Leiden Psychology Blog

About polite Moroccans and rude Dutch

About polite Moroccans and rude Dutch By Cotidad

You may think that honor and aggression are closely linked. In this contribution I will paint a more nuanced picture, and show that honor is also linked to politeness and constructive conflict management.

Popular media often stereotypically portray people from honor cultures as ready to blow up at the slightest provocation. Meanwhile, tourists visiting countries with honor cultures (e.g., Mediterranean countries, the South of the USA or the Middle East) may have experienced generous hospitality and friendly treatment from the locals. My personal experience with students with an honor-culture background is that they are friendly, polite, and obliging. Yet in the media the general impression of the hot-tempered individual with an honor-culture background tends to persist. So, do honor cultures produce rude or polite people? The answer to this question may just lie in the so-called “paradox of politeness”, which illustrates how constructive conflict behavior in one culture can be threatening in other cultures.

The conflict behavior  of people from honor cultures is shaped by two important characteristics . First, people in honor cultures care a lot about their reputation; their personal worth and self-esteem depends partly on the respect and esteem they receive from other people in their society. Second, people in honor cultures, especially males, need to be able to defend and protect their family, their property, and their reputation. If a man is treated disrespectfully, for example when he or his family is insulted, it is important for him to restore his image as someone who needs to be treated respectfully. On occasions, this respectful treatment may be enforced by violent repercussions.

A consequence of this potential danger of offending someone, however, is that people from honor cultures tend to treat each other with care, respect and politeness. Not offending and not provoking another person is very important, because the consequences of an (unintended) offense can be quite severe. So, when people from an honor culture are faced with a situation in which they are annoyed by someone, they will first try to smooth out this situation in a non-offensive way, for example by ignoring the annoyance or by exhibiting subtle indications suggesting their disagreement. The positive side of this approach is that mild annoyances are smoothed over, and no one needs to be upset by facing an angry or annoyed person. The downside is that the annoyance might not be solved, and instead  may fester until it becomes so big that escalation is inevitable.

This polite and conflict-avoiding approach is very different from the traditional Dutch way of handling an annoying situation. When Dutch people are annoyed or provoked by something, they  will let you know soon enough (Doe zelf eens normaal!). The Dutch tend to be open and direct, and they will try to correct a situation which they do not like, and tend to do so the moment they are annoyed by it. The positive side of this approach is that annoyances do not fester and tend to be dealt with before the situation escalates. The downside is that the Dutch directness can be experienced as rude and impolite.

We have found this pattern of culturally incompatible conflict behavior in our own research (Harinck, Shafa, Ellemers & Beersma, in press) and in others’ work on honor culture and conflict management. In fact, our results show that people from honor cultures have a stronger intention to solve conflicts cooperatively than Dutch people. However, they have different ways to do so. For example, honor people may prefer to politely ignore the conflict - as shown in the work by Cohen et al. (1999). Alternatively,  they may send out subtle cues intended to address the issue without explicit reference to the conflict. However, native Dutch may not pick up such signs of a conflict-avoiding approach when they are dealing with a person from an honor-culture background. In the Dutch culture it is common to talk about a conflict and for the conflict parties to openly discuss the issue in order to find a solution. Dutch people consider this method to be the standard way to solve a conflict and expect it from others as well. This approach, however, might seem less constructive or even somewhat confrontational to people from honor cultures. An open discussion of different views implies that the conflict is acknowledged, which might still be too threatening for them. In fact, intercultural miscommunications are likely to emerge when Dutch persons fail to realize that the very behavior that they see as  constructive might be considered offensive or threatening by honor culture people.

In sum, I think the view of people from honor cultures as people who blow up at the slightest provocation should be moderated. Their first approach to a  conflict, actual or potential,  is probably more constructive and conflict-avoidant than we think, if only we noticed.

Update April 15 2013: Fieke Harinck talked with Abdelkader Benali about this blog in the radio 1 program ‘Pavlov’. Listen to the podcast.


