How I Accidentally Freaked Out a Young Woman in the Gym

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.

Here it is, curious minds.

Here it is, curious minds.

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.

In the next story, this is the shirt I'm wearing. It will make sense to you, I promise.

In the following anecdote, this is the shirt I’m wearing. It will make sense to you, I promise.

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.


11 thoughts on “How I Accidentally Freaked Out a Young Woman in the Gym

  1. As a German living in the UK I’m also frequently reminded that our Continental bluntness is not regarded favourably by the natives. The British rarely say what they mean and rather bottle everything up so they can explode and get violently angry at some future point. Or they sulk. They are indeed, a great sulking nation. Germans, on the other hand, simply offend without necessarily meaning to and then blithely sail on to devastate some other unfortunate soul (or do I mean nation…knowing my fellow countrymen better than I wish to, I probably do mean nation).

    And then there are the universal bores, the obsessive sports fans, who react with a total absence of humour when anyone slights their beloved sport or favourite team…you clearly encountered one in your local gym!

    • I am happy to report that this woman wasn’t so much offended, as well oddened. I should have replied with a normal ‘thank you’ and the polite head nod, so she could smile and walk away. I don’t know if I ever told you, but I think I’d make an excellent German. One of my friends, who is partly German, once replied to this hypothesis by saying ‘but they are rather rigid and formal’, after which he looked at me and realized he just emphasized my point.

      • Which part of your friend is German? Not that part of his brain that accurately assesses people, surely? I’m neither rigid nor formal and hardly any of the German people I know are…they may be in a business context, but hey, this is the country where beer is regarded in the same way as other essential daily foods like bread, milk and cheese would be in the USA and where a large contingent of the population yodel, slap their thighs and run around in leather shorts! If that’s your friend’s idea of a formal and rigid people…

      • Ahhh, we were talking business. In any other case, I am glad to report that I haven’t found this formality outside business spheres. And his German side makes fun of my rigidness, so it should be something new and exciting to him.

  2. Yep, my friend, that was a little curt. I can be a little blunt myself, even though I am a native, and it sometimes does not go over well. But I would have just smiled at the girl and said “Thanks.” Maybe then she would have gone away….

  3. My filter gets clogged sometimes, and spilleth over…I’m often thanked for my candor and I’m American. I can appreciate bluntness. What I can’t stand are those people who say things in such a sweet voice (sometimes too sugary) and smile at you and you’re thinking they are being nice/paying you a compliment and they are actually saying something quite rude to you. 🙂 “Oh, that sure is something,” “Look, you just messed that right up, didn’t you?”

    It’s been a while! I made my first post in quite a long time. Just stopping in to say HI!

  4. I think these things can happen even when you are American, but don’t quite fit in. I know I’m American through and through for better and for worse, but sometimes I know I’m just not clued into something. After I had said something at a party, someone smiled at me said “I love you. You just say what you want and don’t even care.” I didn’t realize I was doing that, nor did I realize that I do it so regularly. Maybe I’d make a better Dutchman or German.

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