BAD BEHAVIOUR

Recently a television station asked its viewers what were their biggest concerns. The number one concern, for the second month in a row, was how poorly people treated each other. Comments were about how the level of civility has diminished in this country. Specific examples were given about the quality of customer service in retail and how strangers treat each other.

I have struggled for a long time about writing on this subject, but once I heard about this poll, I knew I had to share my views. I really do love living in the Netherlands and there is quite a long list of reasons why this is a great place to live. I won’t bore you with the beauty of this country, the history, the culture and the generally liberal philosophy of its leaders and citizens. And I really like the people. I can say without any doubt that the people I have met are very warm and friendly. My new family members have been extraordinarily gracious in their acceptance of me. Of the people who live in our apartment building, every single one has been welcoming and kind. Some even gave me cards congratulating me on moving to the Netherlands. I have been very impressed with the employees of all the stores and restaurants that I have been in, all have been very professional, friendly and patient with my obvious lack of Dutch language skills.

So here is the but…there is a problem. I have been shocked at the behavior of shoppers in the grocery stores. In all my years of shopping in America (and believe me, Americans can be rude) I have never seen such pushiness and rudeness. In the grocery store, people are in a rush to get their items. God help you, if you are standing in the way of the butter they want. I have had the front of a grocery cart imbedded into my butt. It is now to the point that if I don’t have a fender bender with my butt, then I would start to wonder if the store had closed. Shoppers rarely say excuse me or even apologize. If you look at them, they will sometimes say “pardon”. I do not shop after work hours, I am there usually in the morning and I wonder why everyone is acting like they have only five minutes to pay for their stuff, load up the bike and pedal their way home like Miss Gulch in the The Wizard of Oz.

I was raised with manners and being polite is very important to me, and I am always surprised when people are not as polite as me. In this country, there is something called Dutch directness. This directness can be kind of refreshing, I am still sometimes taken aback by it, but I see how this can be a good thing. There is a big difference in being direct and being rude.

Here are some helpful tips for anyone, in any country:

*if you are coming towards a door at the same time as someone else, hold the door open for them. NO matter what their age or sex.

*if someone is blocking your way to the Stroopwafels (delicious Dutch cookies) then either say “pardon” or just stand there and wait, don’t stick your hand into the air and almost poke  out an American eye.

*if you are in a crowded grocery store, and you are in a rush, it is NOT helpful to run your cart into the rear end of the person in front of you. This may turn into a road rage incident in the cheese section, and it would not be pretty.

*when were you told that your child is exceptionally cute when she is running and screaming in a store? Because the rest of us have somehow missed the charm of a four year old staging an Olympic event in aisles 5-7.

Dare I say it? Treat people the way you want to be treated. Greet someone the way you want to be greeted. Let the other person go first, so that next time, they will let you go first.

Smile at a stranger because, really, that is the only thing you can give them. You don’t know them and you will likely never see them again, so why not give them a smile?

It is nice to be in a country that is refreshingly honest, it really is. But if this television poll is accurate, then there are people out there who don’t like rudeness in public. So are they changing their behavior? If they do, then that will be noticed by others, and so on and so on.

I have to admit that I have been overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers. People’s faces have lit up when I have told them I am an American and they have all had nice things to say. There has been a genuine warmth to the way they speak to me. But there are others, like annoying flies at a barbecue, that you just want to waive away. You are having a great time at the barbecue, and if there weren’t those flies, the day would be perfect. That is how I feel about living here. It is a really nice place to live, but I may need to get a bigger fly swatter.

Recommended writer: I have met many writers and they have all been very nice and kind. But there is one woman who is absolutely the nicest author and one of the most thoughtful people I have ever met. She was obviously raised with manners. If you have not read her before, get one of her books, just because she is so genuinely kind and also a great writer: Suzanne Strempek Shea. I would love to be in the grocery store with her.

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