The Stylization of Dutch Identity on Social Media

21 minutes to read
My Pham

Imagine that you are asked to pretend to be an American person having dinner at a restaurant or to be a Belgian person drinking beer at a local pub, what would you do to make people believe that you are actually American or Belgian? Some first questions coming to your mind might be What gestures make me an American or Belgian? What is special in the way a Belgian drinks beers or an American has dinners?  

Without professional training, it seems to be a challenge to most of us as we were not trained in projecting our perceptions through facial expressions, gestures, or using props to support our roles. However, the more familiar we are with the culture, the easier it is for us to actually “pretend” to be a “typical version” of people from that specific culture. Recently, ordinary users and actors/actresses have been applying their knowledge and acting skills on social media to be, for example, that American-English-Dutch guy or that English-German guy of the Internet. Their incredible acting has deceived their followers of their true nationalities and created constant debates about their backgrounds. Their relatable humorous content about cultures and cultural differences has been well-praised and truly enjoyable to a lot of people. 

Looking into those performances carefully, it is noticeable that these people are extremely good at associating themselves with several cultures at the same time. Digging into the comment sections of these content creators, you can easily find this kind of comment:

Figure 1: Comment on @letsdoubledutch post (83 likes). Collected on 31/07/2023

Besides the talents of projecting their perceptions into acting, their performances pose the question of what kinds of methods they use to assemble the essential expressions of culture in one character and, at the same time, associate themselves with the authentic experiences of people from that culture.

Critical Discourse Analysis

In this article, critical discourse analysis was chosen as the major method of research. In a nutshell, critical discourse analysis (Blommaert, 2005) is a way of studying the language in “action”. That means that as researchers, we focus on how several semiotic elements are deployed and how they become meaningful in the specific context in which they came into being (Johnstone, 2018). When producing content on Instagram or TikTok about behaviors and people of the cultures, creators must make use of the language and semiotic resources of those specific countries to create socially cultural personas. Therefore, critical discourse analysis could help detangle several existing layers of meanings in choosing these elements. For this topic, all semiotic resources, such as names, hair, styles, makeup, gestures, facial expressions, and the choice of images in the thumbnails to all linguistic elements will be investigated (Doreleijers & Swanenberg, 2023).

More specifically, in this article and its second part (an upcoming one), I attempt to shed light on the stylization of the cultural identities of these social media creators by using a multimodal approach. Different from discourse analysis, which only focuses on analyzing the linguistic content and the sociolinguistic context of written texts and speech, the multimodal discourse analysis method investigates the use of multiple modes of interaction such as images, gestures, signs, texts, color, and so on. (Digit Magazine, n.d.) Multimodal discourse analysis is especially used to dismantle the semiotic sociocultural meanings and the interactive relationship of multiple media elements in one single message. Our content creators do not use only text or speech to communicate but always incorporate multiple multimodal signs to perform identities. Therefore, to detach the meanings of these signs, we must take the multimodal approach and take into account all interactive elements within them.

The focus of the articles will be on investigating how English-spoken content creators construct “the Dutch authentic identity” where English is the basis of communication for topics such as living experiences in Amsterdam or planning with Dutchies versus planning with English. The question that I would like to answer is not whether they are performing their authentic identity, but what methods English-spoken content creators use to associate themselves with Dutch culture and the Dutch language. I propose that there is the stylization of cultural identities, a concept that emphasizes the performative nature of the dialects and/or a set of discursive constructions rather than the styling variation in speech and behavior (Coupland, 2001). To answer this research question, I will break down the topic into smaller specific questions:

  • What modes of interaction do they use? (Interaction here is not limited to the languages, Dutch or English. Their choice of words, accents, or facial expressions could denote, for example, the cross-cultural identities of the users)
  • Besides speech and written texts, what other modalities do they use to associate them with Dutch culture? More importantly, why do they use them?
  • What kinds of content do they produce? And from what perspectives do they form the humor?
  • Who are their audience? What are the roles of the uptakes from the audience?

