Social skills in The Netherlands: 5 (un)written rules

Where cultures meet, a little adaption, misunderstanding and getting used to, seems to be unavoidable. If you move to the Netherlands, you might be confused by some strange behaviour of those silly ol’ Dutch. And the other way around: habits and behaviour that seem perfectly normal to you, might lead to non-understanding looks and awkward situations when interacting in the Netherlands. The difficulty with living in a foreign country is that social norms are so common to the in-crowd, that outsiders find them hard to read.

To help you out, Moneywood wrote down 5 of the most important unwritten rules, to guide you through the jungle of Dutch do’s and don’ts.

Dutch people: A user manual.

1. Be open and friendly

The best way to communicate with people in the Netherlands is to set an example of openness and kindness. Or more frankly: Don’t wait for the Dutch to approach you. Everybody here is (or likes to pretend to be) busy and if ‘getting familiar with a foreigner’ is not on our to-do-list for the day, we are likely not to invest our precious time in getting to know you.

This does not mean the Dutch are an unkind people. Au contraire. If you reach out to us in a friendly manner, most of us are happy to reply in the same way. Starting a chitchat about the weather while waiting for public transport, or complimenting another parent at the fence of the schoolyard: all well accepted openings to connect with the natives.

2. Don’t overdo it

Whereas the Dutch –like most people- enjoy meeting a friendly fellow human, too much ‘kindness’ is a big turnoff for most. In business and as well as privately a no-nonsense attitude is appreciated more that all talk and no action.

The key to a constructive connection is reciprocity: there must be a healthy balance between a well behaved sense of respecting the other and some steady self-awareness of who you are and what you have got to offer. Don’t place yourself below the another (and don’t look down on anyone either). Sucking up is dreaded amongst the Dutch. Sincerity is highly appreciated though.

3. Don’t feel insulted

The no-nonsense attitude of the Dutch, is often confused for rudeness. But don’t let them trick you: if some native is not cheering at you all the time, it’s not because they hate you. It’s just how we go around our business. Generally, we keep a low profile and are very down to earth. When you might think we are being rude, we are complimenting ourselves about being honest and straight to the point.  We can’t help it. Sorry. Don’t take it personal.

4. Try to adapt

The Dutch love it when you try to adept to your host country. Learning a few Dutch words (dank je wel –thank you, being the first) and blending in at social occasions (joining neighbourhood initiatives, sports, an association, doing some volunteer work) will make you feel part of a community asap. And again: forgive us if we not directly open up to you. Give it some time. It’s not you, it’s us ;).

5. Be punctual and organized

If you have formal contact (with institutions, in business), make sure you are in time and that you have your story straight. Have a clear sense of what you have to ask or offer. When contacting organisations like the tax office, insurances, the municipality, companies: get to the point directly (again; most Dutch people like to keep things short and simple). When you have a face-to-face or online meeting with for example your employer, the teacher of your kids or a business contact: A short, friendly, informal opening is common before you get to the point. Usually, the one who has initiated the meeting is the one to transition the conversation from chitchat to business.

Disclaimer Of course there is no such thing as a uniform ‘Dutch’ and some of us are way more friendly that others. As everywhere, the Dutch population consists of bullies, softies and everything in between. As long as you are being yourself in a way that respects others, you are doing fine.

Do you feel you need someone mediate or take away some burdens of the legal and fiscal organization in The Netherlands? Don’t hesitate to contact Moneywood!