By: Jane Goorden

To be successful on the Dutch market, it’s important to be aware of the cultural norms and values that apply here. What are the most important cultural differences between the UK and the Netherlands? Is there anything that you might find strange that Dutch people would consider completely normal? How do you prepare for dealing with these types of cultural differences?

Direct communication

One aspect of Dutch culture that stands out is the typical Dutch direct communication. The Dutch get straight to the point, which could come across as impolite or rude. The Netherlands is a country where low-context communication is common. Spoken words are taken literally. The UK tends to be somewhere between low and high-context in terms of communication. In the UK, body language, facial expressions and the speaker’s age and position are just as important as the spoken language used. In the Netherlands, what is actually being said outweighs other factors.

Being on time

In the Netherlands, being on time means arriving just before your appointment. Dutch people carefully plan their schedules and every minute you’re late means a minute less of their time is available for you. It’s also possible that if you are very late, the appointment gets cancelled. By the same token, it is also frowned upon if you are too early. The Dutch keep strict schedules. If you are half an hour early, they probably won’t be ready for you.

Personal space

Every culture has different views on personal space. In the Netherlands, it is common to keep a distance of about half an arm’s length between yourself and your conversation partner. This distance is much greater in the United States or Asia for example, but much smaller in places such as Greece or Indonesia. In the Netherlands, it is considered inappropriate to be very amicable. Business meetings start with a handshake, not a hug or kisses on the cheek. Business meetings are also concluded with a handshake.

Hierarchy in the Netherlands

More and more Dutch companies are in favour of reducing hierarchy in the workplace. Although there are supervisors and directors, communication is usually open and equal. In the Netherlands, if you disagree with your boss, you say so. If you have a work-related issue, even if it is with your supervisor or boss, you say so. Please bear these cultural differences in mind when hiring Dutch employees.

Just be normal, that’s crazy enough

A common Dutch expression is ‘Doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg’, which basically means ‘just act normal, that’s crazy enough’. Dutch people are very down to earth and tend not to accept behaviour that is slightly more unusual, dramatic or over the top. You will notice that employees who focus attention on themselves or show too much ambition are usually not very popular. Everyone works hard, in their own way, but pompous behaviour and arrogance are not appreciated.

Relocating to the Netherlands?

Brexit Amsterdam offers translation services and training courses to help you make the transition as smoothly as possible: