Bespreekbaarheid or non bespreekbaarheid

In my crime novel Utrecht Snow, my hero Caes Heda is in a difficult place, he wants to be open minded, but due to the Dutch habit of bespreekbaarheid he finds this difficult. It is explained thus:

“Caes had decided very early as a policeman that he needed to lose many of the typical Dutch traits. When he entered the force, he had always seen crime as very black and white. You did wrong, so you should be punished. There was no dispute. He saw the rule of law as the ultimate sanction. He had always thought he was right. But as time went on and he faced the different types of crime that people carried out and found that it was harder to keep that view. People committed crimes for different reasons. Greed or desperation were two extremes. Could we or even should we think that the man who steals a loaf of bread to feed a starving family be prosecuted to the full extent as a bank robber or burglar. Greed and desperation. Caes looked out of the window at the snowflakes drifting against the glass. Crime was almost as opaque as the window. Grey would be the best way to describe it. Caes pondered, should he ignore petty crime if the stakes were low or should there be a zero tolerance. He had changed. Even to be thinking like this showed he had changed, but he knew that the ‘I am always right’ mantra would never work, especially when he left the streets and started to lead a team.

He had to be unDutch and look at a wide variety of views and opinions. There was never just one answer, one way of doing things, unless you are Dutch and were always right! Caes liked to think that he was right, but on the law of averages there would be times when he would be wrong, so if he was considering a murder or some serious crime he couldn’t be dogmatic anymore. He had to question himself as well as question others. Caes tried to convey this to everyone. Don’t be content with the first response, always make a second and third guess. Work towards the truth gradually. There had to be sense in that approach, it was one of very few things that he would impose, if that wasn’t an oxymoron, we needed to give our questions every chance of being answered.”

So, is it possible to be unDutch? Can a Dutch native not to be so forthright and accept that everyone is equal? Is it a Power thing where they have to have the last word even though that word may not be correct except to them? Why should they always insist on the last word and that it is the correct word? The only way to go?

We are always told the truth never hurts, but we know it does. We don’t want to be called fat or have our intelligence questioned. Does telling someone they are stupid actually help any situation.

In England we have the expression “Sailing under false colours” where we cover up what we actually mean with kinder words. Is that helpful; or must we be like the Dutch and tell it as it is?

The problem with this is that people begin to think they know it all and are answerable to no-one. Coaching sports is a perfect example when a coach with years of experience tries to change a way of behaviour but is constantly battled as the player with much less experience knows better and will not adapt. Who comes out of that argument better? Is it even necessary to always be right, to always show who’s boss, to always be answerable to no-one?

Bespreekbaarheid may be politically correct, but it can also be damaging as it serves no-one except the speaker. The Dutch have made a habit of always being right, but what if they are wrong?

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Jon Wilkins

Jon Wilkins is Welsh and lives in England. He is a writer. A Europhile and Remainer, he is a regular visitor to Utrecht and has set his crime novel series in the city.

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