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Dutch social norms: The do's and don'ts I learned from living here


Living in the Netherlands for more than a decade now I’ve discovered some similarities but a lot more differences between the Dutch culture compared to our Filipino culture. (Well, that’s not a surprise isn’t it?!)  I had to make a lot of adjustments when it came to dealing with the people I talk to and work with. Through time I’ve learned to accept and work around its social norms. Let me share with you some of these things based on my personal experience to better understand the Dutch people.


The Do’s

Do try to speak the language even if your grammar is wrong or your sentence construction is messed up. They’ll appreciate the effort. Some even say they’d even choose the one who tries to speak broken Dutch over someone who speaks English.  Whether that’s in general or not, if you come to think of it, it does make sense. You live in their country, so the least you can do is try to speak their language.


Do pay for your own share when you’re out together with Dutch friends. Sometimes, you could even expect that the bill will be divided equally. Indeed the concept of Dutch treat applies to a lot of outings even amongst families and relatives. So don’t be too surprised and always bring enough cash or expect that you will be “tikkied” to pay for your share online. Here in the Netherlands it’s definitely “KKB” (kanya-kanyang bayad).

 Do try to help yourself or figure things out first before asking an attendant at the grocery or in restaurants. And when you do, show respect and treat them like you would a friend. The concept of “plattegrond” or absence of social hierarchy is common in the Netherlands. The Dutch are proud people and do not like to be looked down upon, so act respectfully regardless of status or age, including its children.

 Do expect deep conversations every now and then because they like to talk about (or sometimes even debate on) any kind of subject, especially what’s on the news. Feel free to express your own opinion but expect that they may agree or disagree with you


 The Don’ts

Don’t feel pressured to speak Dutch if you really can’t, they may not be good at speaking English but they will understand. Yes, it might be a bit contrary to what I’ve said earlier, but the good news is, the Dutch people are better in English than other non-native European countries. So rest assured, you will be understood.

Don’t feel pressured to agree on a choice the whole group makes. Voice out what your honest opinion is, and decisions will be made according to what’s agreed upon in the end. It’s very common for us Filipinos to agree just to get along (the concept of “pakikisama”) but this may not always be to your advantage in certain situations.

At work, don’t always expect an acquaintance or a colleague to greet or smile back at you when you see them around. That may come out as unfriendly, but it’s nothing personal. They just don’t feel the need to constantly greet you whenever they see you.


The bottom line 

If there’s any other one thing you need to be aware of in a Dutch society, it’s people respecting each other's privacy. The Dutch people value their physical and personal privacy. Although they’re open and free to talk about anything under the sun, personal matters such as health, living situations or salary is not something to ask about.

Also, avoid showing intolerance to social and ethnic minorities or alternative lifestyles. The Dutch people are very tolerant and respectful of other people’s lives and way of living. Your comments may not be appreciated or may receive strong reactions of disapproval. So better keep your opinions to yourselves. 

It's great to live here in the Netherlands. There are so many reasons why. Would you like to know what my reasons are? Check out this video! 

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