Seven cultural mistakes you will make

There are some things you cannot learn from integration courses. There are some glaring mistakes you just have to make to become a true foreigner in the Netherlands. Here are seven that we have all been guilty of.

1. You’ll be late
Even one minute late is considered rude by Dutch standards. Traffic, getting lost, delays at work, difficulty finding parking, and every other excuse considered acceptable by all other nationalities will not earn you forgiveness. Blame it on a train delay. And curse the rudeness of NS to make you late.

2. You won’t make an appointment
Want grab coffee with your neighbour? Break out our calendar and schedule it 4-6 weeks in advance. Whatever you do, don’t just drop by.

3. You will forget flowers
If invited over to a Dutch person’s home, you will be expected to bring a gift.

Flowers will be expected to last at least a week

Flowers will be expected to last at least a week

While some more open minded folks will welcome a bottle of wine or chocolates, it’s more common to bring flowers. And not flowers from Albert Heijn either.

4. You will not offer to get coffee or tea for you colleagues
If you want grab a coffee during the work day, you better check with your entire office first, including janitorial staff and people on the night shift. Call them if necessary. It’s expected that you will offer and bring back 14 different orders, because everyone in the office will say yes.

5. You will decline something without saying thanks
If you do, god forbid, turn down your colleagues offer for coffee or tea, be sure to say “No, thank you” or “Nee, Bedankt.” Even when declining the receipt at the grocery store, you better include that “thanks.” Otherwise, you might as well spit on their shoes.

6. You will not offer your guests tea or coffee
If anyone comes over to your house for any reason, you better be prepared to offer coffee, tea, and some type of biscuit. It doesn’t matter if the plumber is there because your sink exploded, you will be considered rude for not offering.

7. Not taking birthday cake to the office
It is your birthday, but you are expected to give everyone else a present – in the form of a piece of cake or pie. You must arrange the cakes, usually Vlaamse Vlaaien, next to the coffee machine. See five rules for dealing with Dutch birthdays.

Popular birthday cakes are actually Belgian

Popular birthday cakes are actually Belgian

Do not add a card saying ‘It’s my birthday’ unless you want to be given three kisses by all your colleagues – and no-one really cares who supplied the pies anyway.


10 thoughts on “Seven cultural mistakes you will make

  1. Maarten

    About No. 3, you don’t have to bring flowers every time you visit someone. It really only applies in certain specific instances: When you visit friends you haven’t seen in a long time, when it substitutes for a gift on gift-giving occasions besides birthdays (marriage anniversary, mother’s day) or when someone invites you over for dinner say at christmas or easter, in this instance it’s also customary to offer to bring something like wine or dessert. Also, flowers are only ever given to women except when you win a race or something (medal+flowers). Don’t go getting a guy flowers, bring beer instead.
    The rest is really funny and accurate!

  2. Sabrina

    Maarten, regarding no. 3 you state “or when someone invites you over for dinner say at christmas or easter” is not quite true. When invited over for dinner by friends or anyone else who invites you over for dinner it is Dutchie-like to bring flowers, wine or dessert and not only for special occasions like Christmas or Easter…

  3. Marion

    About nr. 7: These are not Vlaamse Vlaaien, but Limburgse Vlaaien and Limburg is Dutch. So this is a Dutch treat.

    And about nr. 2: I prefer people showing up without an appointment. I can get away with the house being a bit messy then. If I know to expect someone, by dutch custom I am obliged to make sure my house is fit for entertaining. Or maybe that’s just my (dutch) upbringing.
    There is of course the risk, when showing up unannounced, that people are not home. Nowadays people do not wish to “waist time”, so they want to make sure you’re home.
    Personally I just go and if someone isn’t home, or it’s inconvenient, I’ll go somewhere else. No problem.

  4. maaike

    This appointment thing is typical for the Randstad, as are more ‘typical Dutch’ customs that are described on this website. I come from the east where people are used to drop by. I do even remember a family feud about my mom having the back door locked which was considered an insult by her in-laws, because they had to ring the doorbell now!

  5. erica

    I agree with Marion on nr. 2. I used to live on the countryside (Drenthe & Achterhoek) where it’s common to just drop by your neighbors or friends unannounced.

  6. Fenna

    For me, al the above numbers, 1 to 7, are all not true! It maybe depends where you live but you are not expected to bring flowers but it is nice if you do! A bottle of wine is also good. We have lots of friend who come over without an appointment!! And if you don’t want to get coffee for you’re colleagues, just DON’T ASK!!!! hahahaha. I live in the States and here they say ” just come over if you want to “! But if you do they don’t invite you in!! JUST DON’T ask then!! Off course there are a some things that are not nice or not good in The Netherlands but there are also a lot of things that are!!! And for the kids it’s a lot better to play outside and make friends in The Netherlands then here in the States. They can be kid in Holland. That’s really important for them to grow up in and with!

  7. Paul de Kort

    1. Youโ€™ll be late
    [i]Even one minute late is considered rude by Dutch standards. Traffic, getting lost, delays at work, difficulty finding parking, and every other excuse considered acceptable by all other nationalities will not earn you forgiveness. Blame it on a train delay. And curse the rudeness of NS to make you late[/i]

    I like this one, and yes it’s true most of time. I get really annoyed if someone is late, even if it is a very good friend and the meeting is casual. If you can’t be there at the time you said you would be, then you shouldn’t have made the appointment in the first place. To avoid this situation myself,, when I make an appointment and I am not sure I can make it on time, I create a little buffer by saying: ‘I will be there between 11.00 / 11.15’ , or I’ll say: ‘I’ll be there around 11 o’clock (which means max. 5 minutes later than 11 o;clock!)

    If all above fails, blame it on the trains!!!! ๐Ÿ™‚ NS (dutch railway company) sucks!!!, and is always late!!! ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Pete

    I’m talking about the 60-70s now. Even for visits to familymembers it would advisable to tell them beforehand, Those visits were normally on Sundays and in The Netherlands shops would be closed from Saturday 5 p.m. till Monday 1 p.m. in those days (also Wednesday afternoons after 1 p.m.).
    My mother would always cook something “special”. So, besides “surprising” her, it would have put her in an awkward position. And that would have been rude.
    And fast-food, or “out-of-the-wall” snacks would not have been an acceptable option for her.
    So letting people know your intentions beforehand was just practical for everybody.
    Ah, also female visitors were expected to help washing the dishes ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Mavadelo

    Like others already stated, most on this list depend on where you live. Being late on occasion a few minutes is not that big of a problem (unless school/work related) but if it is a habit you probably get the ” leave tem minutes sooner next time” comment thrown at you. Bringing something with you when inited only counts for a first visit and special occasions. No thanks is something I hear English speaking people say all the time and I think it’s just a thing that comes out natural. It certainly is lesss annoying than the fake friendly “how are you today” you get everytime you speak to an American although here also counts that we do it ourselves as well (hoe gaat ie, followed by the meaningless “goed” regardless if it actually is going good or bad with you) I never took birthday cake to the office nor did my co workers


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s