I have lived in a variety of places in my life. When I decided to move to Drenthe, I kept hearing comments from my friends and Dutch expats about all the unspoken rules in the Netherlands.
There are rules for the usual things like traffic and taxes. There are also rules for riding your bike, which of course make total sense given the absurd amount of bikes in this country. I even have a feeling that if I dig deep enough there are probably rules for the rules if you know what I mean…
What no one seemed able to explain was that there are a number of unspoken rules that everyone seems to understand and follow. These rules are more directly related to the social aspect of living here in the Netherlands, and they seem to be ingrained into the people suggesting that they have been taught from a young age. This also tells me that these rules have been around for many, many years.
Now, most people who live in a law-abiding society tend to not like the rules they have to follow but breaking them doesn’t necessarily cause anyone much anguish (unless it’s the really bad things like breaking the no-killing-people rule, most people don’t like it when that’s broken). But these Dutch social rules are widely accepted and implemented, and the Dutchies really don’t appreciate it when you don’t follow them.
So here is my list of five unspoken rules in the Netherlands, so in the event that you move to this wonderful country, you can blend in seamlessly and without committing any social faux pas!
1No one interrupts dinner!
Simple enough. The Dutch do not, under any circumstance, stop by, call, email, throw rocks, or even send pigeons to anyone’s home during the time of 6 pm and 7 pm. You see, the Dutch take family dinner time very seriously, and almost always spend the time together around the table. You won’t find any TV trays here!
2When answering your phone, you must always announce to the caller who you are.
For example, I call my sister. She picks up her cell and says “hello, this is Chris” or in Dutch you would say “hoi, met Chris”. Now I know it’s her: I mean I just dialed her number, right? But for some unknown reason, the Dutch have kept this formal way of phone etiquette. It also works the other way: when you are calling someone, you will announce who you are when they pick up. As much as I was against it in the beginning as I thought it was just plain silly, I find myself doing it more often than not.
3Always wave goodbye to your guests…
This one is simple enough. Once your guests are leaving, you should go to the door or depending on the weather, you can go outside. You must then wave continually until they are out of your line of sight. To go back inside before they are gone is… rude. So follow the rules: wave and wait, until the car or bike is out of sight!
4The Dutch are very direct people
The Dutch tend to come across as blunt but they are not trying to be rude, they just don’t beat around the bush. They get straight to the point. In that context, they also like to make eye contact. They look directly at you and engage when they are in conversation. This leads to a sort of odd sub-rule: removing your sunglasses when you speak with someone. They don’t like it when you have your eyes covered as it comes across as rude. So next time you are chatting with someone, raise your shades and make eye contact!
5When in doubt, send a card
It seems like the Dutch are single-handedly keeping the card industry afloat. They send cards for every occasion, although they are normally not very personal. Usually, a name signed on the inside is all you get. I guess they let the cards speak for themselves. So whether your new friend just had a baby, is recovering from an illness, or perhaps they just moved into their significant other’s house, always send a card. It’s just another one of those unspoken rules!
There are many more of these social rules, and as someone who has moved around a bit, I find knowing these rules will help to not offend your new friends or colleagues. A fun read is this Wikipedia article which details many other social rules that you should be aware of!
Are there any unspoken rules we missed out here? Let us know in the comments below!
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in February 2019 but was updated for your reading pleasure in September 2020.
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