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Thread: Differences Between the Dutch and Flemish

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    Differences Between the Dutch and Flemish

    I've some curiosity on this theme. Which are the differences between the Dutch and Flemish? The differences can be any: social, linguistic, ethnical, religious, behavioural, or any others which you recognise. I'm seeing the Dutch and Flemish as very similar peoples. Are the Flemish to the Dutch like the Austrians are to the Germans?

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    I think that might be a good comparison.

    Ethnically speaking, I think the Flemish and the Dutch belong to the German Volk. We(the Dutch and Flemish) share of course a standardized language, but when considering the dialects or regional languages, the Netherlands and Flanders are part of the greater Dutch-German dialectcontinuum.
    The only thing that separates the Dutch and Flemish from the Germans(and Austrians) is their history, which took a turn in the middle ages by separating them from the German empire*, and their official language, which is of course related to the difference in history and politics.
    Hence the Dutch and Flemish might compose a nation, but not a Volk, as it is part of a greater Volk, the Germans. I saw someone on Skadi saying the same about the Scandinavian Germanics and I think it is a good comparison.
    So the ethnic Germans(or continental west-Germanics) can be divided into Germans(including Austrians) and Dutch(including Flemish) and thus the relation between the Dutch and the Flemish is about the same as the relation between the Germans and the Austrians.

    I also think regional identities are an important part of the greater Dutch(The Netherlands and Flanders) identity. Our history is characterized by the different provinces and still the different identities are very present. The Dutch nation thus consists of, among others, Brabantic, Frisian, Limburgish, Hollandic and Flemish people. These are simply historical and political terms but are often pretty suitable for naming the various identities and are also used as linguistic terms for dialects and regional languages within the dutch language area. As these identities are very important in my opinion and often cross the border between Belgium and the Netherlands(such as the Limburgers whereto I belong), I think the present political border between the Netherlands and Flanders is not that important. When it comes to defining our nation it doesn't exists.

    There might be some minor differences because of different politics, media etc. but this is easily reversible when the Flemish and Dutch will unite someday. I think religion also doesn't matter very much nowadays. The division of protestant Dutch and catholic Flemish isn't even correct, because the Brabantic and Limburgish people in the Netherlands are mostly catholics just like the Brabantics and Limburgish people in Flanders and that has never caused any tentions in the Netherlands.
    When it comes to social and behavioural differences, there are of course some prejudices and differences but this is also the case within the present borders. I as a Limburger feel as much connected to a Hollandic person as to a western-Flemish person although I live in the same country as the Hollandic person. To be honest, we don't like the hollanders very much.

    Wel, this is a bit how I see it and I hope it is a bit helpfull.

    * It's interesting that before this turn was final, Many "Dutch" people moved to eastern Europe in the German Ostsiedlung and were simply considered as Germans and their descendants(allthough probably mixed with Germans from Germany) still are.

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    How to talk to the Flemish and Dutch: 12 cultural differences you need to know about

    f you have ever done business in Flanders and in the Netherlands, you’re sure to have noticed the Flemish and Dutch don’t do things in the same way. Perhaps it caught you by surprise. After all, they speak the same language. So, how unalike can they really be and where do these differences come from?

    Researchers Marinel Gerritsen and Marie-Thérèse Claes have been trying to pinpoint the cultural differences between Flanders and the Netherlands and have combined various models, as summarised in two articles published in the quarterly “Neerlandia”.

    Some of the differences between the Dutch and Flemish are obvious. They greet each other differently, have different culinary habits, observe different traditions and celebrate different things. In short, they do things differently.

    Underneath all that, there is also an important difference in cultural values. Values refer to the way people think about certain things, and point to opinions that are common in a certain cultural group. Values are also expressed in the legislative and educational system of a society.

    So, not only do the Dutch and Flemish do things differently, they also think differently.

    (1) In terms of human nature, the Dutch are more willing to believe that people can change than the Flemish are. You may find it easier to improve on a bad reputation in the Netherlands than you would across the Belgian border.

    (2) Dutch and Flemish people have different views on power and what it signifies. Flemish people consider it normal for one person to have more power than another, and are more inclined to take orders from their manager. Dutch employees, on the other hand, expect to be on an equal footing with their boss, and expect them to behave that way.

