Leiden Expat Center


Social behavior and manners

The Dutch are a very open-minded people and they will not be easily offended if you do not behave according to the typically Dutch conventions. Don't be afraid to make mistakes, the Dutch people will understand as you are a foreigner. To help you understand the Dutch a little better, we will give you some examples of typically Dutch (cultural) behaviour.

  • In the Netherlands, when someone is introduced to you, he/she will shake hands with you and state his/her name. Upon leaving, you shake hands again and thank the person in question for the visit /meeting. 
  • Dutch people are quick to start calling people by their first name. When you meet someone in the Netherlands, you generally call them sir or madam, but soon enough people will ask you to just call them by their first name.
  • The Dutch do not use titles when they talk to people. In writing, you can state a title, but this is only done in official letters.
  • You might find the custom of social kissing a bit over the top, the Dutch, however, do it frequently. Mind you, it is only done amongst people who know each other rather well! People kiss each other on the cheeks two or three times, every time they meet. This is not compulsory. If you do not want to be kissed, just extend your hand for a handshake.
  • Enjoying lunch or dinner with a (male or female) friend will often end in going Dutch (splitting the bill). When you go out for a meal, the bill is generally picked up by the person who has invited the other.
  • A waiter or waitress is beckoned by raising a hand, making eye contact, and calling ober (waiter) or mevrouw (waitress) without raising one's voice! When you have finished eating, place your knife and fork side by side at the 15.15 hrs position on your plate.
  • On the beach and on the terraces along it, the Dutch are often clothed as sparsely as possible. Do not be offended by this, to the Dutch this kind of beach attire is quite normal.
  • Saunas/gyms and swimming pools are often visited by families and are therefore always mixed. Some saunas do offer special men-only or women-only evenings.
  • In the Netherlands, tipping conventions are basically the same as in any other country. Just keep in mind that everyone in the Netherlands receives at least a basic minimum salary. In a hotel, it is common usage to tip about 1 or 2 Euros (porter, room service, cleaning lady) every time a service is delivered. In restaurants and cafés, it is customary to tip 5% to 10% of the total bill, provided the service was good. Leaving some small change on a restaurant table is a common way of giving a tip to the serving staff. Most Dutch restaurants and cafés collect all the tips which are received during the evening and split the amount among all the staff who are working that evening (also kitchen/ cleaning staff). If you are not satisfied with the service given, do not give a tip at all. Tips are generally not expected in bars, but are not uncommon. Taxi drivers generally receive a 3% to 5% tip.
  • When you make a phone call, always state your name (and if necessary your company name). Even when you call a taxi, order a pizza, or ask for information, it is polite to mention your name. When someone calls you, do the same: pick up the phone and mention your name (and company name).
  • Especially for internationals, it is an advantage to have friendly neighbours who can help you with questions or practical things. You could introduce yourself to your neighbours by inviting them to your house for coffee or tea, or a glass of wine in the evening.
  • In the Netherlands, food plays a smaller role in hospitality than in many other countries. It is not considered imperative for making someone feel welcome. If you are invited to a dinner party at someone’s house, it is considered appropriate to bring a small gift for the host/hostess. This could be a bottle of wine, some flowers, chocolates, or gift from your country of origin.
  • The Dutch love to celebrate their birthdays in a grand style. They invite all kinds of people to their birthday parties; family and friends, neighbours, relations and relatives and sometimes colleagues. Are you invited? Try to figure out what the intention is. Are you expected to dress up, what would the birthday boy/girl like for a present, can you join a group of people and buy a collective gift?
  • In the Netherlands it is customary to congratulate both the birthday boy/girl and his or her family and other relatives.
  • In common business contact, meetings or negotiations will be quick and efficient. The Dutch place great importance on planning and the efficient use of time. This means that you must to be on time. Do not stay longer than necessary. If you are delayed, ring ahead. Do not cancel your appointment on short notice and do not arrive uninvited or unexpected.

Useful tips

  • The Dutch generally avoid superlatives. Compliments are offered sparingly, and to say that something is ‘not bad’ is to praise it.
  • The Dutch speak directly and use ample eye contact.
  • The Dutch generally call in advance to make appointments with friends. It is not very common to just drop by.
  • In stores, the prices are round up. For example, if an item is priced € 2,98 you will pay € 3,00.