NETHERLANDS - EUROPE'S MOST INTERNATIONAL COUNTRY
Business In The Netherlands
Living In The Netherlands
By Ruth Halcomb
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
are celebrated by adults as well as children. The person having the birthday
is expected to have a cake to share with everyone.
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.
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
None of the cities
are extremely large, but most are extremely well planned, and very liveable.
Each has a character of its own.
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