Last year, someone felt offended during one of my recent keynotes.

I had started that particular session with the anecdote that Dutch people–I am generalizing here–are considered rude by people in other European countries. I know this because I live in Brussels, the unofficial capital of the EU. People talk.

In my keynote, I also explained that the Dutch themselves are usually unaware of this, and they simply consider themselves frank, honest, and open. I know this because I’m Dutch.

I also explained that many languages have an expression along the line of “not stepping on a person’s toes”, which means not to offend them. I always see plenty of people nodding their heads at this.

Then I said that the Dutch have the opposite perspective, with our expression that some people have “long toes”, which means it is difficult not to offend them. A lot of people find that quite funny. Yet another plain fact.

I then apologized in advance to the audience, jokingly, about any remarks I might make out of frankness and honesty, that might inadvertently offend someone. Particularly the ones with long toes. This always generates a good laugh. The people in the room understand that I am teasing the audience and making fun of myself (and the Dutch).

Except one time, one person didn’t laugh.

After my keynote, I received feedback that my joke was not well-received by this particular person, because she did not appreciate that I “put the blame on the audience” for any bad things I was going to say during my talk. She was offended by my joke about the openness of the Dutch versus public perception.

Point proven, I say.

Long toes…

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photo credit: Gerry Thomasen

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  • Christian Willoch

    I’ve lived in Netherlands for two years. And I agree; you guys are not rude. “Unfiltered” is a more precise description, I would say.

    • jurgenappelo

      That’s what I always say: the filtering organ was stripped from our genome!

    • Tom

      as someone who lived there for 5 years, unfiltered can easily be considered rude, common courtesy and all that 🙂

  • David Marti

    The first time I heard the joke, I laughed a lot a lot, it’s very good! But hey, there is always someone who annoys for a good smile or a good joke! Please remain Dutch! Ha ha ha, Long toes…

  • David V. Corbin

    As you say some people have “long toes”….it seems that the particular individual who was offended might be *ALL* toes!!!!!

  • Daryl Wallace

    Living in Amsterdam, for me, it was easy to appreciate the classic unfettered & frank openness witnessed daily. Say what you mean, mean what you say, quit dancing around a subject and give people honest feedback. It’s easier, saves misunderstanding and is more efficient in the long run.

    Most Dutch would say, and I’d agree, that this is more courteous than indirectly hinting behind idioms, maintaining vain positivity and trying not to hurt someone’s feelings.

    Rude? Since when was being honest rude? The candidness of feedback I witnessed in Holland built more robust relationships that could fare worse weather than relationships based on diplomacy, courtesy & manners.

    • Jurgen Appelo

      I am in total agreement, of course. 🙂

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