In the next sections, the performances of Derek Mitchell, the owner of the @letsdoubledutch account, will be investigated. This influencer creates content by performing several characters from different countries, such as the UK, the US, and especially the Netherlands in comedic short plays. In the process of producing content, they constantly need to associate themselves with Dutch culture and authenticate themselves as a Dutch citizen. In the analysis of @letsdoubledutch, the performances of @rogierbak, another content creator about Dutch culture, will also be used to compare. Although they are targeting the same audience groups, the distinction in their performance and the differences in reactions from the audience are noticeable. Since Mitchell is an American ( Mitchell, 2023), their Dutchness performances need more stylization. In contrast, Rogier Bak is a Dutchie living in the Netherlands, therefore, part of their Dutchness performances are probably authentic expressions. Understanding the gaps in their performances and the differences in how people react to these practices might help to derive certain existing perceptions and discourses of authentic Dutch culture in the media and social media.

The analysis will be divided into three main parts: the sender, the message, and the receiver. As Jon Blommaert emphasized “Discourse is language-in-action”, semiotic instruments of discourse only start to become meaningful when they are deployed in a social context (Blommaert, 2005). Therefore, to analyze the discourse, we need to go into the semantic intention of the speakers, the cultural meanings of their content in that specific context; and, lastly, we need to know the group of audience and their interpretations (Johnstone, 2018). However, these three elements tend to always be intertwined in the content. Therefore, to help the readers easily follow 3 discrete parts of the analysis on the same part of the content, the topic will be divided into two blogs. In this first blog, the focus will be on the senders and their choice of instruments in creating their personas. In the second part, the same content will be mentioned again but the focus will be on the actual content and the interpretations from the viewers.

The creators and the names of social media accounts

@letsdoubledutch is the name of the Instagram and TikTok accounts of Derek Mitchell, an American based in London and Amsterdam. On these accounts, the main type of content is short-form humorous comedic videos featuring several personas performed only by Mitchell. In fact, @letsdoubledutch is not the only account where Mitchell is actively producing content as they have another account named @derekscottmitchell. Although the formats on both accounts are similar, the @letsdoubledutch account focuses more on making fun of Dutch/English/American cultures, and the @derekscottmitchell includes topics about daily life interactions without emphasizing the cultural differences between characters. According to the report of Foresight Future Identities (2013), the reason for using multiple accounts could be that they want to shift identity easily and pursue certain different goals on their accounts. However, the fact that they do not want to “hide” the other account but purposedly link them together shows that the identities on both accounts are consistent and complement one another.

At first glance, you might already get the choice of the account's name is a meaningful semiotic act since “double Dutch” is a phrase not necessarily associated with Dutch culture or people. According to Cambridge Dictionary (Cambridge Dictionary, n.d.), the phrase denotes the situation of “writing or talking nonsense or that you cannot understand” in British English. In the US, “Double Dutch” is more understood as a type of rope-jumping game, which is believed to have originated from Dutch immigrants but became an essential part of New York hip-hop culture (“Double Dutch”, 2023). In the Netherlands, “Double Dutch” is more famous as the name of a beer brand with the motto of double expectations (Double Dutch, n.d.). Choosing the name for a social media account, especially for business, is not a random act but an essential thing to consider. To choose an effective signifier for the social media account, the users should consider several factors and two of them are “easy to read and remember” and also “align with the brand” (Indeed, 2023). Mitchell is choosing a phrase that could be interpreted in several ways depending on the perspectives of the audience’s cultural groups is a remarkable wordplay. On the one hand, the phrase could help associate their content with Dutch culture. On the other hand, it could point to gibberish or nonsense content, and it could link their content to the subculture of a social group. The phrase “double Dutch” in this case was recontextualized into a new context of the cultural mixes on their social media account (Johnstone, 2018). Here, “let’s double Dutch” does not have a fixed meaning but rather means going into the cultural diversity, and the experiences of people from in-between cultures. Based on their living experiences, people might interpret the name differently. However, the phrase attracts the audience to a higher level of social-cultural meaning, which creates deeper attachments and emotions for members of the social groups.

