Dutch language out of stock: why employers are switching to English speakers

“Staff Wanted,” reads the sign in front me. In English. In the Netherlands. Where they speak Dutch. The signs have popped up more and more over recent months: seemingly in every bar, restaurant and cafe we visit, or clothing store that we pass.

A huge gap in workers rears its head every Dutch summer. Shop owners have to scramble to fill it in the best ways they can. One such solution is doing away with the convention of speaking both Dutch and English. Instead, responsibility for breaching the language divide is increasingly belonging to the customer instead of the staff.

Why is this happening?

While exact figures on the number of solely English-speaking are not available, the rise in these employees has not gone unnoticed. Edwin Vlek, from the FNV hospitality trade union, told NOS that it is “extremely difficult” to find good staff in the industry.

“In the hospitality industry, there is relatively low pay. A large part of the staff works at the statutory minimum wage level,” Vlek said, explaining that students and youth are starting to choose different types of work. “In the past, it was a choice to hire English-speaking staff. Now it is necessary.”

Should the Dutch just speak English?

While the Dutch speak some of the best non-native English in the world, it’s understandable that they want to speak their own language in their own country. When they’re forced to speak English to an English-speaking server in the Netherlands it can be a jarring experience.

Here at DutchReview, we’re all for keeping culture intact (a.k.a we all have arts degrees ?‍♀️) so we can see where the Dutchies are coming from. On the other hand, we think everyone should at least attempt to learn a bit of Dutch. And ya know, if a gap exists and English-speakers can fill it, is it really a bad thing?

Do you think it’s acceptable for workers to only be able to speak English? Or is it rude for them to not be able to speak Dutch? Let us know in the comments below!

Feature Image: Pixabay

Samantha Dixon 🇦🇺
Samantha Dixon 🇦🇺https://gallivantations.com
Sam has over six years experience writing about life in the Netherlands and leads the content team at DutchReview. She originally came to the Netherlands to study in 2016 and now holds a BA (Hons.) in Arts, a BA (Hons) in Journalism, and (almost) a Masters in Teaching. She loves to write about settling into life in the Netherlands, her city of Utrecht, learning Dutch, and jobs in the Netherlands — and she still can’t jump on the back of a moving bike (she's learning!).


  1. As a USA citizen, when I put the shoe on the other foot, I imagine what it would be like to be forced to speak a language other than my country’s language to a server. I would be offended. It seems to me the server should be expected to learn the language of the country they are serving in, or at least those necessary to use as a server.

  2. When anyone moves to another country, they should learn the language. I want to live in the Netherlands, which I hope will happen within the next year or so, and I’ve already started learning Dutch. I may not be fluent by the time I get there, but I’ll be immersing myself and it won’t take long. Most Dutch people can speak English, but also people go to other countries to explore other places and other cultures. This has to include the language. If I were to walk into a shop in the Netherlands and someone said, “Kan ik je helpen?” and I didn’t understand, I would just apologize and say that I didn’t speak Dutch. Then they could say it in English. People traveling to the Netherlands surely can’t be expecting to go without hearing Dutch the entire time???

    • I do the same. If you can not talk to me in Dutch I would walk or is the shop/ cafe/ restaurant and go somewhere else.

      It is totally disrespectful to assume the customer speaks English when you are in a place where Dutch is the native language.

      I would never recommend a place like that to any of my friends either. Maybe if the owner would start paying more to the employees this would not have to start happening.

  3. This is true for cities like Amsterdam. But in the rest of the country you need to speak Dutch. Or Polish haha!
    Dutch people visiting Amsterdam are sometimes annoyed and insulted when they can’t speak their own language in a shop, bar, restaurant etc in their own capital. And that is perfectly understandable imo…
    Groeten uit Amsterdam!

    • This certainly isn’t the case in the east of the country. You can’t judge what is happening in a country based on what is happening in a couple of cities.

    • I’ve seen it in Utrecht where a foreign student was working a cafe. I think that in many cases it’s ok to hire someone who hasn’t yet built the necessary language level without us needing to jump to the conclusion that the Dutch must learn English.

      Also, central Amsterdam is an amusement park made for foreigners. It doesn’t have to be but that’s sure what it feels like when I go there.

  4. Language is a living thing, it changes and grows, should a stronger strain overcome another then that’s how communication evolved. The gentrification of cities has been happening all over the world which comes with its plus and minus points. Where it is important to preserve culture, dominance of one thing will always transpire. Klopt?

  5. I am naturilized and for me make more sense to adjust to the country standards you come me in. That said, the server should be able to have some dutch basics to work in a restaurant.
    This is simply Holland and not niemandsland!

  6. Being Dutch born and having lived in different European countries I always learned the language before attempting to move there. But I went with long term residency as a goal, not temporary seasonal work. If there is a gap and non-Dutch speaking applicants can fill it, they should fill it. Management should perhaps offer a quick course on what Dutch phrases can be expected or are most commonly used in their line of work. It might not be necessary for workers to speak Dutch flawlessly when they start work, but it should be a given, that they would show a bit of initiative to learn the nation’s language and management should aspire to facilitate this. That builds a bonding so seasonal staff is more loyal and can be expected to come back next season.

