I recently learned an old Dutch expression: “Doe maar gewoon. Dan doe je al gek genoeg,” which means “Act normally, that is crazy enough.” I think it sums up the Dutch character extremely well.
The saying is similar to the Japanese adage “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” (It also happens to be the exact opposite of what my mother taught me, reflecting a much more American outlook – “The squeaky wheel gets oiled.”)
Foreigners tend to perceive Holland as a liberal country, but in my experience it is a very conforming place. Anything different or out of the normal – even seemingly inconsequential stuff like like what you eat for lunch or what you wear – tends to be noticed, questioned, and sometimes disparaged. If you aren’t going with the flow, you will stand out like a sore thumb and feel everyone’s eyes on you.
Despite the internationl reputation of a city like Amsterdam for counter-culture, your average Dutch person doesn’t want to stand out from the crowd; he or she prefers to conform and blend in. Dutch people are very down to earth and modest and don’t like to show off or draw attention to themselves. Even if they are rich or successful and have something legitimate to brag about, you’ll never see them flaunting it in the way Americans would. In Holland, being ordinary is a virtue.