Another content creator that I also investigated is Rogier Bak (@rogierbak is the name of their Instagram and TikTok accounts). The choice of using their real name for their online identities indicates that their performances are aligned with their real-life identity. As mentioned above, a social media account name is an essential thing to consider to gain attention and associate the creator with the group audience that they are targeting (Indeed, 2023). Different from Mitchell, Bak is a Dutch person with a Dutch name. Therefore, their name is enough for them to make people recognize the type of content that they are doing, which is about Dutch culture. Compared to Mitchell, Bak does not use props and does not “slice” their performances in certain characters. On their website and also in a lot of their videos, Bak mentioned constantly that they are Dutch but living in the US for many years, so that is why their English pronunciation is almost like a native person's. Here is the clear distinction between Bak from Mitchell. In Bak’s content, they constantly use “we” as referring to Dutch people, while Mitchel never does. Similarly, Mitchell never mentions English or Dutch as their native language or their second language. Bak, however, seems to consider Dutch as their first language, and that their English and English pronunciation are the result of living in the United States for a very long time.

The stylization of the cultural identity

According to Coupland (2001), stylization is “the knowing deployment of culturally familiar styles and identities” and it could be the performances of social actors rather than their “authentic selves”. Although the question of treating the authentic identities of social actors is of great importance in sociolinguistics, Coupland (2002) and other researchers start suggesting that we might only look at the speech and the discourse of people as the complex relations of authenticity and de-authentication at the same time. That means that when investigating the performances of these content creators, the concept of stylization should be used to emphasize the altera persona of social actors instead of the consistent coherent performance of oneself (Coupland, 2001). In other words, under stylization, the first condition is that the dialects and discourses of the social actors are not necessarily authentic. They would rather see the stylized utterances as the performances, the “shows”, or “the stages” that they put on in specific contexts. Under stylization, the levels of ownership, authorship, and endorsement of a given utterance might not be clear (Coupland, 2001).

Our content creators are social media characters. Therefore, sometimes, their performances do not need to be their true cultural identities, and stylization must be assumed first when we look at the performances of Mitchell and Bak.

Although the authentic self can be unclear sometimes on social media, both creators and audiences must be transparent and comprehensive of these social norms on social media. In some situations, the ambiguity could be problematic, and this issue was captured in our analysis when the real self was being confused with the characters.

Let's start exploring the different levels of authenticity of these characters.

The stylizing identities through different personas

On their website and bio on social media, Mitchell mentioned that they are an American currently based in Amsterdam and London (Mitchell, 2023). However, in a lot of their videos, they seem to speak Dutch fluently, and their detailed presentations of the dynamic Dutch life have been making people amazed. Not only Dutch personas, but all of the personas from Britain, America or sometimes Spain, and Belgium are well developed to the most details of facial gestures, word choice, accents, and sounds. Despite this complex of personas, their followers do not question or react negatively toward the authenticating performance of Mitchell. In contrast, the clear boundaries of several characters seem to support the entertaining humorous part and people enjoy the stylizing identities that they put on for the show.

In this case, the performances of different characters by Mitchell could be understood as the stylization of cultural identities in a specific context of “artificially staging cultural interactions” on their social media accounts (Coupland, 2001). According to Rampton (1991, 1995), Coupland (2001), and other researchers, the concept of stylizing identities could help to look at the discourse of social actors from a different perspective than from the perspectives of conventional sociolinguistics. Instead of assuming the authentic discourse of the performer, under the stylization concept, we are not forced to consider their authenticity but only take their specific discursive constructions as under the condition of the strategic performance. This perspective is especially helpful considering the nature of social media where authenticity might not be the first condition but entertaining, connecting, and relating sentiments. In the videos about Dutch cultures, Mitchell utilized several tactics of instruments to act out certain stereotypes of Dutch cultures in a hyperbolic manner, and stylization of the cultural identity (Doreleijers & Swanenberg, 2023). In the next sections, we will look into the specific methods that Mitchell uses to stylize Dutch accents and Dutch identities in their English-spoken content.

