Dutch Culture: 6 Essential Points

If you know anything about Dutch culture, make sure it is the following. It will help you to better understand Dutch social behaviour. The Dutch are:

1. Calvinist in nature

The people are a bit laid back, about their business, and to themselves. They are nice and cheerful once the conversation begins.
-Tre' Shawn L. Griffin

Although the Dutch are a nation with an atheist or non-church-attending majority, Calvinism has left a huge mark on their culture. Calvinism is a major branch of Protestantism that follows the theological teachings of John Calvin and became popular in The Netherlands in the 16th century. This has led to the Dutch often being described as: reserved, conscientious, rule-driven, thrifty, efficient, sober and modest. 

2. Direct and open

Dutch people are quite direct in their contact with others and use ample eye contact. In fact, they are direct to the point of seeming rude or unsociable, although it is rarely intended that way. The Dutch are okay with verbal conflict and they don’t fear that confrontation may damage a relationship. They prefer to discuss conflicts of view openly at an early stage, which they regard as constructive and necessary to avoid problems in the near or distant future. They tend to put their whole message into words and will assume you to do the same. Don’t expect a Dutch person to read between the lines! 

3. Time-conscious and punctual

The Dutch are very time-conscious and organized, so scheduling is important to them, as is being punctual. Whether it concerns a business meeting or a casual appointment, being late is not appreciated, especially without informing. Public transport is expected to be punctual and delays tend to cause annoyance and lead to complaints. The Dutch generally call in advance to make an appointment with friends. It is not very common to just drop by. Even going out for lunch or to see a film with a Dutch friend may need planning several days or even weeks ahead. 

4. Equal

In the Netherlands, people tend to regard others as equals. People do take an interest in jobs and status, however these are not significant subjects in informal settings. Although Dutch organisations do have a hierarchical structure, this hierarchy tends to be more flat and an employee can for example argue with or question a manager. 

5. Democratic

In line with the inclination towards social equality, Dutch decision-making aims for consensus. During a decision-making process the views of everyone concerned are heard. Often a compromise is reached that is agreeable to all parties. Having many meetings during office hours is a much used method for exchanging views in the run-up to a decision. This process can take a great deal of time before a decision is made. Once made, decisions are quickly implemented and will be regarded as final.

6. Modest

‘Doe normaal’ (‘Just act normal’) is a frequently used statement. Flamboyant behaviour is generally not appreciated and one should not attract too much attention displaying emotions in public. Also, the Dutch generally avoid superlatives and are not very open to flattery. Compliments are offered sparingly and to say that something is ‘not bad’ is to praise it. The Dutch typically play down wealth, and frown upon ostentatious displays of wealth or bragging about income, possessions and accomplishments.