Since you will be staying in a different culture, we would like to prepare you for some aspects of Dutch behaviour. This way you will not be surprised when you find yourself in a situation where the Dutch react in a different manner than you are used to.
The Netherlands is ranked sixth in the World Hapiness Report. So Dutch people are happy, but they love to complain. However this is not in a serious way. The weather is a great topic to complain about, but so is work and of course politics and football. If you listen to Dutch people you might think we are a pretty unhappy lot. But the contrary is true: we are very happy. Perhaps one of the reasons is that we do not take some of our troubles and worries home is because we have had the chance to get them of our chest before we get home. Please do not be surprised when you hear a Dutch person complaining to you. It’s not personal and we do not expect you to solve our problems. We are merely making conversation.
When Dutch people meet for the first time they shake hands. The handshake should be made with the right hand and should be firm (without squashing the other’s hand) and short. If you are well acquainted (usually after meeting for the third time) women kiss each other on the cheek three times. Women also greet men they know well in this manner. Men usually only shake hands
Dutch people do not beat around the bush and will often speak their minds. This can seem rather rude and almost feel insulting to foreign people (e.g: ‘I have read you report and it is awful’). However, Dutch people prefer to be open about their opinion and if it is presented in a kind and friendly manner, this is usually regarded as good. It is considered as being honest, where being too subtle and polite can create misunderstanding (e.g. as in ‘I can see that you have worked very hard on this report and I do appreciate the time you spend on it’). However it can be a bit shocking when confronted for the first time with Dutch straight forwardness.
You should always keep an eye on the time and make sure you are present at the agreed time. That means not too early and not too late. If you are delayed, it is appreciated and seen as good manners to call. You should not be surprised to be told off firmly if you are late without a good reason.
Dutch people will always count on you making an appointment before any visit, no matter how short or insignificant or impulsive the visit is. This means that if you are in the neighbourhood of someone’s house and you wish to visit unexpectedly, you usually call or app first to announce your imminent arrival (thereby giving the other person the chance to politely inform you that it will not be convenient). It might actually happen that the person who opens the door will have a conversation with you on the doorstep without inviting you in (even when it is raining). So, call a few minutes before arriving and you will be most likely welcomed in.
What to bring (to a party)
This is difficult to answer as it very much depends on the situation and personal preferences. We can give you some general indication of what is appropriate on a few occasions. If you are invited to dinner and it is the first time you are meeting the family or friends, you will most likely bring flowers. If you have been there before, but not very often, you can bring flowers or wine (or anything else such as a bottle of whisky or Bailey’s if you are familiar with their taste). When you have known someone for a long time you usually do not bring anything, unless there is a special reason to do so. If you are invited for a (birthday) party with friends, you may inquire of other friends if they have any suggestions. If you do not know anyone who can advise you, you can give flowers or a gift voucher (all kinds are available). Also money or chocolates/sweets can be considered. It is a custom to bring something for the person whose birthday it is. However, if there is no particular reason for the party, you can bring an item of food or drink, such as wine or crisps. Usually you discuss who brings what, so as to complement the organiser’s dishes/drinks.
Breakfast is eaten in almost all families before going to work or school early in the morning and takes place between 7.00 and 9.00 (depending on the daily routine). It can be bread with cheese, meats and sausages or sweets; some eat cereals such as cornflakes or muesli and others eat fruit. Most of the time breakfast is accompanied by coffee or tea.
Lunch is prepared at home and will be taken to school or work. It can consist of bread and fruit or any other (cold) dish such as a salad. Going out for lunch is for special occasions. Many organisations do offer in-house lunch facilities (in a canteen) and this will replace lunch brought from home. Lunch will be eaten somewhere between 12.00 hrs and 14.00 hrs and the official lunch time is usually 30 minutes. You will also see some people using the lunch hour to go for a stroll and eat their home-made lunch.
Dinner time depends on whether dinner is eaten at home or if you go out for dinner. When cooking at home, the main meal takes place between 17.30 and approximately 19.30. It is different for each family. When a person is invited to join others for dinner, they will start somewhat later to give the person the opportunity to change their clothes at home. If people go out for dinner, they usually meet between 19.00 and 20.00 in the restaurant.
Everywhere you go you will see bikes. Outside train stations, in the city centre, outside supermarkets and so on. Some people have more than one bike. One ragged old version for the day-to-day business and one in a better condition for weekend bike trips or other occasions. The better one is the one you do not want to have stolen. As there are so many bikes, it will not surprise you to hear they also get stolen quite often. Thus, it is important to have a good, secure lock on your bike. It may be the case that your lock was actually more expensive than your entire bike.