Names of the characters

Names are the first things that people can recognize about the Dutch characters in Mitchell’s videos. Joost, Marjolein, and Gijs are frequent personas in Mitchell’s videos. Do not be too perplexed if you cannot pronounce these names on the first try because these names contain several typical Dutch sounds. Having these double vowels: “oo”, “ei”, and “ij”, these names signify the distinctions of Dutch phonology. The use of Dutch names, distinguished from American or English names, therefore, helps to distinguish the authentic behaviors of the characters.

Moreover, the videos of Michell were published to Internet users, therefore, it is part of the public space. Names of personas could be the social semiotic signs and a part of the Linguistic Landscape, and therefore, names should be a significant component of the Linguistic Landscape (Landry & Richard, 1997).  Together with other modes of interaction, they could be understood as performative expressions (Puzey, 2016), which could be readable and designed to communicate a message (Shohamy, as cited in Puzey, 2016). According to Puzey (2016), the visibility and invisibility of different languages in the public space could also help to investigate “the symbolic construction of space” and mark the clear-cut boundaries within language groups. On their social media accounts, English is the mediation language that several characters use to communicate. The use of Dutch names in the videos, therefore, is to point to authentic typical Dutch identities and to distinguish them from other characters from other cultures.

Hair and styles

Several other stereotypical appearances of Dutch people are shown in the performance of Mitchell. For example, although Mitchell does not have naturally blond hair color, their Dutch personas frequently have blond wigs. That, however, fits with the stereotypical appearance of Dutch people, which is blond hair and blue eyes (de Pau, n.d.). The choice of blond hair is a semiotic sign signifying the Dutch character in the context of cultural diversity. Besides hair colors, the style of the character is also something that should be mentioned in Mitchell’s videos. Different from their neighbors such as French or Italian, Dutch people seem to think that they do not like to make a “big fashion statement” (Kok, 2023). That means that Dutch fashion style is not about being stylistic, outstanding, and trying to show their personality.

On social media, the stereotypical Dutch style is consistent with the stereotypical personality of the Dutch people, which focuses on quality, practicality, equality, and normality. So, Dutch people do not wear the most trendy sneakers or a huge collection of accessories in their daily style but focus on a clean and neat style. Many foreigners describe Dutch style as “casually and effortlessly fashionable” (Dutch Americano, 2023). In Mitchell’s videos, most of the Dutch male personas often wear neutral-colour shirts and beige bomber jackets. Dutch female personas most of the time wear black-and-white striped shirts or multi-coloured sweaters. When compared with other personas, the Dutch personas are more relaxed in dressing, but always look formal and composed in all situations. In the discussion of identity practices, Blommaert & Varis (2013) suggested that “enoughness” is the core of admission into the identity category. In the performances of Mitchell, their clothes do not need to be a specific item but should be a range of elements that convey the mindsets of Dutch personalities. At the same time, they should fit the stereotypes of Dutch culture from the perspectives of outsiders. This “enoughness” in all details will decide whether the personas are perceived as Dutchies or not. According to (Blommaert & Varis, 2013), this “enough” criterion is not a “black-and-white” matter as it needs to be coherent with all other factors. In this case, those are names, facial expressions, Dutch-English accents, and the contents of the posts. 

