Disclaimer: I was hesitant to write this post about the Dutch people. I don’t like to stereotype. But the purpose of this post is to be both helpful and entertaining at the same time. Realize at all times it can’t be avoided to generalize just a bit.
Dutch people tend to be direct. Yes. I wouldn’t say they are rude, though. But I do understand why people might think they are. In general, we are a friendly, helpful bunch. But you need to know how to tap into that.
In this post, I’ll explain why we are perceived as that, what we try to say, and how to make meaningful contact with locals. I believe we’re way more friendly than we get credit for.
Table of Contents
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The Dutch apply No Filter
They will tell you as it is. When you ask the question, “Hi, How are you?” The Dutch will answer honestly. They’ll let you know precisely how they are.
First thing crossing your mind: this is too much information. Or if they are not into a conversation, they might say: “Not good.” Ok, awkward. The best you can get with a question like this is: “Fine.” Now that sounds uninterested.
And if you ask a total stranger for their opinion, they most often will give it to you. Filterless. Is it then true that Dutch people are rude? I’ll leave that to you. I don’t think so. It’s honest. You know where you stand without second-guessing.
Please don’t ask a Dutch person if they like something you’re wearing if you don’t want to hear the honest answer.
This level of directness will take some time to get used to. Visiting our country can be challenging or a quick learning course if you have delicate feelings. I am just giving you a fair warning.
The good side is that if a Dutch person says something, you don’t have to guess what they mean. A compliment is a compliment, and an invitation is an invitation. If they love your dress, they love it. And if they invite you to come over for dinner, they mean it.
The other benefit is that you can be direct. No tip toeing around. But if you’re not used to this, be considerate. Directness is not about being mean. You won’t offend someone quickly if you’re honest and have the best at heart.
Are Dutch People Cold?
In stores, for example, greetings can come across as cold. I like the American enthusiasm. It feels pleasant to enter a store or meet new people in the US. But for most Dutch people, that feels unauthentic. They are not used to that level of enthusiasm. Many Dutch people wonder why you ask how they are doing if you don’t care for the answer.
And this is often where little cultural differences lead to misunderstanding each other. For a Dutchman, something might be friendly, while the same thing can be cold to you.
The Dutch usually don’t appreciate an enthusiastic “Hi, how are you today?” with a big smile. It would scare them. They probably want to run if you’re going to hug them. Starting with a little smile, a nod, and a hello or good morning is sufficient.
Are the Dutch Arrogant?
We do have that reputation, especially in the Business world. To many foreigners, we are. The Dutch are seen as pretty sure about themselves, and we tend to have strong opinions about everything.
Our strong accent doesn’t help us either. Because of the complex sounds, and the very typical Dutch pronunciation of English, we don’t sound that friendly.
While at the same time, most Dutchmen seem to think their English is free of any accent and don’t consider how they are perceived. (For the record, the Dutch have a very distinct accent).
However, I don’t think it’s arrogance at play here. The Dutch are just as insecure as anybody else and look for recognition. However, the Dutch often know what they want, are prepared, and have little patience for a courtesy dance.
The Dutch Can Be Unaware Of Filters
The positive side is they’re not afraid to try. In many countries, the question: “Do you speak English?” is met with a firm no (even though they do speak it). This is something you won’t experience quickly in The Netherlands.
The Dutch will converse with you in English, which is helpful. What isn’t is that the Dutch are not always aware of the filters outside our borders. And thus, do not apply them.
The peculiar thing is the Dutch feel that Americans are arrogant too. While both sides think the same thing about each other. In reality, often, it’s not the case with either.
How To Make Contact With The Dutch Easier?
Here are some tips and tricks to make contact with the Dutch easier and more enjoyable:
Ask Dutch people if you need help
Against popular belief, the Dutch are very willing to help you. Just ask if you need assistance. Instantly their faces will defrost, and that person will happily get you on your way.
Especially when they notice you’re a visitor. It also helps that most people speak English very well. The language might be a barrier on a cultural level, but for sure, it’s not on a practical level.
Embrace being direct with the Dutch
Embrace the fact the Dutch are direct. When you expect it, it’s much easier to deal with. Also, don’t take a timid greeting as a negative. It’s the default. Don’t expect Dutchman to share their life stories instantly. The Dutch are much more reserved.
We Have the (Untranslatable) Word: “Gezellig”
We do like contact. The Dutch have the word “gezellig” for a reason. Once you’ve created a connection with a Dutch person, they will often be very welcoming and inclusive. Even Obama learned the word 🙂
Gezellig is untranslatable because no word in English covers its complete meaning. It’s closest to cozy. But not exactly.
The Dutch won’t mind you joining them and their friends for a drink in a cafe. Or to invite you to a party with them. Because that is gezellig.
And they love to show you Dutch food and introduce you to Dutch Music, especially after a few beers. Search for “Andre Hazes” on Spotify or any other music service to get a taste before leaving home. You’ll quickly understand why you need a few beers (or glasses of wine) to appreciate this music.
Gezellig roughly means cozy, warm, and fun, but it’s a mixture. It’s often social, but a space can be gezellig too.