    (3) Dutch people are more inclined to follow rules to the letter. In Flanders, rules are often viewed as guidelines that need to be followed in spirit, but adapted taking into account special and individual circumstances.

    (4) The Flemish are more open to expressing emotions. Just like French-speaking Belgians, Flemish people are more closely aligned with the Latin culture of countries like France and Spain. The differences between Flemish and Walloon people are smaller than between the Flemish and the Dutch in that respect.

    (5) A different work ethic is very palpable. Flemish people tend to live to work, whereas the Dutch seem to work to live. A lot of Flemish people cherish work as a goal in itself, not just as a means to provide for themselves.

    By way of example, French Minister of Justice Rachida Dati announced that she would be going back to work only five days after giving birth by C-section. The Dutch press labelled this as “completely insane”, while the Flemish press merely said that she was “showing off”.

    (6) In life as in business, Flemish people are much more risk-averse than Dutch people. In other words, if you are selling insurance, you stand to do much better in Flanders than in the Netherlands. This perhaps explains why the Dutch went on to create a maritime empire in the 17th century. The influence of the Dutch language on English naval terminology (such as deck, skipper and sloop) bears witness to this fact.

    (7) When meeting in person, don’t be surprised if your Flemish conversation partners stand much closer to you than their Dutch colleagues. The Flemish seem to have a smaller sense of personal space than Dutch people do.

    (8) When it comes to home life, Flemish people are much more private than Dutch people are. Try counting how many Flemish windows are equipped with shutters and curtains. Dutch families, by contrast, don’t seem to care if everyone sees what they are doing through their curtainless windows.

    (9) Interestingly, while privacy at home is considered to be sacred, Flemish people still want to know more about the personal lives of their business partners than Dutch people do. In that sense, the boundary between someone’s professional and personal life is more blurred.

    In Flanders, the people you do business with will want to get to know you personally before they commit to anything. As well as talking about your professional life, be prepared to also talk about your family, where you live and what you do in your spare time. This is especially important when you meet someone for a business lunch. Don’t expect to get straight to the point, but allow some time for social pleasantries.

    (10) Even time seems to pass differently in Flanders than it does in the Netherlands. Flemish people are on average more prone to multitasking, improvising and flexibility. The downside of this is that meetings and appointments may start a bit later, and may run longer than expected. Much to the annoyance of the punctual Dutch.

    (11) Flemish people seem to attach more value to history and experiences. Arguments that relate to history and previous experience carry more weight with Flemish business partners than they do with your Dutch associates.

    (12) Finally, a difference in communication style rather than in cultural values, Dutch people are very direct. For Flemish people, this directness can easily come across as being overly blunt, while a Dutch person would say that this is merely being straightforward.

    As a Fleming, I often feel that what my Dutch friends say is not appropriate or is too harsh, given the setting we are in or the person we are talking to. Then again, they might wonder why I’m not just saying what I mean in a more straightforward way. In face-to-face communication, this is certainly something to take into account, as it can easily lead to real difficulties.

    The Dutch and Flemish may understand each other, but they do not “get” each other.

    These differences could very well be attributed to diverging histories and religions. Flanders has been predominantly Catholic throughout history and was under occupation for long periods of time. The Dutch, on the other hand, have enjoyed autonomy for much longer and have to a large extent adopted the Protestant religion.

    With that in mind, it stands to reason that the Flemish find it easier to accept hierarchy, tend to avoid uncertainty, place more value on work as an end to itself, behave in a more flexible way, want to get to know other people better before doing business with them and are more protective of their personal lives.

    Does this mean that communication between the Dutch and Flemish poses a real challenge? This may not be as big a problem as it appears. Many of these differences are intuitively understood on both sides and are taken into account without too much difficulty. Some of them, however, can easily lead to misunderstandings, especially when they affect the way business is conducted.

    One common example is the way agreement is reached in teams that consist of Dutch and Flemish team members. For the Flemish team members, it is up to the manager to take all views into account and to make a decision. Once a decision is reached, that’s the end of the matter, as far as they are concerned. Dutch team members, on the other hand, will still expect to have a say in the final decision. For them, a decision is reached not when the manager says so, but only when everybody agrees to the action that needs to be taken.

    And what about in translation – do these differences matter? After all, it is the same language. Should you really care about cultural variations?

