The Dutch have a reputation for being blunt and direct to the point of rudeness. But there is such a thing as Dutch etiquette. Here are the main things to look out for.
1. Shaking hands
Shaking hands is a Dutch obsession and one of those norms and values all foreigners have to adopt in order to be truly integrated. The Dutch shake hands all the time. You walk into a party full of strangers and you are expected to introduce yourself and shake hands with everyone there. When you come back from holiday, you shake hands with your office colleagues.
You will shake hands with your doctor, germs and all, with your children’s teachers, with the man who sells you a second-hand car and, well, with just about anyone. If you don’t automatically shake hands with all and sundry you will be marked as a foreigner, and probably a fundamentalist Muslim.
If you come from a country which does not have a polite form of the you word, you will never get this right. To keep it simple, everyone apart from children and your friends should be addressed as U. If they don’t like it, they will say zeg maar “jij”, hoor! Over-emphasis of the word U plus lots of mijnheer or mevrouw is particularly useful if you want to flatter someone into doing you a favour (like a grumpy council official).
Of course, if you are female, expect to do a lot of kissing (three times). If you don’t like kissing your male colleagues, avoid the workplace in the days after New Year and on your birthday. According to Dutch etiquette expert Beatrijs Ritsema, cheek to cheek contact is perfectly adequate.
Dutch men don’t hug – unless they’ve got that old university frat house thing going – and if they do there is usually enough space between the hugger and the huggee to drive a coach through. These semi-hugs are usually accompanied by embarrassed pats on the back. Dutch women hug but not at the drop of a hat. Don’t attempt a hug if you’re not sure.
5. Tea and coffee
Always offer no matter what time of day or night it is. You must have several varieties of herbal tea on offer, including Moroccan Mint.
Extra points if you’ve got your own mint plantation and can shove a few sprigs in a glass of hot water. A good plumber will refuse a coffee break with you because it will add at least €50 to the bill.
6. Offer lots of biscuits
There is a myth out there about the Dutch only offering one biscuit. This is not true. You may not get a biscuit at all. We like to think the one biscuit story comes from the way most cafes give you a little cookie along with your coffee. Which you didn’t order.
Dutch people are often considered rude because they don’t say please or alsjeblieft all the time. They don’t, but that’s just the way the language works. Beatrijs Ritsema once answered a problem on her etiquette page from a man whose girlfriend wanted him to say alsjeblieft all the time as this: if you are begging, as in ‘pleeeeeeese stop being unfaithful’, then it is okay. But asking for the salt is simply mag ik het zout?.
However, if you want to impress your Dutch friends with how polite you are, liberally sprinkling your conversation with ‘please’ can work wonders.
Don’t turn up unannounced at a friend’s and expect to be welcomed in with open arms. The Dutch like to make appointments at least three weeks in advance. And if you are invited to a friend’s home, and they start washing up and making tomorrow’s lunch sandwiches, you should realise it is time to go home yourself. If invited for dinner, check what time you are expected. The Dutch joke about eating promptly at 18.00 hours but lots of them do. We have got it wrong several times.
9. Shall I bring something?
If you do get an invite to a meal or picnic, you can be polite and offer to bring something. Do not be surprised if this generous offer is accepted. We have heard of people being asked to bring the meat. It is also customary in the Netherlands to take flowers or chocolates for your hostess, rather two bottles of prosecco to cover up the fact you are a bit of an alcoholic. And you won’t get to drink it anyway.
10. Special occasions
Birthdays are so complicated they have their own rules. Here are five of them.
I’m Dutch and although I think some observations are spot on, I have to say a number of them are interpreted wrongly.
I’ve seen comments above where people say the Netherlands are not as tolerant as they used to be, and while this is probably true, we’re still more tolerant than most other countries (especially Amsterdam). Do you know any other city that’s got a gay-street (and even an annual celebration of gay-tolerance called gay-pride), allows you to smoke weed on the street and has people trying to adapt to whatever language you speak?
I have to admitted I’m a little insulted by this. The whole article is written in a bit of a negative way, as in ‘the culture being different makes it inferior to what I’m used to’. Now who’s being tolerant? Do you think it is a coincidence that Amsterdam is the city with most cultural diversity in the world? (more different nationalities than for instance New York).
And as for this comment:
“However, if you want to impress your Dutch friends with how polite you are, liberally sprinkling your conversation with ‘please’ can work wonders.”
Dream on, we are proud of being direct and not beating around the bush, it gives a lot of clarity and saves time. We hate it if people say please, thank you and our first names all the time. We know you mean it in a good way, you don’t have to remind us all the time that you’re a very nice and polite person.
