Having visited friends in the Netherlands two years ago, I found the locals there to be warm, polite, and quite helpful. I was a bit surprised by this treatment since I had heard that the Dutch were not known for being particularly friendly towards visitors. It was later explained to me that the northeast of the country, which I was visiting at the time, has a reputation for being a lot friendlier than the cities to the south and west.
It appears that I am now receiving my first dose of this traditional Dutch temperament as I enter a restaurant here in Rotterdam. The place is not particularly busy as I sit down at the bar and order a beer. The college aged female bartender brings me my drink and hands me a dinner menu to look through. Ten minutes have come and gone and I have finally decided what I am going to have. I alert the bartender, who is currently pouring some beers, that I would like to place my order. She responds with an annoyed look on her face and says, “I’ll be with you in a moment.” She proceeds to deliver the beers she was pouring to a table in another section of the establishment. Five minutes later she finally returns to the bar to take my order. My gut reaction to this rude behavior is to walk out of the place. In the US she would have gotten fired for that kind of conduct. As soon as an American waiter or bartender hears that you are ready to order, they normally drop everything they are doing and take it down immediately. I compose myself and resist the temptation to leave and politely submit my dinner request.
As she informs the kitchen staff of my order, it suddenly dawns on me that this bartender is not intentionally being rude. Rather, she is simply following the social protocols of the culture in which she was raised. Perhaps the politeness that I take for granted back in the US is really just being “fake polite.” When a sales clerk at an American store says, “have a nice day,” they obviously don’t really mean it. Rather, they say it since they have been instructed to do so by their boss. Perhaps the Dutch no-nonsense form of customer service can be quite liberating since one doesn’t need to pretend to be happy all the time. Perhaps this can also lead to workers having lower stress levels since they can express how they really feel during the work day. Regardless of the health benefits of this kind of service, I don’t see it migrating to the US anytime soon.