When moving to the Netherlands there is a stack of things you should most definitely do — like eat a stroopwafel, see a windmill, or ride a bike. However, there are also quite a few things on the ‘no way’ list.
The good thing is that the Dutch are quite direct, which makes it easy to know when you’ve misstepped — no need to think of ulterior motives or extrapolate detailed scenarios in your head; If they say it, they mean it and if they mean it, they say it.
But there are certain things which tick these tall people off and should be avoided at all costs…unless you want a piece of Dutch boosheid (anger).
1. Do not flaunt (period)
The Dutch are simple and modest people. Exorbitant displays of anything from wealth and status to business and education are frowned upon. That also links to their emphasis on conformity rather than standing out (and slightly explains why most houses look the same).
Don’t get me wrong, they are happy that you accomplished whatever you did or made loads of money but they just don’t understand the need to brag about it. ‘Work hard but stay humble’ seems to be the Dutch mantra.
2. Do not confuse the Dutch with the Danes (or the Germans)
The Dutch and Germans (Deutsche) are confused with each other a lot. What is not so popular (but happens fairly often nonetheless) is the mix-up between Dutch and Danes. The Dutch come from the Kingdom of the Netherlands and speak a language called Dutch. The Danes come from the Kingdom of Denmark and speak a language called Danish.
On some levels, the confusion is understandable. After all, both the Dutch and the Danes come from tiny countries of tall-blonde people with seafaring histories. Dutch are known for their windmills, Danes for their wind turbines. Both countries are also known for their love of cycling, eating potato-based dishes, and cheering for their monarchs on TV. However, this does not give you a reason to muddle up nationalities — especially if you want to be friends with the Dutch.
3. You are not special (no, it doesn’t matter if your mom told you so)
Don’t expect any superior treatment just because of who you are. The Netherlands is an egalitarian society where respect and status are earned and not demanded. Every person is equal and should be treated accordingly. Ultimately, they don’t care if you are the Prime Minister of X, if you’re a jerk, then you’ll be treated like one. 🤷♂️ Vice versa is also true. If you’re a good person, they’ll surely let you know!
4. Thou shall not steal bikes (…amen)
Everyone knows the Dutch and their love for cycling. Every love story has a villain and so does this one — bike thieves. This bitter truth has its roots in the final stages of WWII when the Germans stole Dutch bikes. It was the end of the war and Germans were retreating at full speed, using everything to get out of the Netherlands. They took the motorised vehicles first — trucks, cars, motorcycles, and tractors.
When there were no more, they stole every bicycle in the Netherlands and rode them back to Germany. The Dutch haven’t forgotten. Whenever Dutch football teams play German teams, Dutch fans mock Germans with big-bold signs that say ‘Bring Back Our Bikes’. So, unless you want to be cursed 75 years on, you probably don’t want to steal a bike. (Also, it’s illegal.)
5. Sidewalks are to walk, bike lanes are to bike (duh)
Sounds simple enough, right? But it’s not. These red coloured lanes are red for a reason, to separate them from the grey lanes (aka roads) and the brown/green lanes (aka pavements).
It seems that this distinction is not too apparent to internationals. More often than not, someone unknowingly wanders into the bicycle and is met with an irritated Dutch cyclist (we’re guilty as well).
Don’t expect the cyclist to move, remember you’re in their way and not the other way around. Trust me, you don’t want to be caught in such a situation. Especially if you care about your safety (some of the cyclists go extremely fast).
6. Don’t start discussions on Zwarte Piet (unless you want a long and emotional debate)
Traditionally, every year on the evening of December 5, Sinterklaas and his helper Zwarte Piet (Black Piet) visit Dutch children’s homes to bring them presents. To celebrate this festival, hundreds of adults and children impersonate Zwarte Piet by blackening their faces, putting on black curly wigs, painting large red lips, and finishing up with large golden earrings.
Some sections of the Dutch society believe this to be highly racist, given the country’s colonial past, while others consider it as a harmless but important tradition. In some Dutch cities, the blackface element of Sint and Piet has been banned, and Facebook has moved to ban images of blackface recently as well. This is a complex and emotionally charged debate that should definitely be discussed — but if you’re short on time, we’d steer clear.
7. Don’t mess with their agendas (agenda starts with an ‘a’ for a reason)
Being the organised bunch that they are, the Dutch have ‘appointments’ for everything, ranging from office meetings to movie nights with friends. Being the efficient bunch that they are, they strictly stick to their agendas. Religiously. Agendas are synced and cross-referenced between partners and families so that every person is aware of others’ schedules.
I once made the mistake of asking a colleague if he wanted to go for drinks. The error wasn’t in the invite, it was in the suddenness of the request. He agreed to let me know once a slot opened up in his calendar. I’m still waiting…
READ MORE | The Dutch agenda: plans to take over the world
8. Do not arrive unannounced (surprise!…or not)
Spontaneity and the Dutch don’t go hand-in-hand. They plan days, weeks, months ahead. Accordingly, there is little space for impulsiveness. Want to go meet your Dutch friend? Make sure to give a heads up by calling and asking if you can visit (thereby giving the other person the chance to politely inform you that it will not be convenient).
Dutchies will always count on you to make an appointment, no matter how insignificant or small the visit is. Don’t get them wrong, they do love surprises. As long as it doesn’t hinder their daily, weekly, and monthly agendas.
9. Don’t be late (time, tide and a Dutchie wait for none)
If there is one thing that annoys the Dutch, it’s waiting. This is intricately linked to the above point as the fact that they treat their agendas as holy, naturally implies that they value time highly. If you’ve agreed to a meeting or gathering at 9:00 AM then that means 9:00 AM. Nothing more, nothing less (although, if you’re early, you get brownie points).
You’re going to be late? Best to let them know. Don’t be too surprised if you get some stern words on your tardiness (Dutch directness, remember?). Punctuality is not something you strive for, it’s a way of life.
10. Don’t cite rain as an excuse (rain, rain go away…except it won’t)
With an average precipitation rate of 100 minutes per day, the Netherlands can be a pretty wet country to live in. The Dutch agree. Ever feel left out? Start a conversation on the weather and in no time, you’ll be surrounded by Dutchies!
However, this also means you can’t use rain as an excuse or deterrent for anything. Have an appointment with a Dutchie and you’re late? Nope, the weather doesn’t count. My Dutch colleagues once asked me to come out for a walk with them. “It’s raining” I pointed out. I was awarded a genuinely innocent and puzzled, “So what?”
Do you know any other must-nots in the Netherlands? Tell us know in the comments below!
Feature Image: Chika_milan/Depositphotos
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in August 2020, and was fully updated in October 2021 for your reading pleasure.