I’d suggest to perceive more and judge less when in the Netherlands. 😉
Excellent post, Robin. Well-stated.
I’ve lived in the Netherlands all my life and I think Robin is a perfect example of a person who doesn’t know the difference between tolerance and indifference. The netherlands has turned into a homocracy, where it’s ok to speak of muslims in ways that is illegal to speak of about jews, where children learn it’s okay to point at black children and people on the street and yell “black pete!” because the dutch, with their history of being the biggest traders of african slaves to america, see nothing wrong with their stupid sinterklaas, where a white pedophile has a bunch of black slaves throwing out candies on dirty floors and have the kids eat it. The only reason why the dutch cling on to that, is because aside from that and soccer, there is really little for them to define their identity and culture by. After all, the dutch have come to believe that having any morals or ideals is evil, so they go through life with a joint in one hand and a glass of beer in the other.. They have become completely intolerant and disrespectful of minorities.
Since I’m native dutch myself, and seen this country change rapidly in the past 10 years.
# Robin. Why are you insulted? You write yourself that Dutch became less tolerant. And smoking weed on the street is not tolerant, but just bad decency. And legislation, practice and public opinion about weed has become extremely more intolerant in 40 years of time! Accept it that we have been tolerant and now it is our time to be less tolerant. Even gays are more accepted and more safe in other cities (yes New York, San Francisco, London, Berlin and many more). And yes, we speak english… Is that tolerant? Dutch get irritated hearing Arabic, Turkish or Russian on the street. Having many nationalities in your capital does not make you tolerant. Why some Dutchies (here) want to keep this gone image? Let’s put the tolerant-thing in history. Das war einmal!
Smoking weed out on the streets here isn’t even allowed actually.. Don’t know where he got that from but when you get caught smoking weed outside you’ll either get arrested or at least receive a heavy fine.. Though some officers let it slide when you are really polite to them.. But that’s only on rare occasion..
Never ever have I been polite to a cop and got out of a ticket. But they were polite as they gave it to me! 🙂
I think you need to be more tolerant of other cultures perception of your culture. The article and comments are other cultures perceptions and experiences in your country. You should be able to tolerate the sincerity of their honesty.
Why go on a site that gives honest views of Dutch culture if you do not want to tolerate anything negative about your country?
Honestly, do you really feel The Netherlands is the most tolerant country on the planet? Why defend it as if it is?
To be direct, Amsterdam is a very nice city, however it does not have more spoken languages than NYC. In fact,
*¨While there is no precise count, some experts believe New York is home to as many as 800 languages — far more than the 176 spoken by students in the city’s public schools or the 138 that residents of Queens, New York’s most diverse borough, listed on their 2000 census forms.¨
*(New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/29/nyregion/29lost.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0)
NYC has no official language nor does the USA. The official language in Amsterdam and NL is Dutch.
As noted there are plenty of cities whom have gay pride days. What is significant to The Netherlands is the laws that allow marriage, partnerships this I think shows equality not so much as tolerance. I feel many Dutch may tolerate those laws. However tolerance for others languages has not been my experiences. Tolerance for cultural differences, political and religious beliefs and even the food I eat has not been my overall experiences.
To be fair I have not given examples, unless you ask, then I will be more than happy to share.
Of course their are countries, places etc that are less tolerant. However the article is about Dutch culture. Other countries are not the topic. If a place is more or less direct, rude, tolerant etc is really something I am tired of hearing about. What difference should it make to me if per say NYC is less than Amsterdam? The comments and the article are not about how The Netherlands compares to other countries.
It does not change what the experiences people have in The Netherlands if you decide to point out the above. For me it is a very hollow statement to say, well in the USA they are worse, or UK or Zimbabwe. I have to say it is a very common argument by many. So you are not alone with your statements. It just does not make a rats butt of a difference to my experiences in the NL.
So I suggest you practice a little of that Dutch tolerance you so much admire and listen and read and be open minded to other peoples opinions.
If you read my opinons, thank you. ( it is sincere and you can take my thanks as you like it)
On 20 August 2014, the Dutch Court ruled against a company operating parking garages: the company is obliged to provide the Dutch tax authorities photographs of the car registration-plates and time and date. The court said that the privacy aspect was minor to the aspect of controlling if citizens use their car for the right purpose (business or private)! A few years ago it was made public that in The Netherlands there are more authorised phone taps by justice than in the whole of USA. Dutch Justice minister Opstelten his usual comment: “if you do not have anything to hide, why are you against it?”. I am sure most Dutch people agree with him!
