Located in Western Europe, the Netherlands shares cultural similarities with other European countries such as Belgium, Germany and France. However, Dutch culture also has its very own peculiarities. We’ve summarized the basics of Dutch social etiquette to help you avoid any faux pas and to better understand Dutch culture.
Hoi, ik ben Kitty! In the Netherlands, you typically greet others by their first name. This applies to both the spoken and written language. Unlike English, the Dutch language makes a distinction between the formal and informal “you”, similar to the German du/Sie or the French tu/vous. The polite U (formal “you”) isn’t used very often in daily life situations, where the Dutch usually prefer the more personal je (you). This has nothing to do with a lack of respect, but rather simplifies the language and interaction.
Naturally, the code of conduct is different when talking to elderly people or in business relationships. So don’t just call an (elderly) client or a high-ranking politician by their first name. If you aren’t sure whether it’s appropriate to use je or U, it’s best to use U.
Learn more about how to greet someone in Dutch.
Kom eens langs (come over sometime)! If a Dutchman tells you to drop by for a cup of coffee, then do so. This invitation is meant as it sounds, not just a thoughtless phrase. If you visit a Dutch home, you’ll be offered a kopje koffie of thee (a cup of coffee or tea). This is often accompanied by traditional Dutch cookies (biscuits or small cakes). Take one and you are on the safe side. Wait until you are offered the second one before reaching into the cookie jar. Coffee is usually served in small cups, the spoon already in the cup.
Note that the Dutch have their dinner quite early (typically not after 7 p.m.). If you’re invited to someone’s house at 8 p.m. or later, the other person will most likely assume that you have already eaten. It’s also worth mentioning that (most) Dutch people don’t appreciate unannounced visits to their home, so make sure to agree on a time first instead of just dropping by.
Whether you’re invited to someone’s home or not, make sure to try out some Dutch food.
Don’t Skip the Queue
One thing that I love about the Netherlands is that most people will respect the queue. Even if people don’t always line up by standing one behind another, everyone will get their turn in the right order. If you are unsure whether a person is queueing or not, make sure to ask. Skipping the queue is considered very rude in the Netherlands.
Cashless Payments are Standard
Klein Bedrag – pinnen mag (small amount, card payment is fine). In Holland, cashless payment is standard. Even if you just buy a snack for 1€, you can pay by card. Except for a few snack bars and market stalls, the large majority of shopkeepers in Holland accept card payments.
By the way: Maestro cards are standard in the Netherlands. Master, Visa and American Express cards are not always accepted in the Netherlands, no matter if they are debit card or credit cards. If you have one of these card types, make sure to carry some cash to be on the safe side.
There are no 1 and 2 ct Coins
If you want to pay with cash, that’s also possible. But forget your 1 and 2 cent coins that you may know from other Euro-zone countries! The Dutch round up (when you pay cash). So instead of 0,68€ you pay 0,70€ and instead of 0,52€ you pay only 0,50€. Thus, don’t expect a Dutch cashier to return 0,01€ to you when the bill is 0,99€!
Respect the Cyclists
If you are on the road with the fiets (bicycles), you’re lucky. Holland is every cyclist’s dream! In addition to mostly flat landscapes, you’ll find well maintained bike lanes in both big cities and small villages. In Holland, the cyclist is king of the road. Keep that in mind when driving in the Netherlands, as not all cyclists behave kingly. In the event of an accident the cyclist is often not blamed and the motorist gets the short end of the stick. Therefore, be patient, don’t honk or yell at cyclists, even if there is a group of five in front of you spreading far beyond the limits of the bike lane.
As a pedestrian, make sure not to walk on the cycle lines (usually colored red). That’s probably one of the things that annoys the Dutch the most.
Our tip: If you visit Holland as a tourist, make sure to rent a bike to explore the most popular destinations the Dutch way. Expats in the Netherlands will quickly understand why most Dutch people own more than just one bike …
Follow the Traffic Rules
If you travel by car, you’ll have to become accustomed to a few quirks. Dutch people tend to respect traffic rules when it comes to who has the priority, driving in lines, using a turn signal and much more. However, Dutch drivers are a bit more relaxed compared to certain European countries. People don’t usually honk, unless someone has been severely obstructed, or sleeping when the traffic light turns green. Make sure to follow the traffic rules and avoid unnecessary honking to drive in Dutch style.
If you’d like to learn more about driving, check out our article 10 facts about driving in the Netherlands.
A fine notion that might avoid an embarrassing misunderstanding: coffeeshops! In many countries, the word coffeeshop is used for a place where you actually get coffee. However, that’s not the case in the Netherlands. Regardless of the language you’re speaking in (Dutch or English), a coffeeshop is the place where you buy cannabis, whereas a place to drink coffee is called café.
What makes Dutch culture so special is, among other things, their kindness and their willingness to help. Ask a Dutch person for directions and he or she will take time for you. Knowing some basic social norms can greatly help you understand the Dutch and make some friends here!