    These 12 contrasts determine how we communicate with each other – both in how we express ourselves and in how we understand what others are saying or even writing. Being aware of them helps you to understand why the Flemish and Dutch – much like the British and Americans – do not respond in the same way to what you are communicating. This cultural awareness may guide you in your approach towards working with Belgian and Dutch clients and business partners.

    Don’t let the fact that the Flemish and Dutch share a border, a long history and a common language lead you into thinking that they will respond to the same message in the same way. They won’t, because they are different. And so should be your approach in communicating to them.

    The Netherlands and Flanders: Siblings or Estranged Cousins?

    This suspicion that Holland and Belgium would be very different countries seems to hold true. Although I don’t know much about the French-speaking part of Belgium, Wallonia, I have heard repeatedly that Wallonia takes its cultural cues from Paris. I have also heard that the French in Wallonia differs only slightly from Standard French, and that the accent is not too much to overcome that you cannot understand people. I don’t think that this relationship is the same as the relationship between Holland and Flanders. (As a side note, I tend to use Holland and the Netherlands interchangeably. This is technically incorrect, but most other countries and language make no distinction between the two). Although it is certainly true that the Netherlands and Flanders have a lot in common, there are many differences between the two regions that I didn’t expect. Here are eight of them:

    1. Directness vs. Modesty

    Although both countries pride themselves on unadornment and frugality when it comes to having a large house or extravagant shows of weath, Flanders seems to do it a lot better. A student at my English table remarked that, like the Chinese, Flemish people will deny that anything they have is special, beautiful, or accomplished. Dutch people, on the other hand, are known for their unabashed directness, nearly always calling a spade a spade or a idioot as an idioot. A Belgian student I have talked to explained how appalled she was when a Dutch stranger called her fat (dik) outright. In Amsterdam, directness is something that I had to get used to, especially when it came to speaking Dutch, which leads me to my next point.

    2. Willingness to speak Dutch

    Although I still struggle sometimes to speak in Dutch with friends of mine, I can and do speak Dutch with my Dutch speaking friends in Belgium. Yes, occasionally I have to fight to get them to speak with me in Dutch, but the fact that I can break through that barrier in Dutch is a good sign.

    Furthermore, I have yet to have an encounter in a shop or café where someone has switched to English when I try to order in Dutch. This seemed to be a nearly daily occurrence in Amsterdam. This is not to say that English skills are any worse in Flanders, but merely to say that people are more willing to speak Dutch with foreigners. I have heard that Dutch is a secret language that they don’t want foreigners to know, but it seems to be less the case in the more southern regions of the low countries (lage landen).

    3. Food vs. ?

    Over and over and over, I have heard about how important food is to the Belgian population. This seems to be more pronounced the further south you go, but the difference in cuisines is stark between the Netherlands and Flanders. In Belgium, you have mussels (mosselen), fries (frieten), waffles (wafels), chocolate (chocolade), beer (bier), lots of good Italian food (Italiaanse specialiteiten), and basically just a ton of delicious food. In the Netherlands, you have…um,,,,Heineken and um…stamppot. I love it, of course (not Heineken), but it is true when they say Holland doesn’t really have much of its own cuisine.

    4. Credits (studiepunten)

    Belgian grades go up to 20. Dutch grades go up to 10. Not a huge difference, but it gets very confusing when people start talking about the grades they got last semester. Is a 14 good??

    5. Bikes

    Bikes are a way of life in Holland. There are more bikes than people, and getting around by bike is just the way you do it. If you don’t have a bike in Amsterdam, you are sucker because it is the easiest way to get around the city. Bikes do not seem as common in Antwerp. Yes, there are much more bikes here than the U.S., but I would probably put it on par with Portland in number of bikes per capita. For the U.S. that’s a lot of bikes. For Holland, it’s a joke. Luckily, though, they have a great system in Antwerp with shared bikes (gemeenschapelijke fietsen). For just 25 euros a year, you can use shared bikes within the city center, of which there seem to be more than 100 places to pick them up and drop them off. It is very convenient, and it just shows another way in which the U.S. lags behind in terms of public transport.

    6. Speaking in class

    Dutch people love to speak in class. They are known for being extremely opinionated and will fight for their argument vehemently even if they know it is a loosing argument. Flemish students, with notable exception, tend to be very shy to go out of their way to speak up in class. This is both because of Belgian modesty and because of the teaching methods here, which have historically relied heavily on lecturing. This is very strange to me, because many of my students are shy to speak English even though they speak it seemingly perfectly, while even if Dutch people speak steenkool engels, they will make sure to let their opinion be known.

