Dutch Direct – Indian Indirect?

Some years ago I asked an Indian lady working for Tata Corus what she found to be the biggest difference between working in India and in the Netherlands. She said it was the directness of her Dutch colleagues that took some getting used to. I smiled remembering the couple of times I almost packed my bags and left for Schipol airport after hearing my then boyfriend’s ‘no’ followed by a physical removal of himself from the common space. Simple, efficient, clear. Message conveyed. When he did that, I sometimes felt like I’d been slapped on my face.

I think Dutch directness is another manifestation of the idea: ‘we are transparent’. What you see is what you get. Why else is it so easy to look into the living rooms of so many Dutch people? A walk in Amsterdam allows, beside other tourist attractions, the possibility to gaze into the homes of its folk. This attraction is not confined to Amsterdam alone. While on my bicycle sprees I have looked through a lot of windows in Holland. And what you see are orderly, neat spaces designed to tell the viewer that all is well and above board here.

A transparent folk. An honest folk. Those clean, glass windows seem to call out, ‘don’t you see, what you see is what you get’!


Dutch directness to my mind is also about efficiency. Why would you spend time and energy on a long explanation that implies a ‘no’ when you can simply say it (and maybe leave to get onto other important things)? If it is in the interest of the listener, they may follow up with a question or follow you, to know the reason for the ‘no’. If they don’t, you were right – the story underlying the ‘no’ was not so important, anyway.

In contrast, many people in other parts of the world find the story underlying the message more important than a direct utterance like ‘no’. They take the listener with them, meandering sometimes, so that when the ‘no’ message comes, it resembles a nudge and not a slap. Quite often, it is nuanced – so that it reflects many a possibility along the ‘yes- no’ continuum.

This is often how communication goes in India. Indirect.

However, some Dutch people who have been to India tell me that they have experienced a shocking form of directness in their Indian colleagues. It’s a good idea to think about where and when this direct form of communication takes place, because that tells one a lot about India, and of course about Holland.


Some useful links to the website of India Connected


Working in India is a feast


Adventurous entrepreneurs perform better in India


Questions (and answers about working in India)



4 thoughts on “Dutch Direct – Indian Indirect?

  1. Nie to read Nandini – and high time we look at ourselves when doing ‘business’ (in Germany this has happened already a long time ago an anthropolgist colleauge of mine tells me). In addition to the yes and no, there’s the ‘may be’ an the fact that it is important to establish a relationship by sometimes inquiring into the family lives of your overseas collegues to open up the conversation… are you married? how many kids? etc

    And doing business with the government is a different experience altogether!

    Looking forward to more reactions and/or blogs,



    1. Yes so true Hanne…the ‘greys’ are difficult for a lot of Dutch people – so maybe is much to vague.
      And inquiring into personal life and making ‘small talk’ is considered much too inefficient, Plus we don’t like to mix the personal with the private in Holland.


  2. Hello Nandini,
    We met several years ago in Rotterdam, through Vidya Sampath. As an Entrepreneur/IT professional involved in outsourcing and someone interested in Management Development Programs, I have conducted several programs on Inter-cultural communication,at several institutes including KIT Amsterdam, arising out of my practical experience with the Dutch and Indians. What you have written, so nicely, resonates with me. The openness personified by open curtains is palpable as you cross the border from Austria (where I have lived for many years) or Germany into the Netherlands. The Dutch directness, which one observes even in parliamentary debates is so refreshing compared to the Trump kind of rude,obnoxious and insulting directness. I think the Dutch have perfected the art of being direct without being dis-agreeable. Some arrogant Indians do tend to follow the Trump (or our own famous/notorious Arnab Goswami) model, which is of course a pity! Incidentally I do notice, increasingly, that the Dutch tend to “small talk” in business meetings before getting down to brass tacks! Best regards, Ram


    1. Dear Ram,
      Yes of course I remember! Sorry our comment skipped my attention. Thank your for sharing your insights and experiences. They are very valuable.


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