What I like about living in the Netherlands (part 1)


I noticed that many expats who live in the Netherlands for several years don’t really have Dutch friends and barely accept or appreciate the Dutch way of life. It made me think about why I don’t feel the same way and about what I like about this country.

I realized that most of the the things I like here I probably like because I appreciate them in the other cultures I lived in (like the punctuality). I experienced working with Germans, Swiss, Italians, French, British etc. and I noticed that after almost 20 years of working experience in international contexts, there are several things I consider positive (and some not). – In this first part (yes, there is going to be a part 2!) I just would like to mention some aspects I appreciate while living and working in the Netherlands.

1) The Dutch tolerance (I wouldn’t define them liberal, at least not the majority)

The Dutch are tolerant and pragmatic. This is probably due to the history of the Netherlands and the population density. Some say that you better get along with your neighbours because you have no interest in getting in trouble with them – I think this is a general neighbour-problem as in every culture neighbours can be problematic (this is a topic of another post). But I noticed this tolerance also on the workplace

2) Getting straight to the point

When the Dutch discuss a difficult topic, they usually get straight to the point. It’s very different from the Italian, Swiss, German and British way to discuss. The Dutch directness in the communication with foreigners regularly causes misunderstandings. Sometimes they hardly take the time to sit and relax. You may have to get used to it, some may even consider it rude or tactless, but in my experience, meetings are much more effective this way: you don’t loose too much time on talking about weather, personal problems etc..

Related to this directness, I observed that Dutchs don’t like to make things understood through context and dislike to have to read the message through  context. On one informational site about the Netherlands, someone described it like this: “They speak in a friendly tone in rather short, clear, sober sentences lacking any form of politeness or courtesy.” I don’t agree: Dutch distrust very polite conversations because they think that they hide unpleasant messages. Therefore, being very nice, too polite and prolix, awakes the suspicion that one is in need of a special favour and it is considered as a waste of time.

3) Punctuality

This is something that Dutch, German and Swiss people have in common: the punctuality. They often keep track of the exact time and in general, they are punctual. Being late, irritates them very much. In fact, as Germans and Swissgermans, Dutch consider not being on time with being rude or not trustworthy and that they can’t count on you. A person who is late for a job interview will not be hired.

4) Time schedule

This too is something they have in common with Germans and Swiss: the Dutch usually lead very planned lives. Sometime between 9 and 10.30 a.m. they drink coffee. Lunch is around 1 p.m. At approximately 3 p.m. they drink coffee or tea and at 6 p.m. most people eat their hot evening meal. At 8 p.m. they watch the news and have another coffee and at approximately 11 p.m. most Dutch people go to bed. – I know, this seems boring, but it’s good to know that if you’re invited by someone at 8 p.m. you don’t have to expect to be served dinner! Unless this is said explicitely.

When working in another culture we should always take in account the mentality of this culture and never be judgemental. – What are your working experiences in another culture? Do you appreciate the things you already “know”, dislike those which are not familiar?

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14 responses to “What I like about living in the Netherlands (part 1)

  1. Great post! I am also surprised that many people don’t like living here, when the Netherlands are so ful of opportunities. I like: 1) the closeness of the sea, 2) the fact that everything is so close so you don’t have to travel very far to see everything 3) the fact that there is so much to see- history, arts, fashion, you name it!4) the people are very friendly, 5) the quality of life, especially when compared with Poland, 6) the NL are very child-friendly, and people always smile at me, 7) The live-and-let-live attitude,and much more, maybe I’ll come up with a post on my own!

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  2. I moved to Spain a year and a half ago, and the timetable issue is taking some getting used to. Lunch as late as 4, dinner at 10… and people in restaurants with their toddlers and babies at midnight(!) any day of the week. Punctuality (or lack thereof) is not much of an issue where I am, though I’m told it’s very different in the South of Spain.
    Looking forward to part II 🙂

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  3. Somehow there are things we have more trouble with accepting them than others. I wonder how someone who has lived in many very different cultures would cope with these differences. – Thanks for sharing your experience in Spain. I can imagine that it’s quite a different schedule compared to the one I described here. And then there’s the different attitude towards work schedules, how to have meetings etc. too. I had some Spanish collegues and observed some differences.

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  4. Punctuality? The Dutch? Really? Well, maybe in the west. Expat, you’ve obviously never been east of the IJssel. Let me introduce you to the “Twentse kwartier”: For those under 50, it applies to a 15 minute grace period after any appointed time. For those over 50 you will be half-dressed and vacuuming the hallway when your mother-in-law and other relatives in the 50+ category show up to every family party 15 minutes early.

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  5. Dear Misirlou: it all depends on what you’re used to. And yes: they are punctual. Maybe you’ve never been in The Hague, Leiden, Utrecht, Rotterdam area? Surely at meetings they are punctual. I was used to have to wait about 30 minutes at meetings in other countries. And they were professionals! Here, the max I had to wait were the 15 mins, but it was at the University where the c.t. is not considered rude.

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  6. Punctuality was a real bug bear for me when I first came to Brazil. I quickly learned to accept it, though, as there was no way I was going to be able to change the whole of Brazilian culture single-handedly. However, when it comes to my classes I start on time and finish on time. I don’t say anything to them, I just do it. Funnily enough, most of my students appreciate this and very quickly adapt to make sure they arrive at the start of the class.

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  7. Pingback: What I like about living in the Netherlands (part 2) « expatsincebirth

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  10. My take on Dutch Directness is that it’s a version of either Autism, Aspergers, ADD or ADHD, or being a Narciissist, as so many of the symptoms are there… especially for Aspergers. Some signs here.

    http://karinfriedemann.blogspot.com/2009/12/aspergers-syndrome-wives-need.html

    http://speciaal.forges55.be/

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    • Well, I must say that your comment intrigues me. I know people with Autism, Aspergers, ADD and ADHD and I’m very perplex that you use these terms all together. Is your intent to offend them reciprocly? – Could you please be more specific as I don’t want to only “scratch the surface” on such a quite demanding argument?

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      • Do some reading and research on social dysfunctionality of those medical conditions, and the psychology behind it. While rather vague, the people afflicted with any of those dyfunctionalities has something definitely missing in the way their brain works. My belief is only that it has gone on so long in the Netherlands, and not outside the country, that it is catagorized as something “unique” about the Dutch and their behavior patterns and their history. Yet in the Silicon Valley area where computer programmers and engineers run as a high percentage of the population, it is estimated that 10% of the population there, due to the type of work and labor it attracts, are Asberger patients. I throw this out there as someone raised by a dutch expatriot that never, ever fit in to the behavior patterns of Americans in California, always thought my father and myself was normal, and was never diagnosed with Aspergers. Now, being retired and having the time to do research, it’s clear both my father and I, and this thing called “Dutch Directness” all tie in together. Perhaps I am wrong, but that a Dutch doctor has so many patients to work with and study in the NL to further the research, is another sign of how common it is among the Dutch.

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