And remember, the upside about being direct is that an invitation is an honest well-meant invitation to join them.
TIP: if you get an invitation, don’t say something like: “Oh, that sounds interesting,” or “I’ll think about it”, when you don’t want to come. Because that is rude to do to a Dutch person.
Why? Because a Dutch person will interpret this as you are most likely attending, you might only need to check your schedule, but that’s most likely just a formality. Thus he/she will keep their calendar open for you and might even start preparing. Just tell them you’re not able to attend if you can’t or don’t want to come. Or say yes, and enjoy contact with a local.
How To Start A Conversation With A Dutch Person?
The typical conversation starter, “Where are you from?” is no help talking to the Dutch. The country is too small for that.
But the weather is the favorite topic of the Dutch. We have so many words for it. It could be a dictionary by itself.
“Survival Guide to the Dutch” made such a fun video on the topic:
Followed by complaints about the Dutch Railways (although we do have one of the best transit systems in the world, we love to complain about the trains).
The third topic would be the weekend. It’s a safe bet to ask about someone’s weekend to get them started. It’s a great way to keep a conversation going too.
It Helps To Know The Basics
Holland is a tiny country. Still, a few of the biggest brands in the world come from here, from Heineken to Unilever to Shell to Philips. However, the Dutch know that most people don’t know much about their country. And worse, confuse them with others.
Dutch, German, Danish?
The quickest way to distance yourself from a Dutch person is by saying to them: ” Oh, you speak German, right?” or “I speak some German.” Or to tell them that they are Danish. They speak German in Germany, and Danish people live in Denmark. The Dutch do and are neither.
The Dutch speak Dutch, and the country is called The Netherlands, a separate country from Denmark.
PS You can use Holland too if you are a visitor, but officially, Holland is an area of just two regions in The Netherlands called North and South Holland.
When I use Holland on this blog, I am guaranteed to receive comments from Dutch people worried I might not know my own country. And because they’re direct, they love to point out my “mistake.”
PS Just in case you plan to climb in your pen to explain the difference between Holland and The Netherlands to me. I’m fully aware of the difference. However, Holland is how this country is most often referred to by visitors so I use the word, too :-), Thank you.
Amsterdam Is Not A Country
Another confusing fact is that many people think Amsterdam is a country. It’s not. It’s a city inside a country. Specifically, Amsterdam is the Netherlands’ capital city (Holland).
The Dutch are pretty sensitive about this. The funny thing is if you ask a Dutch person: “What is the capital of Wyoming? You’ll get a blank face as well.”
It’s interesting to see it’s expected of you to know the details of every small country in Europe (which are similarly sized to States in the US), while we don’t know all the information about each US state either. But there you have it.
Learning some Dutch
If you visit Holland, knowing the basics goes a long way. If you want some bonus points: Learn a few Dutch words. Say “Hallo” instead of Hello. When you want to say: “Thank you,” say: “Dank u.” The Dutch will love your accent. And goodbye is “Tot ziens.”
Watch the reaction. It’s like summer came early. If you want to see what winter looks like, try to speak German to a Dutch person and think you’re making an effort.
World War II is still not forgotten. The Dutch get along with Germans very well nowadays, but speaking German to a Dutch person is still offensive to most. Just stick to English instead if you’re in doubt and you’re good.
The rules around body contact with the Dutch
The first rule of thumb: Do not hug. If you are from America, you might hug somebody quickly. Here, not so much.
You fit in the most if you don’t do it unless you are close friends with someone. And if you feel you have to, ask at least if it’s ok. (And the Dutch are the Dutch, so don’t be surprised if their answer is no).
Kissing as a greeting: Kisses have a protocol (kind of), so make sure you know it :-). First, it’s one or three kisses on the cheek, but never two. Left, Right, Left. This can become awkward if you stop at the second one and the Dutch person goes on to the 3rd. So keep that in mind. Not sure, one or three? Follow the Dutch person. Most often, it will be three.
“Survival Guide to the Dutch” has an excellent and funny video on this:
It is essential to know when it’s appropriate. Usually, kisses are exchanged between women and between men and women when you see somebody for at least the second time (so you already know each other), never at a first meeting. The exception might be a date. But tread carefully.
It’s also common to exchange kisses on someone’s birthday and for new year wishes. This applies to the workspace too. On a first meeting, always shake hands. And even if you think the kisses are appropriate, always follow the woman’s lead. If the woman does not like the kisses (and sometimes men), she/he will extend her/his hand.
By the way, men also kiss each other when they are just friends, but not as often. Usually, only if they are best friends or a couple. The most common is to shake hands. My advice is to stick to the handshake to be safe.
A Coffee Shop Is Not For Coffee in Holland
Gulp what? It’s in the name!? True, but no. A coffee shop is a place where they can legally sell soft drugs. They probably have to dust off their coffee machine if you order one.
If you want coffee, you’re looking for a coffee bar, cafe, or restaurant. (Click here for my post about my five favorite cafes in Amsterdam for a good coffee or tea).
