The Netherlands has a friendly and all-embracing society. The Dutch culture however, differs greatly from Western and Eastern customs in some regards. What is acceptable in other countries might not be in the Netherlands. Travelers and new migrants bound for Dutch locales will benefit from the following useful tips.
The Netherlands is not Holland
The Dutch are largely forgiving of foreigners who use ‘Holland’ synonymously with ‘Netherlands’. However, doing so in their country is a strict no. Holland is a cultural region in the country known locally as Randstad. Hollanders typically follow the Dutch culture. People living regions other than Randstad may take minor offence if someone calls their region ‘Holland’. They are quick to point out that they live in the Netherlands and prefer to be called Netherlanders as opposed to ‘Hollanders’.
It is similar to addressing a Scot as Brit or English. Something similar also applies in India. North Indians commonly generalize all people of Southern India as ‘South Indians’. In reality the communities of South India prefer to be identified by their distinct identities like Tamil, Kannada, Malayali, and so on.
The distinction between Holland and Netherlands has origins in religious alignment. The Randstad region (Holland) in the north affiliates more with Protestantism. The non-Randstad region in the south (Netherlands) subscribes largely to Catholicism. When moving to Netherlands pay attention to the natural boundary formed by the Rhine and Meuse rivers. Everything to the north of the rivers is Holland, while things to the south fall in the Netherlands.
They are particular about their greetings
In most EU countries it is socially acceptable to hug when greeting someone. But hugging is not common in the Dutch culture, and might lead to awkwardness. The Dutch greet new acquaintances and bid them goodbyes with handshakes. Having either hand in your pocket when greeting is seen as a rude gesture. When meeting close friends and relatives the Dutch greet with 3 ‘air kisses’ on the cheeks, usually starting from the left.
The reason for this is that the Dutch regard hugging as the most intimate of gestures. They consider it more intimate than kissing. They differ vastly from other cultures in this respect, where kissing is considered the most intimate gesture and hugging in public is normal.
They are very direct
The Dutch do not mince words. Most Dutch subscribe to the motto of ‘doe maar gewoon’, which means that one should do things practically and modestly. They are highly pragmatic. Foreigners get a taste of their pragmatism in the way they interact. The Dutch are straightforward and to-the-point. They may come across as rude and standoffish, but this is certainly not the case. It is just who they are. Liberal attitudes and directness are part of the foundations of Dutch society.
The Dutch also handle criticism better than other cultures. This is in contrast to many parts of India where directness is often considered rudeness. The Dutch value directness and are not offended easily. They say things the way they see it. However, there are exceptions. While the Dutch will answer most questions with directness, they find inquiries about personal finances highly offensive. Most Indians may be happy to answer queries about how much they earn, but in the Netherlands this is completely unacceptable.
They have quirky social etiquettes
It is customary in many countries such as America, France, and Poland to bring a bottle of wine as a gift for the host. In the Netherlands however, this is uncommon. The host usually picks the wine to with dinner. Gifting a book, potted plant, chocolates, or flowers is considered the norm among the Dutch. When gifting flowers make sure they are an odd number (never 13). White lilies and chrysanthemums should never be gifted as these are exclusively for mourning.
Social dinners in the Netherlands are scheduled, sometimes weeks in advance. The Dutch pride themselves on living by strict schedules. Unlike the UK, Spain, and India there is no casual ‘dropping by’ in the Netherlands. Social dinners must be scheduled according to the convenience of all the parties. Another thing to remember when visiting someone’s house is to never ask for a tour of their home. This may not be a big deal in other countries. The Dutch however, see this as an attempt to invade their privacy.
Another quirky social custom in the Netherlands relates to birthday wishes. In most of the world we extend our wishes to the person whose birthday it is. The Dutch congratulate not just the birthday boy or girl, but also their family members and close friends. When a person completes a year on their birthday the Dutch believe it is a cause for celebration for the entire family.
They are humble with finances
Vast communities of migrants live and work in the Netherlands. They regularly send remittances back home via the Ria Money Transfer App and other reliable channels. Migrants in the Netherlands earn significantly more than their home countries, which often reflects in their spending habits. However, the Dutch apply their motto of ‘doe maar gewoon’ also to their finances. They are often frugal and avoid unnecessary spending. Sometimes they can come across as stingy, however this could not be further from the truth. We may see flaunting wealth as a sign of success, but in the Dutch society this is considered a negative trait in a person. It is also considered as going against the ‘way of living’ as put forth by John Calvin, the architect of Protestant reformation.
About the author:
Hemant G is a contributing writer at Sparkwebs LLC, a Digital and Content Marketing Agency. When he’s not writing, he loves to travel, scuba dive, and watch documentaries.