One of my favorite books about American culture is a book about Dutch culture actually about American culture in a twist you never saw coming. Let me explain. It’s a book about Dutch culture, written for Americans, but because it has a unique American point of view, it tells you at least as much about American culture as about Dutch culture, and combined it thus teaches most of all about the differences between American and Dutch culture. I just read those sentences out loud, and I’m seriously out of breath. It is such a hallmark of American-Dutch relationships that Mrs Missouri actually received a few copies as a gift, and was recommended the book at least a dozen times by several people. Also, I know many people who just have the book on their bookshelves to laugh at their own silliness.
It was in this book that I learned I’d be perceived as rude. Dutch directness, I was told, is a feature not widely shared by all cultures, and your radical honesty might be too much for the feeble foreigners that live on dry land. Painting a somewhat more nuanced picture, a friend who works with Americans regularly told me the following characteristic: ‘if they disagree with you, they won’t interrupt you and start finding middle ground (read: argue) as the Dutch will do; instead, they listen to your whole story and just say nothing. After a while, we picked up on that, and asked them straight forward: you don’t like what we’re saying, do you?’ I did indeed notice this very subtle tendency, and I even saw it emerge in myself. I don’t know yet how to feel about that.
This subtle reality of bluntness that is evidently embedded in my character was revealed yesterday in the gym. I was working out on a machine, and I noticed a young woman looking at me, and pointing out something. I greeted her, and she verbalized what she had picked up on.
“I recognized your shirt, because I have friends from Kansas City! I hope you have a great season next year.”
I looked at her, puzzled for a moment, and then realized I was wearing a Kansas City Royals shirt, because two years ago I went to one of their baseball matches. Now that I knew what she was talking about, I could put together a logical reaction that would end this casual small talk as smooth as possible.
“Oh,” I said, “I don’t really care. It’s just my workout shirt.”
Now she looked puzzled. She shook her head for a moment, slowly started walking backwards, keeping eye contact with me, and said, “well, you have a good night.” Then she ran off into the locker room.