When you land in this flat country (also known as the Lowlands), there are a few nuances that may surprise you. The Dutch have developed a culture, somewhat differing from their neighbours, influenced by Calvinism and centuries of trading with the East. Most expats enjoy the easy-going and open culture, where everyone can do their own thing. However, there are some aspects that might surprise a newcomer. For example…
The Dutch don’t beat around the bush. And that can be a good thing, or leave you dumbfounded if you’re used to being “buttered up”. This especially applies to American and UK culture, where polite talk is a norm (small talk too). If you ask a Dutch person “Hoe gaat het?” (trans. how are you?), chances are you will receive a full-on honest response. You will hear how your interlocutor is feeling and what life problems they are facing at the moment. Makes sense, right? Similarly, if your colleagues will disagree with your opinion at some point - be sure: you will hear about it. Be prepared to hear the brutal truth. Always and everywhere.
Perhaps the only other Europeans who enjoy deep-fried snacks as much as the Dutch are the Belgians. However, the choice of borrelhapjes in the Netherlands is impressive: bitterballen, kaassoufflés, frikandellen, loempia’s, kroketten… learn these names by heart before you are invited to your first office drinks (very popular over here). These deep-fried snacks with diverse fillings match perfectly with beer. Of course, you can fool your colleagues by ordering non-alcoholic beers if you are a non-drinker…
You may wonder how the locals manage to get any privacy in their home. The norms here are: big window frames often directly facing the footpath with not a curtain or blind in sight. Passersby can easily peek inside homes at any moment and see exactly what the host is up to. Not that the hosts actually mind. Want to live like a local? Remove all curtains, period! Where does this literal “openness” originate from? Several sources are suspected; the most popular being “nothing to hide” related to the Calvinistic influence and making a good (transparent) impression on merchants… dating all the way back to the Golden Age. If you are not ready for such exposure, don’t worry. Curtains will be included in your corporate housing.
Luckily, during your short stay at Corporate Housing Factory, your experience will be on the contrary. We are equipped with spacious, light bathrooms, often including a bathtub. The norm in Dutch housing, however, is different. If you will begin the search for a long-term rental apartment or to buy a home, you will notice that Dutch bathrooms are often tiny. That leaves just enough space for a toilet, an open shower (where you use a squeegee afterwards) and a sink. Bathtubs are extremely scarce.
Once you land yourself some Dutch friends, you should already be familiar with the customs regarding birthdays. Otherwise, you may find yourself feeling lost and awkward. Firstly, when a friend celebrates their birthday, all the other guests congratulate them, AS WELL AS all of the other guests. If you happen to be the birthday person, be sure to bring some treats for your colleagues. How’s that for fast integration? Even after a short stay!
This is no joke. If you have the chance to visit the oldest houses in Amsterdam, you might discover staircases looking almost like ladders. They tend to lead two stories up with unstable-looking railings and gloomy lighting. And of course, there is a story behind these unnerving solutions. After two massive fires burning down two thirds of Amsterdam in the 15th century, the Dutch began rebuilding the city. Since chimneys had just been invented, they needed double the space… so they ended up building dangerously steep and narrow staircases. Visiting one of your new, local, friends living in a house with steep staircases? Whatever you do – just don’t look down!
This method of dividing costs has proved to be quite controversial. Especially, when it comes down to sending Tikkies (Tikkie is an online payment app that allows you to forward payment requests to people via WhatsApp) to friends or colleagues for insignificantly small amounts. The Dutch are usually (not always) quite pragmatic when it comes to expenses, and they like to split them fairly. To a certain extent, that is. Be sure to download this Tikkie app – it will definitely come in handy. Even during a short stay. Just use it with common sense.
Surprised? Bewildered? These are just a few interesting and fun facts about Dutch culture. In the end, the inhabitants of the Netherlands are a fun-loving and friendly bunch with a few bizarre (from the perspective of foreigners) traditions. But then again, which country doesn’t have them? Just keep an open mind, and before you know it, you will also be living like the Dutch.