The Dutch hate debt, credit cards, and anything associated with them — and they’re not shy about it.
One of my first stops in the Netherlands was at the grocery store. I went to Albert Heijn, one of the biggest Dutch supermarket chains. After spending a good 20 minutes looking around, I picked a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon for €7.99 — based on the €8.50 in change I had jangling around my pocket.
But when I went to the register and tried to pay, the cashier said: “geen contant“. I had no idea what that meant, so they pointed at a sign that said “No Cash Accepted”.
Flustered, I just left. I was puzzled. Why was it so difficult for me to pay? Don’t you want my hard-earned money, Albert Heijn?
Next round on you? Nope, not here
I would soon learn that the attitude towards finance is quite different compared to elsewhere in the world. The concept of going Dutch, after all, is the opposite of the Australian tradition of ‘shouting your mates’ (buying a round of drinks).
The Dutch habit of splitting the bill stems from the Netherlands’ extremely debt-averse culture.
But the Dutch weren’t always so socialist, in fact, quite the contrary. It’s well documented that the Dutch were the innovators of the stock market and the VOC, a multinational corporation in the 17th century.
It also wouldn’t be an understatement to say that capitalism developed in large part thanks to the activities that were going on in the Netherlands during that time.
READ MORE | Dutch Quirk #18: refuse to go into debt
It’s a surprise, then, that what has emerged here is a semi-socialist system, which contrasts the consumer mindsets that we see in places like the USA.
Sorry, no credit cards
Besides resulting in the habit of spending 20 minutes to sort out your individual tabs in a restaurant, this has also caused the lack of credit card services generally.
Coming from Australia, where debt and credit cards are more commonplace, not being able to pay with cash or credit somehow offended my free-market sensibilities.
And this isn’t just the local Chinese takeaway without credit services to avoid a surcharge. These are major corporates, like the main railway operator NS, and institutions like the Dutch Immigration Service — all refusing to accept credit cards.
There are some exceptions: some Albert Heijn’s in Amsterdam will take credit cards, for example, but in general, it’s a maestro card, debit card (if you’re lucky), occasionally cash, or doei. 👋
A higher standard of living
The flip side is that, generally, everyone here enjoys a higher standard of living. This is made possible through social policies some other countries might consider extreme — the highest income earners are taxed at a staggering 52%.
The idea is that everyone has roughly the same amount to spend at the supermarket on some kaas en brood (cheese and bread).
Simply not being able to use a credit card, along with the idea that debt is bad, also forces people to live within their means and to take part in an age-old practice called ‘budgeting’.
But what about cash? Well, the Dutch are moving towards a more cashless future.
The idea is that an electronic point of sale is safer for the vendor and the consumer. It can avoid midnight robberies or hold-ups, and offer a more efficient form of exchange with instant digital transactions.
So, where does that leave us on our question: “Why don’t you want my money?”
Well, in other countries, the supermarket will say something along the lines of: “Yes! I want your money, and I’ll make it as easy as possible for you to pay, too.”
The banks will also jump in and say: “Wait a sec, here’s a credit card as well, so you can pay for your groceries if you don’t have enough money.”
But in the Netherlands, Albert Heijn is saying: “Nope: cash, debit card, or nothing.”
What has been your experience with debit and credit cards in the Netherlands? Tell us in the comments below!
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in August 2016, but was fully updated in September 2023 for your reading pleasure.