Country Profile - The Netherlands
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The Dutch society is egalitarian and modern.
The people are modest, tolerant, independent, self-reliant,
and entrepreneurial. They value education, hard work, ambition
and ability. The Dutch have an aversion to the nonessential.
Ostentatious behavior is to be avoided. Accumulating money
is fine, but spending money is considered something of a
vice. A high style is considered wasteful and suspect. The
Dutch are very proud of their cultural heritage, rich history
in art and music and involvement in international affairs.
Meeting and 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.
- The Dutch are reserved and don’t
touch in public or display anger or extreme exuberance.
- The Dutch value privacy and seldom speak
to strangers. It is more likely that they will wait for
you to make the first move. Don’t be afraid to do
- The Dutch expect eye contact while speaking
- Moving your index finger around your
ear means you have a telephone call, not "you’re
crazy." The crazy sign is to tap the center of your
forehead with your index finger. This gesture is very
- The Dutch take punctuality for business
meetings very seriously and expect that you will do likewise;
call with an explanation if you are delayed.
- Lateness, missed appointments, postponements,
changing the time of an appointment or a late delivery
deteriorates trust and can ruin relationships.
- Exchange business cards during or after
conversation. No set ritual exists. Business cards in
English are acceptable.
- The Dutch are extremely adept at dealing
with foreigners. They are the most experienced and most
successful traders in Europe.
- The Dutch tend to get right down to business.
Business negotiations proceed at a rapid pace.
- Presentations should be practical, factual
and never sloppy.
- An individual’s cooperation and
trust are valued over performance. One-upmanship is frowned
- The Dutch tend to be direct, giving straight
"yes" and "no" answers.
- The Dutch are conservative and forceful
and can be stubborn and tough negotiators. They are willing
to innovate or experiment, but with minimal risk.
- Companies are frugal and careful with
money. Business is profit-oriented with the bottom line
being very important. However, the Dutch are not obsessed
- Strategy is cautious and pragmatic, usually
involving step-by-step plans. Preparations are made to
improvise the plan, if needed. Strategy is clear and communicated
to all levels.
- In many companies the decision-making
process is slow and ponderous, involving wide consultation.
Consensus is vital. The Dutch will keep talking until
all parties agree.
- Once decisions are made, implementation
is fast and efficient.
- In the Netherlands, commitments are taken
seriously and are honored. Do not promise anything or
make an offer you are not planning to deliver on.
Dining and Entertainment
- To beckon a waiter or waitress, raise
your hand, make eye contact, and say ober (waiter)
or mevrouw (waitress).
- It is appropriate to discuss business
during lunch. Business breakfasts are not very common.
- Most business entertaining is done in
restaurants, but the Dutch do a fair amount of entertaining
at home as well.
- 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. Ask if your host expects your spouse included
in a business function. Business is not generally discussed
if spouses are present.
- Dutch manners are frank -- no-nonsense
informality combined with strict adherence to basic etiquette.
- 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.
- Men should wait until all women are seated
before they sit. Allow the hostess to start eating and
drinking before you eat.
- Take a small quantity of food to start.
A second helping will be offered and it is polite to accept.
- 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.
- Use knife and fork to eat all food including
sandwiches, fruit and pizza.
- To signify that you would like more food
or that you are not finished, cross your knife and fork
in the middle of your plate in an X.
- It is considered rude to leave the table
during dinner (even to go to the bathroom).
- When finished eating, place your knife
and fork side by side at the 5:25 position on your plate.
- 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.
- The Dutch prefer fashions that are casual,
unpretentious, conservative and subdued.
- A traditional suit and tie is required
only in certain circles of business and government.
- When conducting business in the Netherlands,
foreign men may wear suits and ties, though sport coats
are acceptable. Women should wear suits or dresses.
- Taking off your jacket in an office is
acceptable. It means getting down to business. Do not
roll up the sleeves of your shirt. When leaving an office,
put your jacket back on.
- Gifts are generally not given or expected
at business meetings.
- Gifts are exchanged in business only
once a close, personal relationship has developed.
- The Dutch find any form of ostentation
a bit embarrassing. A grand gesture of generosity will
only make them uncomfortable. Lavish displays of wealth
are considered bad taste.
- Give books, art objects, wine, liquor.
Do not give knives.
- When invited to someone’s home,
bring a small gift for the hostess. Bring children a small
gift or candy. Sending flowers before or after the party
is also appropriate.
- The Dutch avoid superlatives. Compliments
are offered sparingly, and to say that something is "not
bad" is to praise it. A person who never offers criticism
is seen as either being simple-minded or failing to tell
the truth. A foreigner need not worry too much about saying
something that will hurt feelings. The Dutch will argue,
but seldom take offense.
- Dutch humor is subtle rather than slapstick.
- The Dutch speak directly and use a lot
of eye contact. To a foreigner, they may appear abrupt,
but it is just their manner of communicating.
- Do not call the Netherlands "Holland."
Holland is a region within the Netherlands.
- Smoking is prohibited in many areas.
Always ask before lighting up.
- Stand when a woman enters the room.
- Don’t chew gum in public.
- Do not discuss money or prices or ask
- Keep your hands out of your pockets while
talking to someone or shaking hands.
Especially for Women
- The percentage of women who are employed
outside the home is one of the lowest in Europe, and those
who do work are generally in lower paying jobs.
- Many Dutch women see the struggle for
equal opportunities as only just beginning, even though
small strides have already been made. Equality of women
is a policy priority.
- Foreign women will not have trouble doing
business in the Netherlands.
- It is common and acceptable for businesswomen
to invite a man to dinner.
- Businesswomen will have no problem paying
for a meal in a restaurant.
-- Excerpted from the "Put Your
Best Foot Forward" series by Mary Murray Bosrock. These
publications are available for the U.S., Asia, Mexico/Canada,
Russia, Europe and South America.
International Education Systems
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St. Paul, MN 55116
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