Dutch Quirk #77: Switch to English even if you speak Dutch

It's a struggle.

HomeUltimate List of Dutch QuirksDutch Quirk #77: Switch to English even if you speak Dutch

Most internationals in the Netherlands have gone through this experience. You’ve been practising your Dutch and gathering the courage to use it in a public setting.

You walk up to a stranger and finally use the sentences you’ve been practising over and over. The other person takes one look at you and…immediately switches to English. πŸ™ƒ

What is it?

Dutch people are notorious for switching to English if they detect that you’re not a native Dutch speaker, even when you’re actually speaking the language with them at that moment.

@geibory Tell me I'm not the only one πŸ˜… 😩#gewoonnederlands #polyglot #netherlands #voorjou #vj #latinasbelike #latinaenholanda #paisesbajos #dutchlanguage #dutch #nl #voorjoupagina ♬ original sound – Rap Connoisseur

An example of a Dutch person switching to English may look something like this:

International: Goedemiddag! Mag ik een cappuccino met havermelk? (Good afternoon! May I have a cappuccino with oat milk?)

Dutch person: Do you want whipped cream with that?

International: πŸ€¦πŸ»β€β™€οΈ

Why do they do it?

The Netherlands boasts the highest non-native proficiency in English in the world, so it makes sense that they feel very comfortable using it.

READ MORE | Do I need to speak Dutch to work in the Netherlands?

However, we still don’t understand why they switch to English when someone is trying their best to practice and speak Dutch. It’s a bit gek (crazy) if you think about it.

Why is it quirky?

In a lot of other countries, people are delighted when one makes an effort to speak their language, and they try to help you out along the way.

You can get by speaking English in the Netherlands, even though you might want to speak Dutch. Image: Freepik

Also, a lot of other countries may not know how to speak English as well so you are forced to learn the language anyway.

However, in the Netherlands, you can get by most of the time with only English and everything is fine.

But it’d still be nice if Dutch people tried to let us attempt to speak their language from time to time. 😭

Should you join in? 

Uh…we think maybe not on this one! If you happen to speak Dutch very well and someone else is speaking to you in that language, stick to that!

@miracle.babyyyy you are english #nederlandsetiktok #dutchtok #learningdutch #steenkolenengels #multiculti #expatsinthenetherlands ♬ original sound – miracle.babyy

Switching to English when someone is making an effort can be really disappointing for someone who’s trying to learn a new language.

READ MORE | The top 16 free ways to learn Dutch

If someone does appear to be struggling, you can always speak Dutch slower or use easier words.

Or if it’s really not working, then you can switch to English. But try to give us a chance, would ya? πŸ₯Ί

What do you think of this Dutch quirk? Have you experienced it? Tell us in the comments below!

Feature Image:Depositphotos
Nicole Ogden πŸ‡ΉπŸ‡­ πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ
Nicole Ogden πŸ‡ΉπŸ‡­ πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ
Hailing from the bustling city of Bangkok, Nicole is a Thai/American international student who came to the Netherlands to study linguistics. When she's not reading books or listening to true crime podcasts, she's practising her singing and guitar skills! She is also attempting to pick up the Dutch language (moeilijk).


  1. I think it has to do with the Dutch feeling of β€œ showing off” more than trying to make the English speaker comfortable ( I am Dutch by birth and lived there till age 34. Since then live in the US). It is not a nice trait. And strangely enough they never did do with my US husband when we were together ( during 2012-2017 we lived back in the Netherlands). So it was not yo make him comfortable, because that would have been, since initially he did not speak Dutch

  2. To make it clear: this is not so much just with foreigners. Generations of people (including mine) grew up with English everywhere from the moment we were born. Trust me, we switch to English between ourselves as well if the topic demands it. You won’t believe the amount of times we either use English expressions, or sentences…
    I am also guilty of switching to English, even when I am trying to make an effort not to. My gf was trying to learn Dutch, and I found it very hard to not switch. So, it’s not an intentional thing to show off (as Karen suggests), it is just so easy to do, that it comes as second nature….

  3. It’s kind of comical if the non-native speaker stays in Dutch after the Dutch person switches to English. Two people are both speaking their non-native language to each other, both refusing to back down.


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