“What and How” of the Netherlands

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If you know some simple things about this non-complex Dutch society, life in the Netherlands becomes pretty easy even if you are an expat. Some simple things caught my attention in my integration journey which I believe my readers should know to help them get the real feel of the “what and how” of the Netherlands.

The birthday tradition-

Age 1 year or 101 years, you are a celebrity for that one day. Show pride that you were born and celebrate in whatever way possible with friends/family outside or at home. To tell you the fact, if you are at job, you bring lots of food and cake to serve others. 

If you are inviting guests, they will bring you presents but dare not miss following the tradition- you are required to unpack the presents in front of that person and appreciate whatever it is (whether you like it or not). I found this tradition very awkward as back in my country, we would just stack the presents in one place and open them later when people are all gone.

Just to add, do not feel surprised if some Dutch friends do not get any presents. For some ‘not giving anything’ is also normal. They feel, their presence with a warm hug, or three kisses replace the need for a birthday gift.

Tip- Let it be, just focus on the relationship. Gifts don’t really matter.

Interestingly, when I attended a party of my dutch friend’s son, all guests kept congratulating me as well for my friend’s son’s birthday. 

In fact, I saw that they all congratulated each other as it was a party for close friends and family. So next time you attend a Dutch birthday you know what to do and how to react. 

Tip: Keep congratulating each member of the family and friends apart from the birthday boy/girl. Do not forget to tear off the wrapper excitingly and appreciate the gift in front of everybody.

Visiting newborn

Do not forget to make an appointment, and before that just drop a congratulations card by post. Alternatively, when you visit them grab a toy/ clothing for the newborn.

When you are there, you will be served Dutch biscuits and fennel coated with sugar sprinkled on it. (It’s called beschuit met muisjes) If it is a boy, you have the sprinkles in blue color and for a girl, it is in pink color. 

Not to miss, if you see a baby wearing pink clothes it is a baby girl and the blue color implies a baby boy. So, it will be courteous not to ask, it is a boy or a girl as some people get offended.

Now be prepared what to serve your guests if they visit you to congratulate for your newborn.

Business practices

Having lived in the UK and US before my husband and I have been well acquainted with the work culture and personal lifestyle differences across continents. In Europe, it is important to be punctual for appointments, both business and social. The most important thing is to take an appointment before you even think to see a Dutch person. Do not forget that the Netherlands is highly hooked on to the appointment system. 

Business cards are exchanged on the introduction and an ample supply should always be carried. For business visits, interviews should always be well prepared, since Dutch businesspeople are very conscious of the value of office time. It is advisable to send all information, literature, etc., in good time for evaluation before the meeting. 

The Dutch are very particular about the subject area and they refrain to answer anything outside their domain. They would rather refer you to a specialist to help you get your problem or question answered. 

Please see, long meetings are very rare, and smoking is strictly prohibited in the office or in business meetings and one should always ask permission before lighting up.

You will be glad to know that the Dutch like to be challenged continuously and they just don’t like “yes man” approach. They do good diligence in their investments and once decided, they tend to stay with their suppliers or vendors and do not switch easily. They are very relationship oriented so they don’t break or make relationships quickly. 

The egalitarianism of society is generally reflected in shallow hierarchies in business. The bosses are highly approachable, and they seldom flaunt their authority, which is the best part of having a Dutch boss. Decisions tend to be made through consensus with individual ambition harnessed to the common good.

The best part of the Dutch is that they take criticism very constructively. They argue and debate but still move forward together progressively.

Communications are open and people say what they think without ‘pulling punches’; this bluntness is often disconcerting to foreigners. You will get used to it. My husband actually loves this, so do I! It makes life simple and expectations get streamlined. 

Business is conducted formally, and smart clothes should be worn – jacket and tie for men, suit or dress for women. Day-to-day office wear is casual but smart.

Being a recruiter, I found out that education is quite an important criterion for a job promotion. Top engineers and managers often have degrees in science and law, and doctorates are not uncommon. 

Job-hopping is much less frequent than in many countries, reflecting the essentially conservative nature of the Dutch. Employees often stay with the same company, especially after the age of 30. There is an emphasis on continuity and stability at work. 

Labour laws in Holland are so stringent that once a person is on the Dutch payroll, it is very tough to have him/her out. It is a general practice; in case an employee has to be terminated for convenience the employer has to pay as many months of severance pay as the number of years the person has been in service.

Just imagine, how painful a non-performing human asset can be in an organization. Therefore, when a person resigns by his own, the company is so glad to have him go. 

