Dutch Quirk #83: Tell everyone ‘doe normaal’ when they’re not normal themselves

HomeUltimate List of Dutch QuirksDutch Quirk #83: Tell everyone 'doe normaal' when they’re not normal themselves

Have you ever been in the centre of Amsterdam, wondering just why so many Dutch people seem to have some kind of social uniform and are all wearing the same thing?

Or, have you ever felt like you’re being stared at every time you walk into the train carriage, kind of like when you arrive late to class, and everyone in the room turns to look at you walking through the door?

Well, this Dutch quirk is known as doe normaal.

What is it?

Doe normaal translates to ‘act normal’ or ‘be normal’. Now, we have to remember this is the Netherlands, and the Dutch definition of normality is wildly different to the normal you might expect coming from a different country.

For many expats and internationals, the phrase doe normaal comes with a heavier meaning. In order to be considered a normal part of Dutch society, you must be understated.

If taking on the attitude of doe normaal like the Dutch do, you must find a way to fit in — to be ‘normal’, you should be somewhere between achieved and average, and not make too much of a statement.

The phrase starts to take practical effect when it comes to the clothing you wear, for example, as the Dutch seem to have a bit of a uniform.

Why do they do it?

Why do the Dutch hail this cultural attitude so much, you ask?

Part of it could be due to the fact that the Dutch have a lack of hierarchy within their society. Therefore, to doe normaal, is to socially ‘fit in’ to that lack of hierarchy in work and social spaces.

READ MORE | 5 things that will shock you when you arrive in the Netherlands

You might notice a result of this equality to mean that Dutchies talk back to professors without thought, or that your boss might come along to after-work drinks. After all, you’re all the same, aren’t you?

This Dutch attitude all comes down to Calvinism. Things such as opened curtains and not attracting too much attention to oneself is all about modesty, and the Calvinist belief in living simply.

Though, doe normaal can become a bit damaging, as it refers to acting ‘normal’ or ‘not crazy’, which can also mean acting ‘Dutch’. And how do you act Dutch, and normal, if you’re an international?

Why is it quirky? 

Because it’s not something, most internationals and expats are familiar with!

If you take most Western and even Eastern countries, individuality is hailed. Of course, there are issues within these cultures, and damaging social norms, but there’s lots of emphasis on ‘acting yourself’.

So, if you act yourself, and you’re different to everyone else, there’s no huge definition of normal, and everyone can dress and act how they want — their very own way of being ‘normal’! 🥳

Should you join in? 

Well, if you want to really integrate into Dutch society, you do have to take on this attitude to some extent.

It might also help you understand other Dutch quirks, such as their obsession with King’s Day or hagelslag.

But, if you do join in, perhaps take an international twist. We can all act normal in our own ways without chastising each other for attracting too much attention by being outspoken or expressive.

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

Feature Image:Depositphotos
Heather Slevin
Heather Slevin
Heather is a Dublin native, addicted to catching the Luas, the Irish version of a tram, for one stop, and well used to the constant rain and shine. Seeking to swap one concrete city for another (with a few more canals and a friendlier attitude to cyclists) here she is with the Dutch Review! As a Creative Writing student, she can usually be found sweating over the complicated formatting of her latest poem or deep inside the pages of a book, and loves writing, writing, writing.


  1. Although I absolutely agree with you that we want to bring down everybody to the same size, act normal, the phrase Doe normaal is what you say to a person who is acting out of order, aggressively.
    It’s a bit like : Moet Kunnen, (don’t see why not} which means that you don’t approve of what’s happening here, but you just don’t want to get into trouble


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