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13-12-2021

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Why do the Dutch always have their curtains open?

The Dutch and their open curtains. A frequently recurring topic of conversation among tourists and expats living in the Netherlands. Even so, it's none of the business of the random passer-by what kind of TV program you're watching, whether lasagna was made for dinner tonight or what color couch the neighbor plops down on after a day’s work, right?! So, what is the reason that the Dutch are so open and exposing?

There are a number of (true or false) explanations to be found about this surprising phenomenon. Moreover, many scientists have been struggling for years to find an explanation, but which one is really true?

Firstly, one of the reasons mentioned is the incidence of light. The Dutch would have wanted to have more natural light in their home, with the historical reason that it was a counter-reaction to the darkening of the Second World War. However, the German occupier darkened the windows of all occupied countries, not just the Netherlands, so this theory can be rejected quite quickly.

Secondly, do the naked windows perhaps have a religious origin story? The Netherlands has traditionally been predominantly Calvinist. An important law in the Calvinist faith is not to sin. So to show that you were a devouted Calvinist, you better kept your curtains open to avoid speculation!

Thirdly, perhaps it has a much more superficial meaning? Maybe we shouldn't dig so deep to find a historical origin for this phenomenon. Are the Dutch perhaps just curious and a bit exhibitionistic? Besides, the same thing is happening online these days, just think of channels like Instagram and Facebook, where people show the world their entire lives, and not just their living room.

Fourthly, keeping the curtains open is actually an invitation for passersby to look inside. Does this have anything to do with status? Look at me having a good life, a nice TV, herringbone floor and a beautiful oak dining table! Or is it not necessarily about the decoration and stuff in the living room, but more about a level of status, a more cultural origin? In the Netherlands, family is extremely important and with open curtains everyone can see that this family has entrenched itself in their own little palace. Doing pretty well!

Additionally, it is unlikely that curtains actually served as an aid to the privacy of the Dutch. Curtains were almost always found at the front of houses. These are often the most beautiful rooms in the house, the place where people live the most. Therefore, you can imagine that it had to be the intention that the curtains hung open and really only contributed as decoration of the window.

Moreover, the further south you go, the more closed the curtains are. Yet, where you would expect the people to be generally more open, there are often no curtains on the windows, but roller shutters are used. These shutters are most of the time completely closed and not a single ray of light can get through, even during the day. We can see the exact opposite here.

In conclusion, typical words a foreigner often describes the Dutch are tolerant, open, cycling, greedy, cooperative, but also: large windows without curtains. Therefore, the Dutch seem to enjoy looking inside other people's houses as much as showing their own domestic life.