NetherlandsWhen you drive at night through the countryside in the Netherlands, you notice something odd: people are sitting at the dinner table, watching TV, or getting ready to go to bed in their homes, and you can clearly see them from the street. There are no curtains, no shades, no privacy. Coming from a society that values the ability not to be bothered, the idea that everyone gets to see everything you do seems threatening.

Apparently, this transparency has its roots in Protestantism. You shouldn’t do anything you wouldn’t want others to see, and in the Netherlands you just don’t do anything you wouldn’t want others to see. Curtainless windows are just one example: I recall how weird it felt when I visited a swimming pool in Vaals, only to find out that the showers were shared: naked men, women, and children all in one room.

What this has done to the Dutch cannot be underestimated: they have become an incredibly tolerant and open-minded nation, one that is proud of its ability to live with just about anything that could be human nature. They are happy, they are free-spirited, and they are incredibly tall (not that this has anything to do with privacy).

On the other side of the Channel, the exact opposite. Since Victorian times (and possibly before), England has tried to shy away from controversy by allowing and forcing people to hide themselves. You are supposed to front a suitable facade and to do the things that belong to human nature in hiding. The defining keyword of this society is proper.