If you’re looking for wooden shoes, windmills and tulips, you’ll find them in and around Delft. The wooden shoes and the windmills will draw more attention from tourists than locals. Tulips, however, along with dozens of other varieties of cut flowers are a valued part of the social fabric, ubiquitous and very affordable. Most homes are incomplete without some flowers on the table, and what dinner guest would arrive without a bouquet for the host or hostess? Cut flowers are an effortlessly ‘learnable’ medium of social interaction. They’re also a reminder that, as well as music festivals, foreign films and international football, the Dutch value domesticity and social relations. Nothing is more Dutch than a quiet evening at home with good friends.
The overwhelming presence of bikes in every city and town, the seamless public transport system and the prevalence of damp, cool weather are unmistakeable characteristics of life in the Netherlands. Other important cultural features are less obvious. For centuries, the Dutch have been managing diversity in society – religious, ethnic and social diversity. They have been, after all, a nation of traders. Under the influence of globalism and immigration, diversity and dynamism in Dutch society are increasing. Millions of people welcome this and find it enriching, but it is also a potential source of friction. The most important lubricant reducing possible friction is a centuries-old, explicit tradition of tolerance. Dutch people highly value a capacity to tolerate what they do not necessarily approve of. This tradition of tolerance is something the Dutch are justifiably proud of. At times it expresses itself in social gestures and behaviours that are opaque to foreigners. Sensitivities on a number of issues can run deeper than is at first apparent. Religion and politics are good examples. The Netherlands can feel like a very secular society, and in many ways it is, but enduring traditions of religion are still important to many people. The Dutch can be suspicious of patriotism, but if the national football team makes it into the World Cup championship, the country is suddenly carpeted in orange, its national colour. Nuances and subtleties are embedded in Dutch society. They have helped a small nation survive turbulent centuries of European history. Rapid diversification now underway has brought with it new subtleties. Fortunately, the Dutch tradition of tolerance runs very deep.