Working in the Netherlands? 4 Things to know and prepare for a culture shock!

In 2011 I jumped on a roller coaster called “working in the Netherlands”, and now, almost 7 years later, I’m still in it. Let me tell you my story.

I studied Intercultural Communication and I read a lot about the particularities of each culture and the way they like to do business. Yet, nothing I might have learned in school had prepared me for the real deal. When I started working in the Netherlands for a Dutch company back in 2011, I soon realized I actually knew nothing about working with people from other cultures.

working in the Netherlands
Do you enjoy this Dutch custom or do you prefer a handshake?

#1 First of all, what’s with the three kisses?

I am not a kisser, never been and probably never will. I make a few exceptions for my closest friends and family, but that’s it. So, when I first met my Dutch manager and she reached out and kissed me three times on the cheek, I was in deep shock.  And sometimes I still am, even if I know it’s coming and I understand it.

So, who exactly kisses who, and more importantly, when is the right time for all the kissing? For Dutch people it is the common norm to greet and say goodbye to people with kisses, three of them, to be more specific. You start on the right side, then move to the left cheek and finish where you started. Women kiss both women and men while men greet other men with a handshake. Well, thank Goodness for that, otherwise it would have been more awkward smiles and panicked faces around my office.

Also, they say that air kisses are a thing, but I haven’t experienced those so far, have you?

#2 Working in the Netherlands; Communication

Well, communication is rather difficult even when we are in the same country, but when you’re working daily with people from another place, you need to be extra careful.

For a Romanian, who is usually used to “embellish” certain things in order to make sure he doesn’t hurt other people’s feelings, Dutch people are so straightforward to the point of being perceived as slightly rude. But they’re not, never (well, except for when they really want to be, but that’s their prerogative, right?). They just love to share their opinion (and they do have an opinion about mostly everything there is) and they’ll not hesitate to do it even if you might get upset at that moment.

The Dutch are outspoken, pragmatic, like to put things into perspective and use short and direct sentences to transmit their message. They are always friendly, yet never excessively polite as we, Romanians, tend to be. For us, being really nice and having a very polite conversation is a way of creating a space for trust and comfort, yet Dutch people will always prefer clear, sober communication without too much politeness or courtesy. You’ll most likely hear this phrase a lot “I’ve asked you a straightforward question and I expect a straightforward answer”.

working in the Netherlands

#3 So, how do we get along?

The Dutchies are really patient and understanding, they realize there’ s a lot to take in when doing business with them and they’ll give you the time you need to adjust. They’ll also grant you the favor of trying to understand how you work. However, in the end, the Dutch expect others to be open and direct as them. They will tell you what they think of you and your work regardless of your status. Most of the times, they expect you to be honest and direct in return. So, if you detect mistakes in their work and you do not inform them about these mistakes, they might well be disappointed with you.

#4 Working in the Netherlands, family and friends

People in The Netherlands are very fond of their families and they’ll always choose to spend more time with them rather than working at the office. Don’t get me wrong, most of them are extremely well organized and will never miss a meeting, yet, they’ll be happier once work is done and they can focus on their personal business. Most of the time, Dutch people don’t stick to the 9 to 5 working hours and you might receive e-mails or see them online on Skype quite early in the morning or late in the evening.

Also, the Dutch never mix their personal life with their professional one. Coming to Romania, they’ll permanently wonder how we can spend our holidays with our co-workers and even go on vacation together.

working in the Netherlands

Being part of a team that includes Dutch persons is like riding a roller coaster. And, by all means, is not the ups and downs I’m talking about, but the fusion of strong, enthusiastic and charismatic personalities that blend perfectly to create a reliable, hard-working and responsible environment.

When among the Dutch I always find myself amazed by their excitement and curiosity for the new, their confidence that almost everything is possible and their optimism for all the tomorrows. I wish that we Romanians would also borrow this mindset. We tend to count all the things that could go wrong before allowing the enthusiasm to kick in.

If you’re ready to apply for a job that you think requires fluent Dutch skills from you,  (hint: a lot of them do) then here’s a helpful video on applying and nailing it.

Like this video? Want to see more about working in the Netherlands or learning Dutch? Then head over to Bart de Pau’s YouTube-channel  (Learn Dutch) and get started


  1. Dutch like to improve themselves and the company continiously. So we don’t mind when someone tells us we made a mistake or there is a more efficient way to do things. On the opposite, we appreciate this.

    Also, we want people to participate, take initiatives and responsibility. So don’t be quiet in a meeting, and it is no problem at all if you don’t agree with people higher in the hierarchy and say so in a meeting. As long as you have good arguments. If you don’t understand something, ask! There is no such thing as stupid questions.

    Don’t be too polite, Dutch are too impatient. Just say what you want, make your point.

  2. No.4 hasn’t been my experience at all, the Dutch people I worked with in my first company did go on holidays together! As well as regularly socializing outside of work and attending parties at each other’s houses.

  3. I will disagree with the straightforward part. In my experience, Dutch are good in giving straightforward feedback to others but when you give it back, not sure if they have ability to take it in right spirit; especially from a non-Dutch person. Usually you get an expression “ohh yes but we in Netherlands don’t do it that way” without much deliberation that they have understood what you are saying. Of course some are better in receiving it straightforward than others and openly admit it. I frankly think the straightforward talk is bit overhyped in the Dutch culture.

  4. 1. You wouldn’t just greet anyone with 3 kisses, definitely not someone you’ve just met, maybe the second or third time round. And air kisses are not a thing…
    2. We don’t beat around the bush, we say things as the are. We know we’re perceived as rude in most other countries, but realistically, we’re just saying what everyone else is thinking without pussyfooting around.
    3. Number 3 goes hand in hand with the previous. We’re honest with you, so we expect you to be honest (and blunt) with us.
    4. Depending on where you work, most people do work to set hours (think schools, shops, etc). And we definitely mix work life and personal life. If you work somewhere for a long time you can make some great friends, and naturally you’d want to spend lots of time with these people, preferably outside the work place…


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