Newcomers to Amsterdam may have noticed that the Dutch are, above all, pragmatic people. They live life unburdened by the usual rituals that bog down other cultures. For example you can trust a Dutchie to tell it like it really is – and always stand firm on a matter. You might not notice this straightaway; indeed it may even take a few years. To give you a head start, we’ve compiled ten favourite Dutch habits, traits and well-practiced foibles.
1. Cheek to cheek
How do you make and keep Dutch friends? It’s all in the body language. New acquaintances should be greeted with a handshake. As for longer-term friends, a 3-point kiss – that’s cheek-to-cheek-to-cheek, is commonplace. When leaving a Dutch home, always part with a dag (day), or shout a more informal doei (bye). Hug/cuddle at your own peril.
2. Living by the diary
As an international resident, you will be invited to all kinds of things. The Dutch refer to these things as ‘appointments’ for which they keep strict agendas… and lots of them. Most Dutch agendas are booked up weeks in advance, cross-referenced and committed to memory as back-up. This might strike spontaneous people as odd, but it keeps Dutch society ticking. Oh, and Dutch people are never late for an appointment – so they’ll expect you to take the same care with your own timekeeping.
3. On your bike!
Bikes (fietsen) are an inescapable part of Dutch culture. Without one, the path is just a long and lonely stretch of concrete. Buy a bike (fiets) and ‘Dutchify’ it straight away. A typical cycle comes with locks (at least 2), saddle bags for shopping, two bells to warn traffic, baby seats mounted at both ends and/or a bakfiets (sturdy wooden compartment for travel of pianos, dogs and children). And, don’t forget the plastic flowers. Find out more about cycling in Amsterdam.
4. Cut to the chase
The Dutch have earned themselves a reputation for being incurably outspoken. Speech is almost always straightforward and context-driven. This naked style of conversation has its positive sides in that you can ask a Dutch person anything, and sure enough you’ll get the answer.
5. Local tastes
Any international resident, or expat, remembers their first time. It is the first business lunch with Dutch clients or colleagues. Broodjes or bread rolls are a lunchtime staple, gorged two at a time with sliced cheese, or if feeling really decadent, with a thin sheet of ham – and invariably washed down with milk. Then there’s the national love affair of fried food, which is enjoyed frequently and without guilt. Chips (patat or friet) often come with mayo or applesauce (applemoes) while deep-fried krokets (mash-up of non-descript meat products) ensure that cholesterol levels are just so.
6. An eye for a bargain
No-one loves a bargain quite like the Dutch. That’s why window shopping takes many forms: if you want to keep it real, look for damaged goods and labels promising sale (uitverkoop); special offer (aanbieding or aktie); offer (reclame); and the most exciting of all, everything must go (alles moet weg). If you say gratis (free), you’ve just made a Dutchie very very happy.
7. Top up your trivia
The Dutch hold knowledge in high regard, and many love nothing more than a long evening of heated political discussion. They also have an uncanny ability to call upon seemingly trivial trivia at the drop of a hat. How to gain the advantage here? It’s simple: either keep up-to-date with the workings of the world, or, bring along some obscure facts of your own.
8. Happy birthday to me
Birthdays in the office are special because co-workers will remind you (cheers agenda!) to bring in your own cake (taart) or snacks. Dutch birthday parties at someone’s home are also a unique experience. One look at the circle of chairs may make you think you’ve walked into a group therapy session but this is perfectly normal. Take your seat and join in. If it’s your birthday, you will be congratulated several times. And, if it is NOT your birthday, you will be congratulated for the birthday anyway.
9. Greet like a local
There are a few essential greetings that are handy to know – and it’s the stuff they don’t teach you in any integration class. When you walk into a shop, it’s customary to greet the shop person with a simple ‘hello’ or ‘good day’ (goedemiddag). Same goes when you walk into a waiting room full of people, say at the dentists or doctors office. And finally the same applies when you get into an elevator, and then to wish ‘have a nice day’ (fijne dag nog) or’ goodbye’ (dag), when you or another exits the elevator.
10. Dutch modesty
If the Dutch do indeed draw attention to themselves through bold fashion statements of colours and prints, it is entirely unintentional. The Dutch are modest people. Another trait owing its roots to Calvin, the Dutch typically downplay wealth, and frown upon those who flaunt their success.