Customs & Traditions in The Netherlands
Updated: May 5
The cultural life of the Netherlands is varied and lively. Dutch painting and crafts are world renowned, and Dutch painters are among the greatest the world has ever known.
Appearances are important to the Dutch.
They are disciplined, conservative, and pay attention to the smallest details.
They see themselves as thrifty, hardworking, practical, and well organized.
They place a high value on cleanliness and neatness.
Greet people as you pass by them casually around the workplace or in public.
Punctuality is highly valued in Dutch culture.
Many Dutch consider it to be rude if one does not give prior notice or a reliable reason for being late.
It is polite to cover your mouth when yawning.
It is better not to talk while chewing gum because it is considered to be rude.
Do not ask Dutch people how much they earn.
Respect a Dutch person’s personal space.
You should knock before entering a room if the door is shut.
Standing with your hands in your pockets can be considered impolite.
Compliments are usually given in private directly to the person that deserves them.
When talking on the phone, both the caller and receiver state their names first before beginning a conversation. This is considered to be proper phone etiquette.
The Dutch enjoy a good joke, so feel free to use humor when appropriate and if you’re comfortable doing so.
In a shop or restaurant, people are expected to help themselves as much as possible before asking a service provider. Always show service providers the same level of respect you would show your friends.
Avoid displaying intolerance towards ethnic minorities or alternative lifestyles.
Avoid making proud comments that give the impression that you see yourself as superior to others, The Dutch are unlikely to appreciate this.
The Dutch see the family as the foundation of the social structure.
Families tend to be small, often with only one or two children.
It is now common to see single-person households, single-parent families, and couples without children.
Within the household, it is usually the man who has the principal authority.
However, gender is becoming a less important factor in determining a person's role or duty in the family.
Women often have equal rights and the opportunity to choose their form of contribution to the household dynamic.
Some Dutch women may work part-time to allow for flexibility in caring for their children.
It is also becoming common for both parents to choose part-time employment so that the couple can take turns tending to the household and children while the other works.
The Dutch choose their partners out of love; arranged marriages are not a cultural custom in the Netherlands.
Usually, the marriage ceremony entails a civil registration. Depending on the couple's preferences, there may be a religious ceremony.
It is common for couples to live together for years before marriage.
In some cases, they may decide not to get married and remain in a de facto relationship instead.
Young people tend to leave home at the age of 18 to pursue higher education or employment, however, due to housing shortages and increasing university costs, many people may continue to live with their parents until they are married.
Many Dutch children are named after their grandparents – usually, the paternal grandfather's name and maternal grandmother's name are used first.
People may have several names. The first name is usually used for daily use, sometimes in a diminutive form (e.g. Vince for Vincent).
Many Dutch surnames begin with a ‘tussenvoegsel’, which is a prefix such as ‘van’ (“of/from”), ‘de/het’ (“the”), and ‘der’ (“of the”) (e.g. Vincent van GOGH). In the Netherlands, these prefixes are not capitalized when used in combination with the first name.
Meeting & Greeting:
Shake hands with everyone present men, women, and children at business and social meetings. Shake hands again when leaving.
Introduce yourself if no one is present to introduce you.
The Dutch consider it rude not to identify yourself.
The Dutch will shake hands and say their last name, not "Hello." They also answer the telephone with their last name.
It is considered impolite to shout a greeting. Wave if greeting someone from a distance.
Among friends and family, it is common to greet one another by kissing on alternating cheeks three times.
Take both your hands out of your pockets if you shake someone’s hand. It is rude to leave the left hand in your pocket while you shake with the right.
The most common way to address someone is with their first name, though sometimes people will address the older generation with their title followed by their last name.
Common questions that accompany greetings are “Hoe gaat het?’’ (How are you?) or “Alles goed?” (Is everything alright?). These questions are usually only asked if the person genuinely wishes to know the answer.
Shake hands with everyone individually including children.
Very close friends may greet each other by air-kissing near the cheek three times, starting with the left cheek.
Most Dutch only use first names with family and close friends.
Wait until invited before moving to a first-name basis.
Visiting a home
Always call or text a person to arrange a visit. Unannounced visits are not common, except between close friends and family.
Dutch rarely invite those whom they are not closely acquainted with to visit their house. Rather, invitations to meet for coffee in a public space are more common.
