10 things you should NOT do in the Netherlands

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.

READ MORE | Calvinism in the Netherlands: why are the Dutch so Calvinist in nature?

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.

windmill-near-canal-netherlands-with-miniature-windmills-in-garden
Remember: windmills = Netherlands, wind turbines = Denmark. Image: olgysha/Depositphotos

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).

READ MORE | 7 things that will get you fined while cycling in the Netherlands

woman-on-bike-near-traffic-light-netherlands
Oh and to make it more confusing, people don’t believe in traffic lights. Image: Skitterphoto/Pexels

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.

READ MORE | Zwarte Piet: the full guide to the Netherlands’ most controversial tradition

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.

READ MORE | The Dutch and time: how the Dutch language shows they are planning maniacs

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?”

people-walking-in-the-rain-amsterdam
Come rain, come shine. Image: sashk0/Depositphotos

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.

Snehal https://theinkspectrum.wordpress.com/
Often spotted oscillating between extroversion and introversion, Snehal is a chatterbox, wanderlust-er, dancer, reader and a self-proclaimed writer. Born and bred in India, she moved countries to find herself (still in progress). If you talk about food, fashion or football - you have her attention P.S She has stopped taking queries on her lack of a last name

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29 COMMENTS

  1. Hello,
    I am living in de Netherlands for 2 years now and I don’t agree with you.
    Dutch people are sneaky as heel and of they can use you to their advantage, they wil do so!
    They are totally not organised and when ik comes to handeling business matters (burocracy) they are terrible.
    In Some placet there are no sidewalks só people must walk where the bicycles ride.
    They love money en always ask something in return for a favor (if they kan help you for money, they wil certainly do it)

    • I have no idea where you live or who you socialize with but your comment is full of sh… and i would leave back to your own country as soon as possible if this is how you feel about us, although as Siebe is wondering below i wonder where that’s from.
      Btw the writer was talking about organised agenda’s and in my view he/she is pretty accurate.
      I do agree with you about bureaucracy and a lot of Companies not being organised very well.
      But your money comment and the comment about being sneaky is just rude, a lie and really insulting. It’s expats like you that makes us hate expats and wondering what the h… they are doing here. Go back to your wonderland.

    • Yep, that is the dutch person that I know from the Rotterdam area. They will use you to their advantage. They are just people like everyone else on the planet. No one special. 🙁

    • Amen! 100% agree (living here for 5 years and that’s mostly what I encountered, although there are always wonderful exceptions).

  2. Never ask about the baby’s name before the baby is born! Dutch people keep this as a secret even from their own family. Some will just laugh at your face, while many often feel offended by simply asking if they have chosen a name, let alone asking the name itself. No Dutch person has ever been able to explain me where this strange anti-social tradition comes from…

  3. I didn’t know about the #2, and couldn’t agree more with the other items. You explained to me how I see Dutch people wording it in a way I could not. Btw, I love those things about them (although I don’t love when they get angry because I misused the cycle path) and living in Netherlands has been like living a dream for me.

  4. Hahahahaaa I just sent an email to a company inquiring about a job, and I wrote it as an American writes it (I’m American). A Dutchie friend of mine read a copy of it after I sent it, and he laughed his ass off! So of course I asked why and he answered with….#1. So lesson learned, and at least the person receiving the email rejected me politely. For those curious, in America when job hunting, the cover letter (letter of interest) writing, and resume (CV) making, we feel that if we don’t speak up for ourselves and our talents and accomplishments, no one will! So we brag though we truthfully brag about our skills. Woe and sadness to he or she who tells lies on his or her cover letter or CV. Doing so can get you sacked, arrested, or at the very least, you’ll lose face.

    • *arrested if you lie about something really serious such as saying you’re a Medical Doctor and you aren’t, you’ve falsified documents to make it appear you have a license to treat people with health problems and give them medicine, is BIG TIME illegal. Thus you’ll be arrested of course!

