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Dutch Culture

The Dutch are open-minded and down-to-earth. They are direct in their approach and communication, and this makes for honest relationships with no hidden agendas. As a result, communication is expected to be fairly open and transparent. Most Dutch people embrace the country's cultural diversity, are tolerant of differences, and receptive to foreign influences.

Dutch people avoid superlatives. Compliments are not given easily, and to say that something is 'not bad' is usually equal to praising it. A foreigner should not worry too much about expressing his opinion or feeling - the Dutch might argue with you, but seldom take offence. Dutch people speak directly and use a lot of eye contact, which might appear too assertive to a foreigner, but it is just the Dutch way of communicating. Although easy-going, the Dutch are quite reserved in the beginning and do not discuss money, prices or personal issues with someone they barely know. Therefore, it is recommended to invest in relationships in order to build mutual trust.

Shaking hands is very important in the Netherlands. When someone is introduced to you, he or she will shake hands with you and say their name. When you leave, shake hands again and thank the person in question for the visit or meeting. At the next meeting, shaking hands is not necessary, but is common in business situations

When people know each other quite well, they kiss on the cheek three times when they meet. This is of course the case with friends and family, but also with business people who know each other really well (however, the men offer each other a firm handshake instead).

Dutch people quickly start calling people by their first name. There is an informal and a formal way to refer to someone in the Dutch language. The informal ‘je’/’jij’ (‘you’) is used for a child or younger person, a relative or friend, or an acquaintance. The formal "u" is used to address older people and people you do not know, or are only slightly acquainted with. This formal "u" is also used to address a higher-ranking business person, although it can soon be replaced by the informal "je."

When you meet someone for the first time you generally address them with a Mr. or Ms. and their surname, but the Dutch will often ask you to call them by their first name. In other countries, it can take much longer to reach this degree of familiarity.

The Dutch do not use titles when they speak to someone. They are usually only used if writing an official letter. There is one exception however: the King and Queen, who are always referred to as His and Her Majesty.

English is widely spoken in the Netherlands. This can be frustrating if you are learning Dutch, as people will respond in English to you when they hear you are a foreigner. So if you would like to converse in Dutch, just make people aware of it.

You have probably heard the term ´going Dutch´ before, used when splitting the bill in a restaurant. This is very common in the Netherlands and enjoying lunch or dinner with a (male or female) friend will often end up in going Dutch. However, if you invite someone, or are yourself invited, it is generally the host(ess) that pays the bill.

For more facts about Dutch manners, visit the website of Holland Expat Center South.

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We are happy to answer your questions
Yvonne van Hest
Program Director People (at Brainport Development)