7 odd Dutch quirks: the stranger side of the Netherlands

"Um, is that normal?" - every international in the Netherlands

I’m proud to be Dutch, I really am. After all, the Netherlands is a country of amazing and wonderful occurrences and phenomena.

Citizens of this nation definitely have good reason to be proud of the country’s accomplishments. However, for all its genius, the Netherlands has many strange quirks.

For many expats who have repatriated to this fascinating little country, the following will probably ring familiar.

For those who haven’t, or for the Dutch who perceive this as normal and wonder how the rest of the world sees us, here are just seven of the odder cultural Dutch quirks.

1. Being on time ⏰

man-gesturing-at-watch-at-late-person
Get used to this expression from your boss — or friends. Image: Freepik

When you schedule a meeting here at 11:00 AM, you’ll find that the meeting will begin at precisely 11:00 AM. Not a minute sooner or later.

And if you’re Dutch, you’re probably sitting there thinking, “Well, of course, the meeting was scheduled for 11:00 AM, so it starts at 11:00 AM.”

But if you’re like me (and barring the meeting is actually a very important one), then there’s probably a small sense of panic rushing through your mind as you’re sitting on the train reading this and suddenly become acutely aware of the fact that you’re going to be five minutes late.

Because the truth is, if you’re not Dutch (or from the handful of other ‘on-time’ places), then you’re probably late for every meeting you attend — even if you don’t realise it.

It’s not as if there isn’t a reason for being on time. It’s efficient and it gets things done, and it’s likely a major reason the Netherlands has had such a disproportionate impact on political and technological developments despite being a relatively tiny country. But it is still weird.

So if you’re Dutch and travelling abroad, try not to be offended when your business partner shows up to a meeting fifteen minutes late without apologizing. And if you’re living in the Netherlands and you’re not Dutch, well, then it might not be a bad idea to invest in a watch.

2. Celebrating birthdays 🎈

people-sitting-in-a-circle=
Welcome to the party! Now join the circle of death. Image: depositedhar/Depositphotos

When I say celebrating birthdays, I don’t mean to imply that the Dutch don’t celebrate birthdays. They do. In fact, when a Dutch person is jarig (meaning that that day is their birthday), you’re expected to congratulate them. That doesn’t seem so weird, does it?

Well, until you realize that you’re also expected to congratulate everyone else remotely related to them if you happen to come into contact with them.

READ MORE | 9 Dutch birthday traditions that’ll confuse the heck out of internationals

Let me paint a picture, you’re invited to your friend’s birthday party. So, you show up (obviously on time at 12:00 PM because by now you know what’s expected).

Lo and behold you’re met by a living room filled with relatives and friends, all seated deftly in a single circle surrounding the coffee table. In each of their hands is a teacup (obviously not filled to the brim because the Dutch also have a tendency to be egregiously conservative when it comes to pouring tea, but that is a different story altogether) and on the table stands the teapot alongside a mountain of newly-gifted bouquets.

Thus as all the heads turn to see you awkwardly strut through the doorway, you’re expected to slowly make your way around the circle to each person individually and congratulate them for the birthday of their mother/father/brother/sister/or however they may be related to the person whose birthday it actually is.

Only after this ritual of round introductions may you then take your own seat and witness the quiet awkward politeness that is the celebration of birth.

3. Toilets 🧻

Yes, toilets are also one of the Dutch quirks. On this subject, I will first quickly get the whole ‘shelf toilet out’ of the way. Depending on your expectations, it may or may not disappoint. I literally cannot count on my two hands how often I have had the conversation about the design of this particular latrine.

Despite their strange looks, they actually make a lot of sense, for several reasons. Firstly, the toilet-goer is provided a glance at their deposit after the deed (especially useful for those who want to know more about their current health afflictions).

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Dutch toilets are a real experience. Image: DutchReview

Furthermore, it severely reduces backsplash (a source of potential hygiene issues and frequently unwanted wetness). Lastly (and most importantly), it allows one last goodbye.

