Ozcloggie wrote a very interesting survey today. It is about the possible differences between the use of the word ‘friend’ in the Netherlands and in Australia. You really should read it; it is a very colourful and clarifying commentary.
Now I will have a look at the same subject, seen from my perspective, living in the Netherlands. Dutch people only use the word ‘friend’ if they mean a real friend. A friend is someone with whom you share your deepest thoughts, someone that is very dear to you. It is a man or women whose company is very important to you. Well, I don’t have to explain what a friend is. In Holland we only use the word friend if we refer to someone with whom we have such a deep and important relationship.
An acquaintance is someone we know, and might even see often, but don’t consider a friend. There is a much larger emotional distance. We never use the word friend if we are referring to an acquaintance. So I can state that the situation around the word friend is rather clear in my country. A friend is a friend and an acquaintance is an acquaintance.
There are two exceptions. It is possible to use the word friend in a unfriendly way. ‘Ik zou m’n mond maar even houden, vriend!’ ‘You better shut up, friend.’ In this case the friend is the enemy. Also there are some people who measure the validity of their existence by the amount of ‘friends’ they have got. If they organize a birthday party they invite all their friends. If you go to a party like that you better swallow some tranquilizers first and you should be prepared to be confronted with a hundred shouting people stuffed into a two bedroom apartment. As soon as the party host would ask one of these friends for help in a difficult situation, this pal would instantly break the world record long distance running of course. I quitted visiting this sort of party’s when I was 17. I am 47 now.
In Australia the word mate is very easily used, I understood from Ozcloggie’s survey. If an Aussi calls you mate it is possible he or she doesn’t think of you as a real friend. This is also different in Holland. We only use the word mate if someone is a friend. Or if we mean the opposite as in: ‘watch out mate!’ We have no equivalent of the word mate as used in Australia.
Ozcloggie writes that Dutch people want to keep a bit of social distance. This is partly true. It is a machanism of survival in an overcrowded country. But I can also say: I wish we did keep a bit of social distance. Since 1960 lots of Dutch people threw away certain civilities and rituals of politeness. They chose for a loose and jovial way of approaching other people. Unfortunately in the last 15 years this developed to rude, impertinent and vulgar behaviour. A phenomenon that makes it almost impossible to live in this country. I think everyone has, what I always call, his or her personal circle. This circle has to be respected. Lots of Dutch people think it is absolutely normal to violate the integrety of this circle. A sad development.
One thing is universal: it is very important to have a couple of real good friends.