The English, as a nation, are polite. Very very polite. It makes dealing with some of the more blunt Dutch manners even harder for English expats than other nationalities. However, an American reader got in touch recently about the annoyance he feels at the lack of queue etiquette in the Netherlands. Ahh, I thought, a pet topic of mine! I am English, therefore I queue.
I queue patiently, joining the line in order of arrival. Waiting for a bus for example, this means English people get on the bus in the same order they arrive at the bus stop. So if you arrive last, you are at the end of the queue, and if there are no seats on the bus that means you are the guy standing up! Logical huh?
Not in the Netherlands. Every morning I used to get the bus to work. Every morning I was generally p'd off by the time I got on the bus. First to arrive at the bus stop most mornings gave me the RIGHT to get on the bus first. Right? No. The Dutch way to get on a bus is EVERYONE CHARGE to get on and screw the order you arrived in! If that means arriving first and still spending the 30 minute bus journey standing up whilst hurtling down the motorway then so be it.
The whole experience did not sit well with the ingrained English queue culture I have. I was relived to hear that it also sits a little uncomfortably with the American culture.
Then I read this headline in the NRC:
"Brit op Titanic was te beleefd" - translated this means "Brits on the Ttitanic were too polite". I read further and in short, from research undertaken by the Universities of Zurich and Queensland, the British men were too polite for their own good. By standing patiently in line to let women and children go first, whilst their American counterparts fought to get to the front of the queues to get on lifeboats, British men had 15% less chance than the Americans of surviving the disaster.
Is that the Dutch rationale for fighting to get on the bus? A result of some inherent survival instinct? If something happens, at least they are not the ones left standing in the aisles....... it's us polite English folks!