Setting toilet design aside, the Dutch bathroom is a strange phenomenon in and of itself. The way they are shoved into the smallest spaces imaginable is astounding. Despite being amongst the tallest people in the world, the Dutch somehow have an incredible love for tiny bathrooms. If you’ve ever seen a broom closet, then you have an understanding of the size I’m referring to.

Sitting down in a bathroom like this is a skill in and of itself. Especially for those with average or longer-sized legs, be ready to become a contortionist. I’m personally no longer surprised when I find my feet on either side of my head during bathroom visits. It’s quite a daily adventure.

And if you manage to get through all that then you still have to find the flushing mechanism, which comes in all shapes and sizes. From pulling strings to pressing buttons to even stepping on pedals occasionally (yes, really). So half an hour later, when you’ve completed your game of hide and seek, then comes the sink (the size of which is usually so microscopic that you’d think it was only designed for children)

4. Helaas Pindakaas and other Dutch sayings 🙊

Photo-of-woman-talking-to-friend-over-coffee-about-job-hunt
Um, what did you say? Image: Depositphotos

There are no two ways about it, Dutch sayings are weird. Take helaas pindakaas, for instance, which literally translates to “too bad, peanut butter.” In fact, the following few examples really speak for themselves:

  • Van een vlieg een olifant maken / To make an elephant out of a fly
  • Wie boter op zijn hoofd heeft, moet uit de zon blijven / He who has butter on his head must stay out of the sun.
  • Met de deur in huis vallen / To fall with the door into the house.
  • Nu komt de aap uit de mouw / Now the monkey comes out of the sleeve.

5. Money 💰

Now this is a pose you’ll never find a Dutch person in. Image: Unsplash

It is no secret that the Dutch are often considered stingy and exceptionally careful with their money. So much so that the phrase “going Dutch” refers to the practice of splitting a bill so that each exactly pays precisely his or her portion of the whole, not a penny more or less.

Of course, this penny-pinching practice is often less than practical, and as such, the Dutch have also developed an incredible array of tools to ease the process.

From the removal of one and two-cent coins in the economy to the development of highly-efficient internet banking and apps like Tikkie, the Dutch are obsessed with making their frugality practical.

Yet, we must be fair, we Dutch like to call it being economical. And Dutch generosity shouldn’t be overlooked. In fact, the Dutch are also among the most liberal when it comes to charitable donations. So say what you will about the negative or positive aspects about the Dutch and money, but it’s certainly not a common approach.

READ MORE | Tikkie etiquette: the do’s and don’ts of asking for money in the Netherlands

6. Dutch insults 🤬

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Swearing with diseases? Only in Dutch. Image: Freepik

Like many other cultures, the Dutch are not ones to back down from a good argument, and unsurprisingly we can get very creative. Among the more everyday category of insults are illness and disease (because that’s normal apparently). Take some common examples such as wishing someone the kanker (cancer), tyfus (typhoid), or tering (tuberculosis).

But it gets stranger. Among other insults that have met my ears are anusridder (anus knight), klootzak (ball sack), and huppelkut (skipping vagina). And if you really want to get weird (if not necessarily dirty), then consider the fact that I’ve been called a sprinkhaan (grasshopper). Other insults include krentenbol (a dutch bread with raisins), mongol (Mongol, duh), and NSB’er (referring to members of the Dutch Nazi Party).

7. Coffee consumption ☕️

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The Dutch are famous for drinking a lot of (not very good) coffee. Image: racorn/Depositphotos

With the Dutch people’s over-reliance on caffeine, the Netherlands has the fifth-highest per-capita consumption of coffee in the world. That would be fine, but you’d think with their addiction to coffee they could at least make it…good?


Despite all these Dutch quirks (and the many other odd occurrences in this nation), I still love this country. Because ultimately, it’s these strange little things that make the Netherlands what it is and make it wonderful (most of the time).

Which of these Dutch quirks surprised you? Which have you witnessed yourself? Let us know in the comments below!