One good thing is that you’ll never make a mistake by accident. A coffee shop has that distinct smell of weed that you’ll instantly recognize, even from outside. Another clue is that people smoke inside. You’re not allowed to smoke in any other restaurant or public place.
Be afraid of bikes in Amsterdam (and elsewhere in Holland)
I’m not kidding. You should be frightened of bikes in this country. It’s nothing like bikes in your own country. They are EVERYWHERE here. You’re pretty safe in the countryside when these bikes are on their own neatly laid and separate bike paths.
But not in the cities. Stay off bike lines (pink/red lanes), and never trust that a cyclist will stop for you (even if you have the right of way).
Another fantastic video by “Survival Guide To the Dutch” can be found here:
Most city cyclists think that a red traffic light is just for cars. On top of that, they are masters at carrying high loads of cargo on their bikes, plus kids, and other people, all while they go at racing speeds. They aren’t amateurs.
Ask any foreigner who has been here, and they will tell you this is true. Always look twice before crossing any street, and then look again, maybe once more. I’m serious.
Getting in the way of a cyclist will be a surefire way to meet a rude Dutchman, no cultural misinterpretation either, actually rude.
PS: did you know there are multiple multi-level parking garages for bike in Amsterdam? You can see one right in front of Central Station. There are more bicycles in this country than people.
Not Everything You Hear About The Dutch is True
Sometimes our reputation does hold (get in a bike lane to find out), but more often, it’s just a matter of misunderstanding each other. And there are a few things out there that are a myth. Let’s debunk them.
Going Dutch (splitting the bill) Is Not Dutch
Splitting the bill is not typical Dutch. I know it’s in the name, right? But it isn’t. Often the host likes to pay for all. Let’s say you go out with a Dutch friend. The custom is that if they pay this time, and you will next time. Of course, this is different from person to person. But in general, this holds true.
If you’ve traveled far and made costs to see your Dutch friend, they most likely want to pay for your meal. If so, say thank you and let them. It’s their way of showing appreciation for your presence and that you have made an effort to visit.
Wooden Shoes Are Not Used In Daily Life
The primary choice for footwear here in Holland is not Wooden Shoes. Except for farmers, maybe. But generally, it’s sneakers, just as it is in your country. Wooden Shoes are not readily available in shops. Pretty much in tourist places only. That says enough.
The Dutch: Individual And Independent Or Not So Much?
The Dutch are not as individual and independent as they might appear at first sight—they care a great deal about the group. “Gezelligheid” is an untranslatable word. The reason it’s not cozy is that “gezelligheid” is snug and cozy, but it includes other people. It’s not “gezellig” alone; it can be cozy alone.
The Polder Model – Always Find Middle Ground
Sticking out too much is usually met with suspicion. You do not score high points with a big house or car. The Dutch invented the polder model (trying to find common ground and make concessions about everything). It’s not about competition. It’s about doing it together.
We had to for a long, long time. It was a life necessity. When the water was still a threat, it was not helpful if you protected your property while your neighbor did (or could) not. The water would flood into your house as well, through theirs. Cooperation was essential so everyone was protected.
Separating yourself from the community by showing off your wealth was not helpful. Today living with 17 million people on this small piece of land, it still isn’t. By acting modestly, it’s much easier to connect with strangers than by creating a divide between them and us.
Are The Dutch As Liberal As They Say?
The Dutch are liberal in many ways. But not as progressive as you might think. People barely raise an eyebrow if you tell them you’re gay. But it doesn’t mean you can do as you want. Calvinism is from this area too. And being modest is a virtue.
Often, especially younger international visitors seem to think, especially in Amsterdam, it’s a free for all party town. It isn’t. Well, maybe on King’s Day, but that’s about it.
Amsterdam has a very active policy to curb this type of tourism and strictly enforces laws against those causing a disturbance.
Not So Liberal About Drugs And Prostitution
Public opinion about drugs is not as liberal as expected. The reasoning behind legalizing soft drugs to some extent is that people will use them anyway. So better have it legal, and by doing that, you make it less attractive to people.
Don’t we all remember how exciting the candy jar was when we were kids? Mainly because it was off-limits most of the time.
The Dutch like to think practically; this way, we can keep an eye on it, regulate it, provide assistance, and earn taxes. The same thinking applies to prostitution. Again that is not the same thing as embracing it as part of everyday life.
Many locals have a cynical view of people using drugs or those who have paid for private entertainment. Be aware of this. Because this is one of the few instances, the Dutch are not as direct.
If you proudly tell your new Dutch friend you smoked in Amsterdam, they will give you a gentle smile. Then they try to back away from you.
The conclusion is if you must try it, do what you must do. The police will not arrest you. But it’s not something to brag about with your new Dutch friends unless you know they are also into it. Just remember, the majority won’t be.
Enjoy this beautiful country and its people. Be respectful of local customs, and don’t get discouraged if you meet people with different traditions than your own.
That is what travel is all about — learning about others. And to realize we have more in common than we are different. Connecting with local people can genuinely enrich your travel experience. And it’s no different with the Dutch. Have fun, or as we like to say: Veel plezier!
Do You Think Dutch People Are Rude Or Not?
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