As I unpack my bags from our quick trip back to the States for the traditional Thanksgiving holiday, I am reminded of how grateful I am to have the opportunity to be an expat here in Amsterdam. In addition to some of the American goods I stuffed inside my extra suitcase, I also brought back all the love and affection, well wishes, hugs and kisses I was bestowed by my family and friends I miss everyday. As Americans we greet our close peops with hugs. That is what we do. We hug.
The Dutch, they don’t really hug. Before moving here I was warned about the Dutch being a little more reserved than I may be used to. But, if you think the Dutch aren’t especially affectionate, think again. When greeting a close friend here you don’t hug, you don’t kiss on one side of the cheek or even both sides. You kiss three times hello. Starting with the left cheek – kiss one. Then on to the right cheek- kiss two. And back to the left for kiss number three. That’s a whole lot of love. Living in Amsterdam, I have really started to enjoy this typical Dutch greeting with good friends.
This is not a new fad or custom here. I remember this from twenty years ago. And even though it is cold and flu season, I am all for the affection. While the Dutch have the reputation of being open and honest (sometimes referred to as blunt and rude), I find the directness like a breath of fresh air. There is no strange fake insincerity, just clear concise candor. But, this should not be mistaken as cold or rude. You can’t really fault the Dutch when they kiss three times hello.
While I am called “Mevrow” (Madam or Mrs.) in shops or on the street by strangers, once a Dutch neighbor, shopowner or friend gets to know me, it is my first name all the way. My introduction to this casual and welcome custom here was when I went to the huisarts (doctor) shortly after arriving twenty years ago. After calling the doctor “Dr.” a few times, I was asked very politely but directly to please call her Katie. She expected to be called by her first name. Now, this is very very different than in America. Doctors in the USA LOVE to be called DOCTOR and expect to be called DOCTOR at all times unless you know them outside of their DOCTORHOOD. It is a title of respect earned by the DOCTORS for their knowledge and lengthy mastering of their trade. It is a practice and custom we Americans all partake in. It is the norm. On the flip side, here in this egalitarian society, the Dutch do not pull rank.
Another thing about the Dutch that may strike newcomers as different is the lack of the Dutch expressing any kind of real exuberance, anger or even touching in public. They are not especially demonstrative with their feelings. But, again, you cannot judge a book by its cover because I have come to understand that the Dutch, although reserved in outward appearance, have loads of affection and love underneath their outward exteriors. And, how nice is it that once you are a good friend you can expect a very affectionate hello and are guaranteed a lot of love from those three kisses hello?