Punctuality is important to many Dutch. Thus, ensure you arrive at the time.
When you arrive, it is customary to greet everyone present, including children.
It is common practice to bring a gift to a Dutch host or hostess.
Avoid asking your host for a tour of their home. This might be seen as an invasion of their privacy.
Social visits are especially important on birthdays.
Parties can continue very late into the night. Give yourself the flexibility to stay a few hours after dinner has finished.
Unless invited, avoid visiting Dutch at 6 pm as this is the time many Dutch have their dinner. They may not appreciate the interruption.
Food does not play the major role in hospitality that it does in many other cultures. It is not considered essential for making someone feel welcome. Do not expect to be served a meal unless the invitation specifically mentions a meal.
When visiting a host, it is appropriate to bring chocolates, flowers, or a book as gifts.
Do not give white lilies or daisy flowers as these are associated with funerals.
Flowers should be given in odd numbers, but not 13, which is unlucky.
Gifts should be wrapped nicely.
Gifts are usually opened when received.
Gifting very expensive or rich items can make the receiver a bit uncomfortable.
Wine is not a good gift if invited for dinner, as the host may already have selected the wines for dinner.
Do not give knives or scissors as they are considered unlucky.
When invited to someone's home, bring a small gift for the hostess and bring children a small gift or candy. Sending flowers before or after the party is also appropriate.
Dining & Food:
The table's manner is continental, the fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating.
Most food is eaten with utensils, including sandwiches.
Salad is not cut; fold the lettuce on your fork.
Dinner is usually the main meal of the day It begins around 6 pm.
It's better to wait for the hostess to invite to have a seat as it may have a seating planner.
Men should wait until all women are seated before they sit.
Allow the hostess to start eating and drinking before you eat.
The host gives the first toast. An honored guest should return the toast later in the meal.
Always start with a small quantity of food so you may accept second helpings.
It's better to finish everything on your plate as the Dutch tend to avoid wasting food and appreciate those who do so.
When you finished eating lay your knife and fork parallel across the right side of your plate.
If you have not finished eating, cross your knife and fork in the middle of the plate with the fork over the knife.
Keep your hands on the table at all times during a meal not in your lap. However, take care to keep your elbows off the table.
Bills are usually split equally between couples as it can become awkward to specify who ate what. However, in groups, people usually pay for what they ordered.
The Dutch will make it clear that you are their guest if they intend to pay the bill, otherwise expect to "go Dutch" and pay your fair share. No one will be embarrassed at splitting the bill.
Spouses are often included in a business dinner.
It is considered rude to leave the table during dinner (even to go to the bathroom).
Parties may go very late. Plan to stay for an hour or so after dinner.
Do not ask for a tour of your host's home; it is considered impolite.
Dutch tend to have a direct communication style, speaking quite frankly in a straightforward manner.
At times, this may be misunderstood as rude, especially if one is not used to be clear.
Dutch tend to speak in a friendly tone of voice and often in short sentences. Excessive politeness is often viewed as distrustful as it may imply a lack of directness in communication.
Dutch also generally avoid exaggerating and will often tone down statements and compliments.
Much of Dutch humor relates to ‘schadenfreude’ (a sense of pleasure or amusement from another person’s misfortune).
Irony and sarcasm are often not appreciated as many Dutch take what others say at face value.
Much Dutch value their personal space and do not appreciate it being invaded by others.
When conversing, an arm’s length or more distance is acceptable.
Dutch may have their furniture arranged in a way that puts more distance between people in a room. Avoid moving your chair closer if this is the case.
Among friends and family, light touching of the arms, shoulders, and hands is acceptable.
The Dutch are generally less tactile among strangers and acquaintances.
It is common for couples to display affection in public.
Dutch people rely heavily on words and generally make less use of body language to emphasize a communication point.
Some hand gestures may be used during a conversation.
Holding eye contact is valued and shows sincerity. Occasionally diverting your gaze is common and can help create a more comfortable situation.
Putting your index finger to the temple of your head or forehead is considered an insult as it indicates that the person you are talking about is crazy.
In the Netherlands, tipping is expected in restaurants for good or exceptional service, around 5-10% of the bill.
If the service was average, you can round up the bill or leave the change.
Give your tip to the service person directly.
Don't tip for bad service.