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A Guide to Dutch Culture

As expats living somewhere foreign, it’s so important to get to grips with the local culture. Yes, we want to stay close to our home culture, but we also want to tap into our new home. This month, we’re excited to share the perspective of an American expat living in the Netherlands. Hannah is from California and now lives in Utrecht. Here she shares ten things any expat moving to Holland needs to know about Dutch culture…

After living here I’ve come to gain a better understanding of the Dutch culture and what makes it so special and unique. Whether you reside in the Netherlands or plan to visit, here are 10 things to know about Dutch culture.

Everyone bikes 

Biking is a major mode of transport in the Netherlands and a big part of the Dutch culture. In fact there are more bikes than the entire 17 million Dutch population – a whopping 23 million bikes!

The country as a whole is quite flat and points of interest are close together making it easier quicker to get to your destination by bike. Additionally, the government invests heavily in cycling infrastructure and pathways which incentives more individuals to use their bikes instead of driving. By law cyclers have their own set of specified rules and regulations for the road.

However, on the street these rules can be bent because the bike is deemed by the Dutch as superior to anything else on the road. You will constantly witness for yourself how bikers bend the rules, and run a red light to get to school or work on time.

Biking is an efficient and environmentally friendly way to get around. Why sit in traffic for half an hour to go shopping when you can literally get there in five minutes with your own bike?

 

Three kisses 

In the states we tend to greet one another with hugs, in France it’s two kisses and in the Netherlands it’s actually three cheek to cheek kisses. This is strictly done only between friends and family and weird to do with someone you hardly know. Also, men typically shake hands instead of partaking in the kissing.

However, the Dutch make exceptions for this during birthdays, in which case everyone gets a free pass. For instance, if you’re at the same birthday that your colleague is attending, then three kisses it is!

To actually get the three kisses down you must always start on the ride side of the other cheek, left then end right back on the left. It may take some observation and time to get accustomed to the three kisses, but you’ll get plenty of practice as you live here!

 

Coffee is king

Coffee is one of the top drinks that the Dutch consume with milk coming in by a close second place.

In fact, the Duch are one of the highest ranking coffee drinkers in all of Europe with an average of three to four cups per day. The variations range from black, espresso and a cappuccino on occasion.

Sitting down over a cup of coffee with family, friends or colleagues is a special moment to share and catch up with another. It can be enjoyed together during breakfast, lunch or after dinner, but no matter, it’s a social activity that truly makes you appreciate the present moment. 

coffee shop netherlands

Punctuality is important

The Dutch value punctuality and timeliness. They are excellent timekeepers and I’ve personally never had a Dutch friend or colleague arrive late to any of my meetings, classes or events.

In the same regard it will be expected of you, so you must be respectful of everyone’s time. If you are running late, it should be fine as long as you let the other person know ahead of time. Otherwise, consistent lateness can diminish relationships especially in terms of business and corporate culture. Remember that it’s always better to be five to ten minutes early than late. 

 

Agendas

The Dutch are big planners and have agendas where they keep all their appointments and events organized.

Whether it’s Thursday drinks with the friends or a 4:30 meeting with their neighbor, chances are this will go into the agenda. It’s such an efficient way of planning things out and because of this the Dutch really know how to allocate their time accordingly. They have a great balance of work, leisure and family time.

It’s also important to know that because of planned out agendas showing up unannounced at a friend or family’s house may not be the best move. It’s best to make a call or notify them beforehand that you will be coming over. Going the Dutch way has made me more organized with my planning and I love it! 


Dutch directness

The Dutch are blunt and will definitely tell you what they think without sugar coating it.

They get straight to the point and are more direct with their communication. There will be no extra fluff or confusion to what someone says especially when in the workplace.  For instance, if your boss doesn’t like your work he will tell you exactly what the issue is.

This type of communication can be quite refreshing but on the other hand can be interpreted as rude by others, depending on what country and culture you hail from.

In the States we tend to soften a bit of what we say in consideration of the other person. This is  definitely the case when it comes to relaying feedback and criticism.

Personally, it took me a while to get accustomed to Dutch directness but the intention is to never be mean. It’s actually refreshing and I appreciate having someone be frank and honest because who likes to beat around the bush?  

 

culture in netherlands

 

Drop (Liquorice) 

Drop is a liquorice sweet that is dearly loved in the Netherlands.

About four pounds of it is consumed yearly by the average Dutch person. Head to any grocery or drugstore and you will see the candy aisle filled with loads of drops. There are all kinds of flavors and variations: sweet, salty, hard, soft and distinctive shapes like squares, circles, and even coins – there are endless possibilities.

While drop is not for everyone it’s definitely an acquired taste that the Dutch grow up with from a young age. 


Send a Tikkie 

The Dutch have created this super efficient payment system that allows for sending payment requests via sms. This makes shared costs easier to split, for example, between a group of friends.

If you go out drinking and pay for everyone’s drinks, no longer does it have to be complicated, just send the group a Tikkie. There is even an option now for businesses to make their own payments.

The Dutch are all about efficiency and Tikkie is such a great example. 

 

Tolerance

The Dutch have always been free & tolerant, which dates back to the 17th century (also known as the Dutch Golden Age). This laid the foundation for tolerance for decades to come.

It’s a nation that support gay marriage, prostitution and the legalisation of soft drugs. For example: did you know that possession of cannabis is actually illegal in the Netherlands but it’s “tolerated”, so you won’t get charged with a fine? This is an example of a very Dutch solution.  

people in holland

Cheese please  

It’s not just the French and Swiss who make good cheese but also the Dutch.

You’ve definitely heard of the famous Gouda cheese but what about Edam, Maasdamer or Komijnekaas? Cheese is embedded deep within the culture having been produced since as long as 400AD.

The Dutch are also one of the world’s biggest cheese exporters and consume seven pounds of it each year per person. Dutch cheese is absolutely delicious and if you haven’t tried it you then are totally missing out. 

These are only some of the aspects of what makes the Dutch culture so special. On your next visit to the Netherlands you’ll come to recognize these and much more! 

Learn more about life in Holland as an expat by following Hannah at charmingmarie.com For the chance to be featured on ExpatBuddy, contact us