When you move to a new country you do not simply change your location. You need to become acquainted with another culture and social habits. Life in the Netherlands is no exception. That’s why our Dutchie Jordy provides you with valuable insights into social life in the Netherlands.
You’ve made it to the Netherlands. Congratulations. An excellent choice, if my biased self may say so. My opinion as a local aside though, the stats speak for themselves. The Netherlands consistently ranks among the top ten best countries to live in. Next to our famous haute cuisine (deep-fry everything!) and our ability to turn the sea into the land (take that Moses!) we hold our ground fairly well in terms of health care, safety, work-life balance and overall happiness. So, in theory, one could say life in the Netherlands (or was it Holland?) is living life on easy mode. And in many ways it is. But navigating oneself through the maze of strange quirks, gestures and rules that is Dutch social life?
Where the Netherlands is generally perceived as an internationally oriented place to work, it may prove somewhat challenging to connect to the local community. And I wouldn’t blame you if you do struggle. Us Dutchies can prove challenging to interact with at times. Aside from the language (are you choking, dear sir?) there’s a couple of social constructs that may need some help from a local guide. So here’s a short list of social explanations to get you started in the Low Countries.
1 We’re blunt
…and you’re going to love it. Some call us arrogant. Some call us insensitive. We’ll tell you straight up your butt looks too big in those pants. We’ll inquire about your political preference within five minutes of knowing you. The first week of your new life in the Netherlands you’ll be alternately astonished and enraged by the Dutch’s lack of social reservation. However, as time passes, most people come to appreciate the informal way the Dutch conduct their business. Before you know it, you will be telling your co-worker that experimental moustache of his really isn’t helping anyone. And you’re going to get away with it.
2We’re on time
Forget every bit of time perception you had back home. Time does not work the same way here in the Netherlands. Not only is a one hour’s drive considered a worldly journey which needs to be planned weeks in advance, is a five-minute train delay worth complaining about to the local conductor and a spontaneous get-together unheard of, but the Dutch also take their time extremely seriously. Don’t be surprised when you receive judgy eyes from co-workers when it turns out that a 9:00 meeting actually starts at precisely 9:00. Small talk at work around meetings is considered time wasted in the Netherlands, so showing up well in advance is considered most appropriate. The same works for meeting with friends. Expect a ‘where-you-at-call’ if you don’t show up at the exact given time at the exact give place. In short; if you want to succeed in Holland, make punctuality your number one trait.
3We have confusing greeting rituals
The Dutch like their personal space. This is reflected in every way of our lives, from closing the curtains at home at five to calling a train ‘full’ when there are no empty four-seaters anymore. You’ll also notice it in the way we act when meeting (new) people. It may look different (and rightly so, confusing) every time you see this unnatural ritual unfold, so let’s break it down to a couple of simple guidelines.
- Under 30 and meeting someone new? Simple handshake. Hugging between man and woman is however acceptable.
- Over 30 and meeting someone new? Kissing it is! Not just one, but three of course (awkward ‘meeting in the middle’ is a real threat).
- Under 30, meeting a friend? Let’s hug. Kissing between man and woman is allowed, though not between bro’s. Here, a manly handshake, fist-bump, one-armed bro-hug or simple upwards chin motion is the way to go.
- Over 30, meeting a friend? Let’s kiss again. The handshake between men, however, should have evolved to a simple pat on the shoulder.
4We are social
As hard and overwhelming it may seem at first, the best thing to do when arriving in any new country is to simply mix with the crowd and try to experience as many new things as possible. Life in the Netherlands is, especially in wintertime, very much concentrated around social gatherings, so get yourself in one of those situations is highly recommended. Dutch people are generally very welcoming and open to foreigners, and the traditional image of Holland as a very tolerant country still maintains to this day. Practice that infamous G-sound as often as you can and before you know you know you’ll be permanently complaining about the weather like the rest of us.