    7. The LANGUAGE

    I could write a whole blogpost on how different Belgian Dutch or Flemish (Vlaams) is from Dutch Dutch (Nederlands Nederlands). The reason they are so different is because originally Belgium was not a “Dutch” speaking country but instead had many different Germanic dialects that seemed to be distinct languages. This could continue to be the case, perhaps, depending on who you ask. My students have said that the people in West Flanders can’t understand the people in Limburg and vice versa. I have even heard of Dutch people speaking English in Flanders because of a perceived ease in communication.

    The problem for me is not that I can’t understand the Belgian accent. It’s that I can’t understand the Belgian dialect. In class, the professors use the standard dialect, but outside of class, students use all kinds of dialects that are difficult for a foreigner to catch. I have heard many times that people can understand me when I speak (I tend to speak with a more Northern accent than Belgians), but the problem comes when I can’t understand them. Luckily, for my Dutch, they don’t switch to English, because they just think I’m from the Netherlands. Unluckily, this can cause problems for my sanity when someone thinks I speak their language, but can’t understand half the words coming out of their mouth.

    Some differences in Dutch in Belgium v. the Netherlands I have noticed so far (listed by Flemish, Dutch Dutch and then English):

    Ik heb goesting – Ik heb er zin in – I feel like doing (something).

    Ik vind het plezant – Ik vind het leuk – I like it (lit. I find it pleasant, nice)

    griet – wijf – semi-derogatory slang term for girls/chicks

    job – baan – job (Belgians use the English term)

    ge/gij – je/jij – you/you (emphasis)

    schoon – mooi – beautiful (schoon more often means ‘clean’ in Holland)

    Furthermore, Belgians use a lot more French terms in their speech. For instance:

    Salut – Daag – Bye

    Croque monsieur – Tosti – Grilled sandwich with ham and cheese

    Merci is also another way to say thank you.

    Allez is often used as a filler (stopwoord) where Dutch people might use zeg maar.

    There are also a TON of differences in pronunciation, but I might leave that for another post.

    8. Country pride

    This might be the most humble country I have ever seen. No flags in the streets, no crazy nationalistic holidays like Queen’s day (Koninginnedag) or National Day in China. When Belgian talk about their country, they continually talk about how small and boring and insignificant it is.

    This country’s modesty also has something to do with the fragmentation of the country, which honestly has four separate parts: Flanders, Wallonia, the small German-speaking region, and Brussels (where English could surely become an official language with all the expatriates and eurocrats living and working there.) This fragmentation is what allowed the Belgian federal government to shut down for more than a year with little effect on the country itself, and it is what also allows for the fact that nationalistic pride seems to be just as nonexistent. Except when it comes to soccer (voetbal). Belgium qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 12 years a few weeks back and you can bet that Belgian flags were out in droves the week following.

    In summary, it does seem like Flanders and Holland have a lot of dissimilarities. However, these should be taken with a grain of salt. As a Dutch friend said to me this weekend that he thought the countries we very much the same, and his opinion might me more valid than mine, only being in Belgium for around five weeks. I would say that some of the differences are real, but some of them are a result of wishful thinking, perhaps due to historical conflicts between the two countries. However, I would also take what my friend says with a grain of salt too, because he comes from the south of Holland in North Brabant (Noord-Brabant). They say that the cultural divide occurs at the Meuse River (de Maas). Perhaps a Amsterdammer would come to Belgium and wonder “Waar ben ik nu beland?” (Where the heck am I?)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Confer
    Dutch and Flemish people have different views on power and what it signifies. Flemish people consider it normal for one person to have more power than another, and are more inclined to take orders from their manager. Dutch employees, on the other hand, expect to be on an equal footing with their boss, and expect them to behave that way.
    Very true. When it comes to decision making in Flanders, hierarchy is always respected and business is settled through following the proper chain-of-command (this also goes for politics); quite like the Red Army or the Catholic Church, it's the leader/centralized leadership which makes ALL the decisions in Flanders. There's no autonomy for the lower ranks.
    "All passion is lost now. The world is mediocre, limp, without force. And madness and despair are a force. And force is a crime in the eyes of the fools, the weak and the silly who rule the roost." - Joseph Conrad

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