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Business Etiquette in the Netherlands – What you need to know

Business etiquette in the Netherlands – What you need to know

The Dutch are famously laid back. Nevertheless, if you want to do business in the Netherlands, you should familiarize yourself with the niceties beforehand. We have put together a few important points that will keep you from putting your foot in it.

Holland is only a part of the Netherlands

English-speaking people often use the term Holland to refer to the whole of the Netherlands. However, Holland is the name for just one part of the country; the western part, which is divided into the provinces of northern Holland and southern Holland. You should play it safe and use the Netherlands when referring to the whole of the country.

The informal form of address is offered to soon

Hierarchies in the Netherlands are very flat which is why the switch to the informal form of address is often quick. Speakers of Dutch, or other languages in which this distinction is made, will be offered the informal form of the word for you. As soon as that happens, you may respond in the same way. However, that does not mean that you are now besties, it is just that the Dutch do not stand on ceremony to the same extent as other nationalities.

It doesn’t do to brag

The Dutch are generally modest about their material wealth. They are unimpressed when others brag about their possessions. Try to avoid festooning yourself in large quantities of expensive bling and talking constantly about your massive car. Go for understatement instead or accessories that may well be expensive but not in your face.

A biscuit means one biscuit

The afternoon coffee or tea break is called “theetijd” in the Netherlands and is accompanied by a “koekje” (cookie). Hint: When you are offered a cookie, they really mean a, as in one, cookie. It is not accepted practice to hoover up all the biscuits in the tin. Limit yourself to one at first and watch what your Dutch colleagues do. If they help themselves to another biscuit, then you can safely do the same. But, by sticking to one biscuit, who know you won’t have broken any unwritten rules.

Don’t turn up unannounced

Invitations home are not frequently forthcoming. Turning up unannounced on someone’s doorstep is also not looked on favourably. This should be avoided at all costs. If your business contact does invite you to his home, you should always bring your host a small gift.

Choose topics of conversation wisely

Dutch people are easy to talk to because they like to have fun. When choosing a topic of conversation, don’t immediately dive into their personal life. This is not a subject that is usually talked about with people they don’t know well. Sensitive subjects to avoid include football and the Second World War. The Dutch are very proud of their royal family, so you should avoid making any critical comments. Praise the things you like about the country and its people. As the Dutch sometimes have an inferiority complex in comparison with neighbouring countries, they will appreciate the sentiment. 

If in doubt, use English in business situations

Because the Netherlands are small in comparison to their German neighbor, it is often assumed that they will speak German rather than English. Don’t take this for granted but use English for business discussions.

No need to dress to impress

You don’t need to worry about wearing a suit and tie. In the Netherlands, the dress code is more relaxed than in other countries. Even short-sleeved shirts are perfectly acceptable. However: Do not let the less formal attire fool you, even someone wearing a short-sleeved shirt can be a formidable negotiator.

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