The Kissing mystery

For me, it is one of the biggest expat enigmas: to kiss or not to kiss!

I grew up in India, where it was all about giving big bear hugs to friends, greet with folded hands to family and a handshake to colleagues. But then I travelled to US, UK and finally into the Netherlands amidst the confusing kissing culture of Europe.

For many years, I was unable to understand the implicit reaction of exchanging greeting between two people. Should it be a kiss or a handshake! 

I once had a very embarrassing greeting exchange with a Dutch friend at dinner. We had met a few times for coffee and exchanged friendly emails, but in my mind, our relationship was still on the handshake level.

So, when we met, I put my hand forward for the handshake and he came close for a kiss. It ended up being a very uncomfortable greeting. Though the incident ended up in laughter, it had a significant remembrance.

For my first years in The Netherlands, I would get taken aback having to give three kisses on the cheeks but now it feels just normal.

I have put forward, which you may call as a know-how of kissing in the Netherlands-

The three kisses custom: Dutch love these 3 kisses. I find it always funny when I meet Dutch friends of mine, and after doing 2 kisses, they carry on with a third and alert me every time…wait the third one is coming.

Well, do not mistake my words. You don’t start kissing anyone, these kisses are reserved for family and really close friends. You also do not really give moist kisses on the cheeks instead you just make kiss sounds on the cheeks and let the kisses fly in the air.

Initially I wondered, if men also kiss men but actually ‘No’. This kissing things is always between two women or man and a woman. Men always greet each other with strong handshakes.

Beware of sale banners or closing down sale banners outside the stores

I am personally quite attracted to sale period or special phrases used in the stores that says “Alles moet weg” that means- everything must go – Mostly their 50% discounts (or the Dutch word- korting) is also not that great. Like normal marketing tactics, first they jack up the prices and then put it down to 50% but then that is what you get. Just try find the best deals out of it. 

Since things are quite expensive in general, so I look out for discounts. I thought it’s just me looking out for bargains but the more I started to gel with the Dutch I realized they too keep an eye on discounts.

So, expats if you are like me…Don’t feel embarrassed to hunt for sale stuff…and after all, shopping is females’ birthright and we shall have it. 

Don’t mind the straightforward questions

The Dutch people are very friendly and generally open. Frankly speaking, I found the locals “unusually direct.” Some questions that, while considered normal to the Dutch, might surprise some expats: “How old are you?”, “How much do you make?” and “What do you pay for rent?” 

Sometimes they would talk about private topics so openly which probably you just cannot share with your own nationals or any other nationality like asking about your sexual intimacy, your relationships with your ex- boyfriends/ girlfriends and so on but that is the level of their liberalism and openness. 

Tip: Don’t get offended, in Holland its normal for them to ask. Go with the wind.

Get sporty

Have you been swimming lately? If yes, then you are safe in Holland. It is mandatory for everyone to know swimming. The government ensures that the children learn swimming from a very young age. 

Adopt a sport as a way of life as Dutch follow a lot of sports either they are in soccer, karate, swimming, basketball, skiing, ice skating or any sport you can think of. 

I have seen them making one of it their passion and they stay by it. Probably that is the key to their energetic and well-shaped bodies.

The Dutch women

Ladies, if you want to look like the Dutch women or be more Dutchie then let me pass on some tips. Amidst so many expats in NL, it would be tough to figure out for newcomers as who actually are Dutch and who are expats. But once you have lived here sufficient you can easily spot the difference. 

The Dutch women are generally pretty but aggressive. Most of them are tall, blond, good-looking and ‘well-built’.  They hardly wear any makeup or jewelry and look so tough and strong pedaling their way to offices or colleges. 

Referred as the ‘polder’ women with no high heels, but cumbersome flat boots, even in combination with a dress or skirt, they have an aura all of their own. 

Being from India, I believe in wearing a lot of jewelry and quite fancy outfits, but being here for 10 years now, I’ve imbibed a lot from them.

Old habits die hard though; I love to live in the Netherlands but want to preserve my femininity. These Dutch women don’t really care to look too feminine, but I can’t do without it. Well, it is up to you how much you want to imbibe.

These Dutch are such a free spirit; they will never mind your personal preferences and are pretty non-bothering. They are quite far from interfering in others’ life and prefer it the same from others.

The only trait which may come across as harsh can be the typical Dutch rudeness and direct behavior of which I have talked a couple of times in my blogs. 

So, if you see such traits in beautiful women next door or on the roads…just guess-it’s the Dutch dame.

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