    A nation flag lapel pin system for the languages spoken by the member of staff perhaps?

    Also when you’re in a pickle, google translate can be your friend.

  7. It’s the same in Eindhoven. I love the English language, but it really bothers me when I’m forced to speak it in my own (Dutch) country. I know plenty of Dutch people who struggle with the English language and when a server in the Netherlands doesn’t even speak basic Dutch, it can really throw you off and ruin a night out. I get why foreigners are hired to fill these positions, but at least make sure to teach them basic work-related Dutch.

  8. I,m finding learning Dutch difficult but I know the basics so I can be polite when I visit. I am firmly of the opinion that when you visit or move to a country then it is incumbent on you to fully immerse yourself in all the aspects of that country NOT the other way round. I hate the whole “little England ” thing in Spain where the people love it but only if they can speak English and get English food!!

  9. I lived in Amstelveen for close to 10 years working in Amsterdam. I could have stayed there a lifetime with no Dutch langauage and happily survived. As it is I did try to speak and learn Dutch and was very lucky that my then Employers paid for me to attend the language school being: nonnen van vught taleninstituut regina coeli (which helped me build a base). As a General manager of a big Warehouse – it was neccesary to address the 100+ team at important events such as Telling tijd etc. My attemps to speak Dutch though not brilliant in quality were appreciated by the Dutch and so my confidence grew. That said by 2008 – I was instructed by HR to use English only as the Polish Guys and others who continued to contribute in greater numbers to our Quality team – said English is easier for us. We also had issues with internal theft and with such a diverse mix of backgrounds where multiple languages were spoken – we had to say – OK FOLKS – IT IS ENGLISH FOR EVERYBODY. (Aleen engels taal – geen Nederlandse taal) Imagine that !!

    • I try to speak Dutch to this day. If I see a yellow number plate on a vehicle here in the UK beware. Of my 3 kids – my twin sons were fluent. Despite the availability of top paid UK or US eductaion we put them aged 5 in the local Dutch schools and they had all the pronunciation nailed. As a Dutch neighbour said to me – Your Kids sound like real Dutch kids. Back here in London now and aged 18 – they likely know Dank je wel – thats it.

  10. What does it mean exactly to speak the language? How much Dutch is enough for people not to complain that you don’t speak it despite being here for X number of years?
    And what if you are here for a year only? Or for the summer vacation to cover that employment gap? Do you still have to learn Dutch for that?

  11. I think the issue is much deeper than that:
    – life in the center of cities is becoming more and more expensive and it pushes people that want to work in horeca and shops (younger, less skilled Dutch people, or those foreigners that are forced to learn Dutch (Extra-EU)) further away from the cities and into different sectors.
    -Dutch classes here are very slow-paced. On average classes are offered 1.5-3h a week, whereas in many other countries they are usually half a day every day. Such a slow pace makes the process and cost of learning very slow (combined with nowhere to practice). In the meantime people have to work somewhere, don’t they?
    – The government policies have filled the cities and the economy with highly skilled, very mobile foreign professionals that:
    1. Are not sure how long they are staying in the NL and if they should learn Dutch
    2. Would not work at a café/shop for a minimum wage
    3. Are, along with the tourists, the most common visitors of cafés and shops

    So, in all that, it was only a matter of time that horeca and shops follow what many other industries have had to go through long ago and switch to English, finding Dutch skills rather a bonus..

  12. I don’t think that anyone should judge business owners without being in the same position. As per my experience Dutch people don’t want to work at all or only to very specific conditions. The times when I was young I didn’t dare to have so many demands on an employer but Dutch people make it simply impossible to employ them Unfortunately. Still people in the Netherlands want to travel and eat and relax in a bar for that you need staff ultimately business owners are forced to hire non Dutch employees. This problem is home made and not the fault of business owners. We would love to employ Dutch staff only.
    Just as a remark, everyone above answered this review in a perfect English by making a big fuss about people speaking English are disrespectful. I lived in so many countries and the world is growing together and the one language that is uniting us is English. I’m sometimes a bit disappointed because the Netherlands has its history in trading and was smart and successful because of learning different languages why not embracing it and being proud?

  13. As a Brit living and working in the Limburg region for the past 6 months, I feel it is imperative to learn at least as much Dutch as is possible. When Dutch people see that you’re making an effort they are much more likely to be forgiving of you’re lack of skill.

  14. Amsterdam is welcoming many many nationalities and very often those people have their own native languages. When moving here, not only English becomes the only language that can be used to communicate with everyone but it also offer more job opportunities. Taking French, Spanish or Italian as examples, who are for most of them very bad with English in their own countries, also need to improve their level. So after a few years in NL, they may still not be able to speak Dutch but they did made the effort to elevate their English skills to be able to exchange with others.

  15. As a Dutchman, I have no problem at all if I am attended by an English speaking staff at a cafe. I can imagine that there are societal domains where this would cause trouble (healthcare for example) but for restaurants the vocabulary is sufficiently simple for almost everyone to understand (and for the few exceptions, help can be asked)


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