| Home | Classified Ads | Articles | Back Issues | Membership | Privacy Policy |

THE NETHERLANDS - EUROPE'S MOST INTERNATIONAL COUNTRY

By Ruth Halcomb  

Equality And Teamwork
Getting Along
Business In The Netherlands
Living In The Netherlands
Dutch Cities

Windmills, wooden shoes and tulips are what many people think of when the Netherlands is mentioned. The the image that the Dutch prefer, however, is one of international business savvy and hard work, also of tolerance and fairness.

Called the gateway to Europe, the Netherlands has waterways linking it to Belgium, France and Germany. It is less nationalistic and chauvinistic than most of its neighbors; the orientation here is strongly European and international.

Much of the country is flat, and about 27% is below sea level, having been reclaimed from the sea in extraordinary feats of engineering. This ongoing fight for survival has been a major influence on the Dutch, their work habits and their outlook in general.

Although not a country many would choose as a retirement haven, the Netherlands is a preferred posting for working expats, who adjust easily here. The Dutch are known for their tolerance of other religions, viewpoints and customs. After all, they welcomed the Pilgrims. This is one of a very few countries to let resident aliens vote in local elections and the privilege may be expanded to national elections.

Individually, the Dutch may not seem so tolerant, and anyone who has many encounters with them has probably been contradicted. Margaret Mead, in explaining the Dutch mentality to U.S. troops in World War II, said, "The Dutch are always right," adding, "In this they resemble the Americans." Since they know how things should be done, they are likely to complain when things are not done as they should be.

Equality And Teamwork

As Hunt Janin writes Culture Shock, Netherlands, the Dutch strive for an egalitarian society, where no one is anyone's servant, and everyone, regardless of job or income, expects to be treated with respect.  For example, top executives don't dress differently or drive more expensive cars than employees further down the ladder.

The standard of living is high, and unemployment is only about 7%, which is low compared to other European countries. Unions are weaker than they once were, and increasingly people work as independent contractors and do not have the benefits accorded employees.

The social welfare system is generous. Only about 6% of the population exist below the poverty line, which is set relatively high, but as in other countries, some also fall through the cracks. The rate of violent crimes is low with only 1.2 death related crimes per 100,000 inhabitants as opposed to 8.2 per 100,000 in the U.S.

The Netherlands has a labyrinthine bureaucracy with red tape that baffles the Dutch themselves as well as foreigners. There are laws for everything. "The Dutch, in general, do not like surprises," writes Mark T. Hooker in his Simple Guide to Holland.

Along with all their many laws is a tolerance of certain acts which are officially illegal but are not prosecuted. So-called soft drugs such as marijuana are not legal in the Netherlands but are tolerated. So is euthanasia.

Getting Along

Although many Dutch speak English, communicating with tradespeople, postal workers and others may require a few words of Dutch. For language classes, see www.learndutch.org.

Because the Dutch speak English so well, it's easy to think of them as being "just like us." This isn't true. They have priorities, beliefs and rather formal social rituals that take some getting used to. They are forgiving of mistakes foreigners make, but are more comfortable with those who make fewer mistakes. Ostentatious display of wealth, hard-sell hype and bragging are among the worst social errors here.

It's not easy to get invited into a private home. The Dutch value their privacy, also they do not appreciate anyone's dropping in unexpectedly. If someone does, however, or if a workman comes to the house to fix something, they always offer coffee.

Foreigners who want to make friends should take the initiative and invite the neighbors in for coffee. A Dutch host would typically issue such an invitation for 10:30 AM. The ritual goes like this: the guest would be offered a cup of coffee and a pastry, then a second cup with one more pastry, and upon finishing it, would expected to leave.

Working people at all levels have only 45 minutes for the noon meal, so very little socializing is done then. You might be invited for drinks at 5:30 PM, but should leave by 7 because you have not been asked to dinner, which is served at 6:30 or 7 PM. An invitation for 8 PM will probably be for desert, snacks and coffee rather than for dinner.

When invited for dinner, be sure to arrive on time and bring a present such as flowers, a potted plant or a box of chocolates. Anything too showy or expensive is in bad taste.

Upon meeting, people who don't know each other well shake hands. When friends meet, women kiss or rather touch cheeks three times: right, left, right.  After that ritual has been completed, men touch cheeks with the ladies the same way: right, left, right.

The Dutch stand somewhat further apart than North Americans. They speak quickly, even when speaking English or other languages, and in conversation, they pause only briefly to let another person have a chance to speak. Sports are a good topic of conversation. Avoid talking about sex (or the fact that prostitution is legal) or drugs (which are tolerated if not legal). Most Dutch don't appreciate having a reputation for being freewheeling, and believe they are misunderstood in other countries.

Birthday parties are celebrated by adults as well as children. The person having the birthday is expected to have a cake to share with everyone.

Business In The Netherlands

When it comes to business, foreigners had best be modest. It's not too much of an exaggeration to say that the Dutch invented business on a global scale or that the Protestant work ethic began here.

The Netherlands is number seven among exporting nations of the world. Nearly 8,000 multinational companies have their European headquarters here.

The Dutch are well organized, practical, ever prompt and drive a hard bargain. Business appointments must be made well in advance, and cannot be changed on short notice. Being on time is absolutely essential here, and lateness indicates incompetence and even lack of trustworthiness. 

After shaking hands, just say your name. The Dutch get down to business without socializing or small talk. They don't like secrets or devious strategies; negotiations are straightforward. Decision making can take time because the process involves reaching consensus.

Living In The Netherlands

There are no restrictions on foreigners buying property either for their own use or as an investment. Property ownership does not guarantee being granted residency.

Housing is hard to find and is expensive. Buying property involves transaction costs, so it doesn't make sense to purchase a place to live unless you are staying four or more years. Houses are smaller than in the U.S.

Houses are usually rented unfurnished, which may mean without appliances, door or window coverings or even lighting fixtures. Electricity is 220 volts.

The Dutch are proud of their sparkling clean homes and leave the curtain open to display them. Live-in domestic help is rare but it is possible to find part-time people to clean.

Dutch Cities

None of the cities are extremely large, but most are extremely well planned, and very liveable. Each has a character of its own.

Resources for the Netherlands

For information on residency, see http://www.ind.nl/EN/index.asp

For an independent, free listings of apartments in Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht and throughout Holland, see http://www.Pararius.com

Also see

 

| Home | Classified Ads | Articles | Back Issues | Membership | Privacy Policy

Copyright © 1999-2013 Network for Living Abroad
Santa Fe, NM USA 505-438-7772
e-mail: editor@liveabroad.com

Powered by MIS Inc. since 1999