For example, many biculturals prefer their original understanding of friendship and stick to this across cultures and conditions.


You may, of course, be one of many expats who do feel the conflict and exhibit behaviour inconsistent with Dutch behaviour trends (e.g. you refuse to adopt an individualist manner). Or you even exhibit a reversed behaviour to home culture trends. Certainly not uncommon, but a large subject for further discussion.

What about you? Are you in conflict with Dutch culture? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!

Katerina Pouliasi


Katerina Pouliasi

My first "collisions' with Dutch culture, transformed into a strong curiosity about the nature of cultural differences, have led me to in depth research on "Culture, Self-understanding and the Bicultural...

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