I have known and shared a house with several Dutch people while living in different countries. I find young cosmopolitan ditch fine.
Please accept that these are generalizations and aren’t true of all dutch people, but the actual dutch who live in Holland I often find rude. Far ruder than other Europeans. Perhaps it is to do with their ‘directness’ but I find them emotionally confrontational when there is no need to be… they don’t feel the need to be pleasant to strangers. Their unfriendliness verges on unprofessionalism in some contexts.
They are often confused. A good example of this is ‘robin’ here who believes a failure to cite Amsterdams guy culture is relevant to their day to day etiquette.
after reading some comments i had to jump in for a moment.
I come from the Netherlands myself. and my experience has been that whenever i am in foreign countries i feel like people are just so much more polite and loving. Last vacation i went to mexico and me and my wife had met this couple from Canada. they were so friendly and talked with us like we knew eachother for years! This opened my eyes considering how people in the Netherlands mostly interact. People in the Netherlands always have there opinions about you without knowing you. Its also a culture where i found out myself that talking about you personal issues feels like a problem to them and they dont wanna hear about it.
Ive been depressed for almost 2 years now. and cant speak to anybody about it exept my wife.
Until i came to mexico and this couple reconised that something was off. and that while they did not even knew me!
I talked so much with them about my depression and PTSD ( from Afghanistan ). and i felt so understood. they also were the first people to tell my how much of a hero they thought of me beecouse of the stuff i did for serving my country.
I miss those conversations here in the netherlands. whenever i try to explain my situatian to my boss. he tells me he wont hear about it. and so does my family. Its hard not being able to talk about your personal stuff with the people surrounding you.
Then try to find some other friends Niels. You just can’t say Dutch people in general won’t want to hear the stories/problems of others.
I got some great friends that always stand next to me if I need them and we always can talk about everything.
As for the article, it’s a bit difficult. Let’s try to point out my vision:
Dutch people in general, as how I know them, are very rational and practical people. There is hardly any room for emotion and passion. Everything has to do about practicality and money. The most dutch people make choices in there life, on that base.
I think that is a big reason why Dutch people are so direct: they communicate and act in the way it takes them the least amount of time, energy or money. Difficult issues are treated very simple, by having a opinion directly, instead of thirst think and then act or talk.
Sinterklaas is a great cultural happening in the Netherlands. You give your family/friends/colleagues suprises, often with a poem. I find it typical people always put practical suprises on there wishlist. Typical Dutch! Sometimes they even ask for very specific suprises, even with URL-adress of the webshop. There is hardly any magination!
I’m Dutch myself and I love to visit other countries and come across foreign people. I love Italians, work with Germans, and like to visit the neat Austrians. And everywhere I go, people love the Dutch people. That’s not without reason, because Dutch are just very friendly. We care about others, ask them how they are (and really mean in instead of Americans) and generally behave excellent. You won’t have trouble with a Dutch person very soon. We clean up our shit and think along with others instead of only ourselfs.
So in the end, I think we have some pro’s and con’s. I think we are one of the best behaving people out there. On the other side we are way to pracitcal and stoic. It takes long to build up a relationship with a Dutch person, but on the other hand we also care about others we don’t know. Just look at how much money a Dutch person puts into charity.
And, my excuses for my English. Not my strongest language.
Dear Niels, I totally understand what you mean. I’m born in the Netherlands and have a Dutch father and a Surinam mother. But my appearence make you think I’m from Morocco. I feel like I’m a bit of an outsider and I find it hard to blend in with other Dutch people and extremely hard to make new friends. They say Dutch people are so blunt and direct and then say to you it is just a joke but I find them very closed up, not really honest of what they think and just plain rude. But I do have a lot of friends who are not like that and they mostly are not your typical Dutch person, but they do exist :D. I always question myself if I really like it here but I do realize the grass isn’t greener on the other side.
I know what it’s like to suffer from PTSD and depressions and not being able to ventilate yourself amongst your family. Luckily I can with a few friends I have but not being able to do so with family just sucks and hurts. It’s a good thing you’ve met people who aren’t like that and that you’ve experienced something different.
