Europeans who come to the United States often think they have a special responsibility to stand up for the lofty values of the Old World, the center of civilization, amid the cultural wastelands of America. Here everyone walks in T-shirts and shorts, chews gum all day, eats only cheeseburgers and doesn’t know how to properly handle a knife and fork — right?
Think again. In the U.S. today, it is precisely my fellow Dutchman who runs the risk of coming across as a boorish farmer. Back in the 1960s, the Dutch and other nations figured out that all social rules are arbitrary and optional. In Holland, personal freedom is happiness. Anything goes. Do it your way.
Not so in American social life, though, where rules are still rules. They are often unspoken, but they are rigorously observed, which creates a certain social insecurity. It’s as if the proper and conformist 1950s have returned. So beware.