Posted by niandra on January 9, 2014 at 22:31

Your research on the conflict management styles of people from cultures of honor vs. nonhonor sounds really fascinating, and there should be many interesting questions still not answered, but asking “whose style is better, ours or theirs?” is laden with essentialist connotations and can be damaging towards cultures.

“So, do honor cultures produce rude or polite people?” Honor cultures produce polite and rude people (and they come in all shades of both), just like nonhonor cultures do. We cannot find out (and we shouldn’t aim for that) who is rude or polite, because probably the definition of rudeness and politeness vary between these two cultural ideals. These concepts would differ within honor cultures, probably even between Zuid- and Noord-Holland!

Twei Lim
Posted by Twei Lim on April 17, 2013 at 16:30

The more links and sources, the better :3
The podcast was good :3

But I guess at times in an outreach many things are a generalization.
And some don’t agree that dutch are always direct and or find that fellow dutchmen find themselves too direct in east Netherlands.

Posted by wth on April 15, 2013 at 20:57

Generalizing and stereotyping is all nice and well, but stating your beliefs without explaining the situation makes his a piece that can be formed to anyone’s point of view.

Title: Polite Moroccans and Rude Dutch

With the article it never mentioned Moroccans, just honor cultures. This entire term used inside the contexts of this article does not make sense.

It would seem that you tend to imply that Moroccan people have a honor culture, and you compare them to the dutch culture. but since you never said if you compared them when they are placed within their own respective countries or what. Environment plays a role in all social behavior, that Is why I cannot fathom the sense of writing an article that can only be seen as confusing.

I do agree that the dutch way of doing things tends to be more inside boundaries that could consider rude. But if you are implying that moroccan people have an honor culture, then I must state that I do not believe that their honor culture is carried over by the next-generation of these people after an immigration. The next-generation of these people tends to lean more towards gang cultures then honor cultures, based on my observations.

In general, the only honor cultures that I have thus far observed to adept yet still keep their “honor culture”  up are Asian immigrants and their offspring.

If however you referred to these cultures in a comparison to their original habitats. then I believe, Moroccans are more polite in their own countries, because they have more social control and police who actually give you a beating (As you would deserve) if you do cross the line drastically.

A person is only polite if there is some personal gain in doing so, this however has nothing to do with honor, but the single fact we are human beings.

Fieke Harinck
Posted by Fieke Harinck on April 15, 2013 at 13:03

Fieke Harinck talked with Abdelkader Benali about this blog in the radio 1 program ‘Pavlov’. Follow the link below to listen to the podcast.


Twei Lim
Posted by Twei Lim on April 11, 2013 at 16:53

Also isn’t it so that tourist based economies/countries learn to be ‘friendly’ cause moneys comes in and comes better with certain behaviors?
(Next to low low prices) D:

I apologize for spamming/annoying (>_ _)>

Twei Lim
Posted by Twei Lim on April 11, 2013 at 16:42

People are allowed to be offended.

And problems should be dealt with on the spot, it is worse to let it fester or pretend backstabbing friendliness.

And when one can justify extreme harm and violence as honour, there is something wrong with your honour system.

Personally I find harming self first before ever even trying something to anyone else is a better way to understand pain and empathy a bit more. Even though all harm in any way is bad.

There is good and bad people everywhere.

Social and peer pressure can be a terrible thing.

The best thing is I guess… to see, learn, know and experience all kinds of neighbours, then people know there are a lot of grey, dark grey around you in any group/culture/race (next to some good, generous hardworking people). And only those that conclude that certain violent things or oppression is normal by tradition, ‘holy’ book, culture, social or whatever; and agree to that should notice they have some bit of sociopathy in themselves or worse.

If one see suffering and or harm and still do or agree to it…

Personally I see if you live in someone else’s culture and country and are able to get richer there, you learn and respect their ways. Take the good from any culture you encounter and remove minimize the bad.

There are extremists of all religions, ideologies. There should always be a loud voice by the moderates of the group.
But what sells newspapers and news better?

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