Monday, August 22, 2011

Dutch Culture/Tea Party Culture

Today is simply me rummaging through my brain and tossing out the junk.

The behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group: the youth culture; the drug culture.
[From sociology] — A simplified and standardized conception or image invested with special meaning and held in common by members of a group: The cowboy and Indian are American stereotypes.
So what, precisely, is the difference between culture and stereotypes? The former is held as descriptive and the latter tends to have a negative connotation. However, when many people describe "culture" they're actually describing customs or habits of a people. This isn't unreasonable because, for example, you could spend years studying Dutch culture, but many people are mainly curious about day-to-day behavior and attitudes.

For example, the Dutch tend to be forthright, reserved, and conservative in their personal life, but their tolerance for other people's lifestyles stems from a rather pragmatic "we have to get along" attitude and a desire to minimize problems which could lead to harm rather than take a hard-line "zero tolerance" approach. This is why they tend to tolerate soft drugs, but their per capita consumption is less than both the UK and the US. Having many Dutch friends and talking at length with them about politics, I think it's fair to say that, at least from the Dutch point of view, I've not said anything controversial about Dutch culture. At the same time, one could easily argue that this is a Dutch stereotype. I'm hard-pressed to make a distinction.

Obamacare wagon at Virginia Square
Photo by Ken Mayer
Given that context, I recently posted to my Google+ account a link to an opinion piece about the US Tea Party.  The authors of that piece were two professors who conducted a study of trends in US politics and they found:
So what do Tea Partiers have in common? They are overwhelmingly white, but even compared to other white Republicans, they had a low regard for immigrants and blacks long before Barack Obama was president, and they still do.
In addition, they also found that Tea Party members were overwhelmingly social conservatives and want to comingle religion and politics. So basically, Tea Party members tend to be white, religious, and racist (see "low regard" above and look up racism if you're still struggling with this).

So if the study's findings are true, have I unfairly stereotyped the Tea Party? Or is it fair to say that as a culture is a description of normal behavior and attitudes of the people in the group in question, that the Tea Party culture is white, religious, and racist?

Regardless of which is true, I certainly managed to offend a few people on Google+ by referring to the Tea Party as "white, racist, religious fanatics". Some took offense due to the overgeneralization, but curiously, if I describe the Dutch as "hard working, conservative and tolerant", few people take offense at that overgeneralization. So I guess positive stereotypes are OK and negative ones are not. I can understand why, but it still doesn't help us approach truth.

So in the interest of fairness, let me temper my positive comments about the Dutch with the following: Dutch cooking can give British cooking a run for its money. Take that as you will. (That being said, a well-made Dutch Mustard Soup is awesome).

However, if you really want to sum up the difference between Dutch and US culture, at least in regards to politics, the Dutch very firmly believe that consensus is important, while the US appears to believe in winner-take-all ideological warfare. So out of curiosity, for those of you who are married, which style do you believe works better for your household? I think the fact that every person we recently spoke with at OSCON about coming to work for us in the Netherlands, if we asked why they wanted to leave, all cited politics as a driving motivator, might shed some light on that question.


  1. Speaking of consensus vs winner-take-all, how many cited "spouse can't/won't" as the driving limiter?

  2. @Michael: for those who were interested but said no, "spouse" was such a common objection that I joked that should provide divorce lawyers as part of our relocation package. Nobody laughed.

  3. Culture is something that exists that you try to describe. A stereotype is a (generally) poor, oversimplified description of a culture.

    See also orthogonality.

  4. I find that even when being descriptive, those being described without prejudice will react to their own judgement of the words being employed. If it brings up negative feelings, especially when the illusion of perfection is challenged, they are offended.