Facial expressions

The most important detail about the presentation of the Dutch people of Mitchell is their facial expressions, which were recognized and mentioned a lot of times in their followers’ comments. It seems to be impossible to call something “a common facial expression of people from the same nation” as each person has their personality and their ways of expressing their emotions. However, the facial expressions of Mitchell seem to be coherent with the stereotype about Dutch culture, that is “cultural autism” (The term was taken from the comment sections of their videos, and it should be understood metaphorically).

Amongst a bunch of stereotypes about Dutch people, a popular stereotype about Dutchies (even Dutch people acknowledge) are being honest and direct, and tend to give opinions on all situations. These stereotypes lead to other stereotypes that Dutch people do not show their emotions, are not dramatic, and do not know how to show sympathy for other people’s feelings. However, these stereotypes seem to fit with the stereotypical presentation of autism in popular culture. In the history of popular culture, characters with autism tended to have similar features such as genius, unfeeling machine, social outcast, empty reflections, and eccentric individuality ( Loftis, 2015). People from other cultures, especially someone from cultures paying great attention to social manners, might describe the Dutch personality as “cultural autism”. “Cultural autism” could be understood as lacking the ability to do social interactions or lacking social skills. Mitchell’s facial expressions of Dutch persona could come across as having no feeling, being indifferent to jokes, humor, sad news, giving straight faces, and no feeling in all situations, and therefore be seen as matching with the features of a person with “cultural autism”.

Although whether Mitchell uses these references to autism as part of their discourse could not be confirmed, the reactions of their followers can tell what they perceive.

Figure 2: One comment under the video titled “Why it’s impossible to make plans with Dutch people”

Figure 2: One comment under the video titled “Why it’s impossible to make plans with Dutch people”

Figure 3: One comment under the video titled “When a Dutch person doesn’t realize an American is furious at them”.

Figure 3: One comment under the video titled “When a Dutch person doesn’t realize an American is furious at them”.

Figure 4: One comment under the video titled “Dutch Dating Reality Show”

The Dutch-English pronunciation

Last but not least, other amazing instruments of their performances are Mitchell’s pronunciation and accent. It is important to note here that all the personas on the @letsdoubledutch account are staged. Therefore, none of the accents could be the real accent of Mitchell. However, looking carefully into their different characters, it is obvious that all of the personas are constructed with the “perfect” accents of their designated nationalities. In other words, just listening to their accents, viewers can recognize which one has Dutch-English, American-English, and English-English accents. Considering their backgrounds, the performances are the results of an intense reflexivity process. In the traditional sociolinguistic study, researchers take certain ways of speaking (and writing) either as unconscious influence or the results of practices to derive “recognized and associated social meaning” (Coupland, 2001). Reflexivity, however, is used to indicate another aspect of dialects and discursive construction that is the process of self-reflection, sometimes from different perspectives (Leppänen et al., 2015). According to Baldauf et al. (2017), this reflexive process arises when a human is confronted with what he/she has done. During this process, humans need to “distance themselves both from themselves and from the immediate situation” (Gillespie, 2007). Only when they can recognize what they are doing, they can act on the stylizing performance. I would argue that in the case of Mitchell, this reflexivity is essential to keep the clear boundaries between the signature pronunciations of different characters.

When playing the Dutch characters, we can see Mitchell’s effort to exaggerate the pronunciation of certain words which are idiosyncratic of the Dutch language ( these pronunciations were not emphasized when they speak Dutch). For example, the “g” sound, and the “th” sound when speaking English. In Extract 1 (Appendix A), what people can use to tell apart the two personas, besides hair colors, are their pronunciations of some words. The English person has a perfect English accent, and the Dutch character has the signature of the Dutch language when speaking English, which we can call the Dutch-English accent. In lines (4), (10), and (18),  we can catch the stylization of the Dutch-English accent in their pronunciation of “th(Ss)ink”,  “tr(T-R)uth”,  “th(Ss)anks”. In Extract 2 (Appendix B), in lines (2) and (5), Mitchell pronounced “agreed” and “good” with the emphasis on the “g” sound as referring to the signature “g” sound in Dutch. Although these words are in English, they are pronounced in the Dutch way. Many Dutch people (with an intermediate level of English) tend to find it difficult to distinguish these sounds and to pronounce them correctly.