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in February 2017, but was fully updated in April 2022 for your reading pleasure. 

Feature Image:Freepik
Noah Bloem
Noah Bloemhttp://www.redelephantstories.com
Noah grew up in Dhaka, Jakarta, and New York City before finding his way to Rotterdam (and now back to New York again). Despite having recently snagged a bachelor’s degree at Erasmus University College, he is fully committed to postponing adulthood as long as possible.

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28 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Noah, I don’t agree at all about the Dutch being on time. Most of the Dutch people I have appointments with, family, friends, business contacts, rarely show up on time. In fact, showing up a hlalf hour late is normal. I’ve also worked with film crew here and lots of people don’t take the agreed start time seriously. A doctor’s office is another story. Most medical appointments start on time and rarely start late.. As opposed to doctors in Los Angeles, who normally keep their patients waiting for over an hour.

    • I don’t agree I’m always waiting an extra hour for the doctor and I am known for being late with my friends and at work (like 10 minutes on the dot late) but they are punctual.

    • Isn’t he referring to formal occasions? My experience with most Dutch companies is that they just fire you after your 3rd time of showing up late.

  2. your translation of Mongool is incorrect. It should be “Mongoloid”, meaning a person with Down’s Syndrome. Yes it sounds bad 🙁

  3. Trains in the Netherlands are ridiculously late and completely unreliable. It can make it difficult to be on time for that meeting unless it’s a bike ride away.

  4. More like 2.4 cups of coffee PER HOUR. And the insults? Oh yes – that is the modern ‘Scheveningen’ test. No nation is able to comprehend or come up with entire insulting sentences with interlinked curse-words like the Dutch.

  5. An even stronger insult is ‘kankermongool’ – a mongoloid person with cancer. In fact, you can add ‘kanker’ to almost any insult..

    • no you cannot! It says a lot about people who swear with the word cancer. It is actually very rude. So if you are angry or what, leave the cancer out.

  6. In the Netherlands we have often a (for example) “Nijmeegs Kwartiertje” it means: a Nijmeegs quarter of a hour. Thats what we use when people show up to late on an apointment. But instead of Nijmegen we use all kinds of City names. Depence in which city you are.
    And we also have the sayings:
    Get now tits (krijg nou tieten)
    I’m not from yesterday (ik ben niet van gisteren)
    No, you pulls full halls (nee, jij trekt volle zaken)
    Make that the cat wise (maak dat de kat maar wijs)

  7. Ahhhhh, the platform toilet. It freaked me out the first time I used one. Now I’m married with my Dutchie, and I use this freaky toilet every day. I tell my American friends about it and they don’t even want to visualize it. Yes it saves water and is quite efficient, but I have bought more air freshener spray in Holland than I ever had before. Stinky!

    • HILARIOUS! CAREFREE. YOU haven’t left your country OBVIOSLY. YOU are the RUDEST tourist and UPTIGHT! I crossed the street becasue everyone crosses the street when NO traffic is seen for 2 kilometers in your FLAT capital and all the people looked at me like I murdered someone because I did not nwait for the light. Another Pleasnt interatcion I had with a short squat lesbian looking OLD ductch woman is her making a nasty comment about the size of my butt. I am beautiful and NO I don’t have the Dutch curse of FLAT BUTT. NO BUTT. I have a gorgeous body and this disgusting little fatass had the nerve to point at me and make comments in Dutch well I told her off I am sure nexty time she vacations she won’t be so rude again. YOU are NOT care free. The Irish are 100 times better.

  8. About the birthday thing; as a native Dutch I also find it a weird tradition to congratulate everyone attending the party and therefore have never done so. My solution: I only congratule the person that is ‘jarig’ and then I congratulate their love partner. If it’s a kids birthday, I will congratulate the parents too. When finished i raise my hand and turn my head around the circle and say ‘gefeliciteerd iedereen’. Works like a charm, saves time and akwardness.

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