I have lived in a variety of places in my life. When I decided to move to the Drenthe I kept hearing comments from my friends and Dutch expats about all the rules that the Dutch have. 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 and order society tend to not like the rules they have to abide by and 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 social rules are widely accepted and implemented and they really don’t appreciate it when you don’t follow them.
So here is my list of five unspoken rules in the Netherlands, so that in the event that you move to this wonderful country, you can blend in seamlessly and without committing any social faux pas!
1. No 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 6:00 and 7:00. 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!
2. When 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 your 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.
3. Always 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!
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4. The 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 od sub-rule… removing your sunglasses when you speak with someone. They don’t like it when you have your eyes covered, it comes across as rude. So next time your chatting with someone, raise your shades and make eye contact!
5. When 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 others 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!