Have you ever made a clumsy communication mistake abroad? I have. I know that the French kiss when meeting each other. What I did not know during my study in France was the exact amount of kisses and on which cheek side you start kissing. I quickly found out that it differs from what I am used to in the Netherlands. This led to funny situations almost kissing people I barely know.
In my blog How to prepare for culture shock when working abroad I explained that you can minimize the effect of culture shock by being well prepared. Today I would like to point out some typical Dutch communication habits, so when you start a job in the Netherlands you already know some basics.
Here we go:
1. Dutch Greetings (Not Corona Time)
At the moment, due to covid-19, we are strongly advised to not physically greet each other in the Netherlands. Normally, when we meet someone for the first time or in business situations, we give a short firm handshake with our right hand. In informal, more personal situations, women kiss each other and men on the cheek three times (right-left-right). Men between men usually only shake hands. I can’t wait for things to go back to normal.
2. Dutch Directness
Our communication style is often seen as very direct. Honesty is highly valued in the Netherlands. When you ask a Dutch person for their opinion, often you get a frank answer which might not always be the politest in your eyes. We are used to speaking our minds. Please do not take it personal or misunderstand it as rude. We see being direct as efficient – you do not have to guess what we mean – and as a great way of openness.
As a matter of fact we expect the same from you, so don’t be afraid of speaking your mind. If something is unclear to you, ask for it. Also in a working situation. A proactive attitude is appreciated. Take responsibility and communicate clearly and friendly what you expect from the other.
3. Eye Contact
Looking each other in the eye while communicating is common in the Netherlands. People that make eye-contact come across as frank. In combination with some paralingual ‘uh-uhs’ and nodding, this gives us the feeling of being listened to.
Dutch people appreciate their personal space, like an arm length distance between one and another. When you come closer or are very touchy in first meetings, we feel uncomfortable and tend to take a step back.
5. Decision Making
Making decisions in the Netherlands can take some time. Everyone’s opinion counts. In a meeting everyone can speak up their mind and let the others know what they think. In the end Dutch people will look for a compromis, the middle, to make most people satisfied.
6. Small Talk
In some situations it might be handy to know some typical Dutch small talk subjects. Normally we start a conversation with ‘Hello, how are you doing?’. You can always start a conversation about the weather. We love talking (or complaining) about how cold/hot/rainy it is. Other things we talk about is finding directions (was it easy for you to get here?) and in international situations we are curious about people’s background (where do you come from/how long are you in the Netherlands?).
When you have an appointment with a Dutch person at a certain time, you are expected to be there on time or even better: 5 minutes earlier. The Dutch are very punctual and see it as rude when you come late. So to make a good first impression make sure you keep an eye on your watch.