If we compare the performance of Mitchell with Rogier Bak, the difference in the Dutch English accent might stand out more. In the performances of Mitchell, their effort to act out the Dutch characters when speaking English is clear. In contrast, Bak’s Dutch-English pronunciation seems to be more effortless and natural. Extract 3 (Appendix C) is one example of the content on the account of Bak. In this video, Bak was walking along the street, holding a camera and talking into the camera as if they were talking with a friend. In this video, Bak talked about how to talk with a Dutch stranger without making them realize that you are not Dutch. In other words, how to appear Dutch to a Dutch person. According to them, some sentences that non-Dutch could use to appear Dutch to a Dutch person are “Uh-PUPUPUPUPUPUPUPUP” (zooming in); “Nee, ne-ne-ne-nee, Nederlandsh, ( zooming in) Alsjeblieft”; “Ho ho, meneer, Hollandsh” (zooming in). And maybe a last resort but the most effective one, “G O D (Hard G sound, zooming in, aggressively expressing) verdomme, spreek Nederlands, man” (demanding aggressively).” According to Bak, there are some sounds that Dutch people tend to make in a lot of situations, which do not necessarily mean something. For example, here are Uh-PUPUPUPUPUPUP. They also emphasized sounds signifying the Dutch accent such as “Nederlandsh”, “Hollandsh”, or the hard “g” sound. Different from Mitchell, when speaking English, Bak does not need to exaggerate the Dutch English accent. Instead, they focus on teaching people to speak Dutch perfectly like a native person. It could be that the stylization of Mitchell’s Dutch identity is more stylizing than Bak, who is a Dutch living in the Netherlands. Later, in the second part of the study, we will go more into the content of the two creators and the reactions of their followers.

Grammar mistakes when speaking

In the repertoires of different personas, even mistakes could have cultural semiotic meanings. When performing the Dutch personas while speaking English, Mitchell frequently made small grammar mistakes. These mistakes are not random but common mistakes that Dutch people tend to make when they speak English. For example, “we are agreed”, “Christianity has exploits people”, and “we did not went to”. Compared to when they do the English and American personas, the differences are obvious because English and American personas speak English without any mistakes. With Bak, their English is almost perfect. However, the choice of their words is more of American slang. They also use several references from the Basketball subculture in America. For example, in the video discussing biking experiences in Amsterdam, they said: “ It’s like – It’s a dog-eat-dog world. It’s game 7 of the NBA Finals. You cannot second guess yourself” or “If you’re fast enough, you better act like an NFL linebacker and shoot that gap. Biking in Amsterdam is a lot like gambling in Vegas. Yeah, there’s rules and regulations, but if you show up on a bike, all bets are off”.


In this first part of the analysis, the cultural backgrounds of our two content creators and their methods of interaction were discussed. The critical discourse analysis method was used to detect several elements of their performances, especially how they authenticate themselves with the Dutch culture. During that process, the concept of stylization was introduced to investigate their performances with the consideration of the nature of the social media environment. Under stylization, the identity practices do not need to be authentic but performed and staged. Identities could also be alternated amongst several personas. Our content creators particularly use stereotypes to create the personas, which especially help to associate them with the cultures from the perspective of outsiders or someone who is not from the Netherlands or does not live in the Netherlands but has strong connections with the Dutch personalities ( this will be discussed further in the discussion of the receivers of the message). However, the performances still point to certain authenticity of the senders (Coupland, 2001). This authenticity requires a certain reflexive process, which means that they need to distance themselves “from themselves” and the immediate situation to look at what they are doing. However, details in their performances might affect the reactions of their audience differently. Later, in the second part, we will see more about how they associate themselves with the culture in their content and also what are the reactions from the audience.


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