    • Well to be honest, it can become quite confusing if the company you work for has an American and a Dutch office. The Dutch are expected to be humble and team players. Meanwhile the Americans may boast about their accomplishments (we understand that this is their culture and we take it with a grain of salt). But I noticed that they often give them more weight, especially as soon as they move on, sometimes also taking credit for other peoples accomplishments. I recently noticed that one of my ex team mates, a rather sloppy guy from Boston that took a lot of short cuts and that I coached in a lot of matters a few years ago, spoke of managing his Dutch colleagues in his linkedin profile and of leading a project that was mine, taking credit for the 100 k extra retention revenue I brought in… It was rather the other way around and I was of course not amused.

  5. This is a fantastic article. Kudos to the author.

    I can personally relate to many of the things written here from when I visited Netherlands. I do vividly remember being told not to walk in the bike lanes if I didn’t enjoy being cursed at. 😂

    Brings back such good memories from my trip. Highly recommend everyone traveling or moving to Netherlands to read this 💯

  6. You are not special (no, it doesn’t matter if your mom told you so)

    No. Wrong. The Dutch are pretty horrible about how much they think they are special and will complain about it more than they complain about the winter.

    Most entitled people on earth who think that they are all kings and queens. I guess it is an Amsterdam real estate type of thing, shitty hair, red jeans, suit jacket and no tie and thinking that they own the universe?

    15 years and I loath to go back when I have to see my non-Dutch friends. Also seriously, people learn how to cook properly, you have the most expensive and terrible restaurants in Europe.

  7. I have a few friends who are Dutch from different parts of NL. They seem to be typical crazy or normal as anyone else in the world or usa. The problem is the language barrier and understanding the meaning of words. Many times I have to write, “lost in translation” and then laugh. And they or I try another explanation which usually does the trick. People are people all over the world. 🙂

  8. My first visit to NL, I rudely showed up unannounced at relatives doors. They were polite enough but often did not invite me in. With my American ways, I simply didn’t know better. My few words of Dutch made calling ahead impossible anyway. These were Cousins, Aunts, Uncles, etc., I didn’t know existed before arriving in NL. While they knew who my parents were, they didn’t know I existed before I showed up on their doorstep. Not knowing a soul, a total stranger speaking little Dutch, perhaps there was no good way to present myself. Had I known better, I would have tried hard to be more polite. I’m sure they blamed my lack of manners on being a typical American. Considering my lack of decorum, I was treated kindly and some relatives demonstrated outstanding hospitality becoming the extended family I lacked in the USA.

  9. One of the things I admire about my Dutch relatives and friends is how they drop in unannounced all the time. When I asked one aunt when we could arrange a visit, she jokingly rolled her eyes and exclaimed, “Americans! You stop by whenever you have time. If I am home, we will have coffee. If not, you’ll come back another time.” Friends and relatives stop by our little summer caravan at random and I love it.

  10. Dont forget the three greeting kisses. They are always happy to see each other even if you bring a goodfriend they dont personally know. Everybody gets three kisses on the cheeks. Left, right, left….

  11. I have married into a Dutch family and your posts always resonate with me (and my kids). I would add to this topic that being wasteful is a definite no-no! Especially if it is food… My very devout mother-in-law would consider it sinful to be wasteful! My husband’s parents both lived through the war, and they would often remind their grandchildren of how blessed they were to have the food on the table.

  12. About number 5, I just want to point out that in many places, where there is no side walk, but there is a bike lane, you can walk there, no bike will hit you or look angry or be mean…(well, at least in the two provinces where I lived, Brabant and Utrecht) and this is allowed by law. But generally inside a city centre, yeah, don’t walk on a bike lane, that is not a smart idea.

  13. I feel like this article needs to specify that it is about white dutch people…and I wish there was a little more outright condemnation for literal black face.

  14. Seems like a very superficial article. Dutch can be as materialistic as the rest of the world. They may not be ostentatious but that does not mean they are humble. I’ve dealt with apparently rich Dutch clients regularly and there is no ‘equality’. And the public transport in NL may be organised but many work atmospheres are quite disorganised. And none of my Dutch friends seem to
    mind if I don’t know the finer differences between European countries, so at least in that regard they are quite humble. I am saying this with regards to the point about confusing them with Danes.

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