Your rules are good they slightly differ from our zimbabwean rules
As a dutch girl I can admit we shake hands alot but I also hug people and I also show up at a friends house unexpected and that is just a common thing, at least it’s not rare or something. Most dutchies I know are very tolerant and as someone said befor; Amsterdam is probably one of the most tolarant cities in the world. I do hear alot from friends in the abroad that they see Amsterdam as a sin city and everyone thinks of drugs and prostitutes when they talk about the Netherlands. I know there are some places in the Nehterlands that have those things but mostly it’s just a verry small and friendly country. I live in Nijmegen, and know a lot of people there and it’s just a really safe city and the people there are really nice and tolerant. Not evry dutchie does drugs and stuff. Anyhow, in most of the rules is some sort of thruth but it’s very formal. We don’t always plan things or are anti hugging we also don’t expect you to bring something if you come over (ofcourse it’s appriciated but I don’t expect something like that) and most of us don’t actually mind sharing that really is no problem to most dutchies I no. Casually we just hug (also guys do sort of) and we just pop by at friends houses, we are tolerant and don’t expect you to bring us things. There is a kern of thruth in it but it’s really formal and a lot of things aren’t as extreme as this article says.
i think dutch people are nice.. 🙂
You need to understand different cultures
Who ever wrote this article clearly does not know the Dutch and their culture.
I am ethiopian I know some dutchies in my country come for different purpose . therefore, they are nice !
I am Dutch and the Netherlands suck. My dream is to move abroad but yet I do not have the option to do so, but I will one day! Better lose this nationality. Love this article, it really made me laugh!
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I think that “rude” is a wrong perception of our people. We are really, really direct and don’t like to pretty things up, or lying to be nice. We are really blunt, but if we like you, we will be never less than polite to you. But I can certainly understand that you call us rude. Everyone here is raised to say “please” when you ask for something, but often we won’t do it anymore when we become older. Also, our opinion about the word “rude” is a little bit different. I am almost 14, and learn at the grammar school (called the gymnasium here), but there are still people who talk with mouths full of food. That is what we find rude. Spitting on the floors, suddenly hugging someone you don’t know, smoking in public places, chewing loudly, being disrespectful towards the elderly, discriminate people or something like that, that’s what we call rude. The Dutch are very stoic and sober, and we don’t see the point about being nice to the point of saying “hello”. But if somebody asks for help, we will certainly help them. At least, in the east of Holland. Oh, and the people in Noord-Brabant (in the south) are like, really, really nice and welcoming, almost like the Greek. But I can really understand why people think of us as rude, but we don’t really notice it. So, apoligies for that.
All the Dutch people I have met in Amsterdam and overseas have been really nice, friendly people.
And even though I am a native English speaker, they usually speak better English than me!
As someone who is Dutch and is living in the UK now for 4 years it is funny to see the things that my partner (Who is English) found quite difficult to understand. this blog has helped him a lot and as its based on someone’s experience, if you take this as 100% accurate you are in the wrong. I really love the blog and I really want to encourage you to keep writing, as it always brings a smile on my face!
I never got the appointments thing. I must admit the 3 weeks in advance thing, it’s a little bit shorter than that… probably just a week, depends on what’s appointed.
I never seem to understand why you have to appoint something in advance, even during holidays and week-ends.
the weirdest thing being; I’ve lived in Holland for my entire life. I roll with it, but i’ve always thought it’s weird.
It’s quite a pitty to my opinion, are people really that bussy? or am I doing something wrong?
I think it is just the do normal Pau and to make appointments is normal in NLl; and nothing wrong with your personality. You maybe more of the go with the moment type, and nothing wrong with that! I find it a pity also, I doubt people are so busy! I rather enjoy socializing and people dropping by to say hello. I make sure to tell people to do so. I however have to make sure to respect others and make an appointment for coffee 🙂
Tutoyeren means calling people “jij/je” (Tu in French) calling people “U” (Vous in french) is vousvoyeren https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tutoyeren A common mistake even among Dutch people.
I’m Dutch and saying
“If you don’t automatically shake hands with all and sundry you will be marked as a foreigner, and probably a fundamentalist Muslim.”
seems a bit of an extreme though it seems recently that there are some loud voices from rather negative people who are judgemental about that, usually they never personally met someone who’s Muslim (ignorance/fear/etc.).
I don’t mind people not wanting to shake hands for religious reasons (or other) but I do consider telling someone you won’t touch them because you think they’re impure rude.
My sister teaches at all kinds of elementary schools and can work with all kinds of cultural backgrounds. She tells great stories about how it went with the children in her class who can talk about to each other about all kinds of things (kringgesprek) like how they celebrate/do things etc. and she encourages listening and working together. She also mentions sometimes how her elementary school kids are handling situations more mature than some of those adults you hear about in the news.
Interesting book about current attitudes in Europe: Frans Timmermans – Broederschap, Pleidooi voor verbondenheid. The money made from the book goes to VluchtelingenWerk Nederland (for the refugees).