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How to Navigate the Netherlands  Social Customs

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Knowing and respecting the culture should feel just as important as learning the language, whether you're just visiting or moving to the Netherlands. Not knowing how to read the menu in the restaurant might be a little awkward but breaking an unspoken social rule — like getting up to use the restroom during a meal — could quickly put you in an awkward situation. Want to avoid an awkward situation? Keep reading to learn more about Netherlands social customs.

Netherlands Greetings and Gestures

When introduced to someone new in the Netherlands, you'll typically need to shake their hand briefly. Dutch handshakes are firm, swift, and often followed with "hello," "hi," or "good morning," (or afternoon or evening depending on the time of day).

In a business setting, a handshake holds more importance. You'll shake hands with the people you're introduced to when you leave a visit or meeting, and most likely when you see them again. The Dutch do not have a preference of which hand they use to shake, so they might not realize that they could potentially be offending you.

Don't be surprised if someone refers to you as "sir" or "madame" in conversation. The Dutch are typically formal toward people they've just met, but they'll quickly become more informal the more you interact. For example, if introduced to someone for the first time, you should call them "sir" or "madame" until they tell you to call them by their first name.

And while you'll likely see people kissing on the cheek as a greeting, don't try to do to this with someone you've just met. Kissing three times on each cheek is reserved for greeting friends and family each time they meet. You won't offend anyone by reaching out for a handshake first if you don't want to be kissed.

Going Out to Eat in the Netherlands

If you're going out to eat with Dutch people, you'll either be expected to split the bill and pay for your order or if you're their guest, they'll insist on paying for you. You can call a waitress or waiter to your table by raising your hand, making eye contact, or calling ober (OH-ber) for a waiter or mevrouw (mev-FROW) for a waitress. If you need to get a server's attention, don't snap your fingers. In the Netherlands, this is very rude.

Like we mentioned at the beginning of the article, it's also considered rude to get up and use the bathroom during a meal. It's deemed to be rude to get up from the table at all! However, if you really have to use the restroom, just ask to be excused before you do. When you're finished with your food, you can let your server know that you're finished with your meal by placing your knife and fork horizontally across the middle of your plate.

Tipping in the Netherlands

Everyone in the Netherlands receives a basic salary, so tipping isn't as expected as it is in some cultures, and it's not offensive either. For example, in America, most people expect to receive a 20 percent tip. This is significantly more than you'll find in the Netherlands.

The recommended amount for tipping will change based on the service you receive. For example, if you're staying in a hotel, you don't need to feel obligated to tip unless you received an extra service or you're staying for a long time. Most hotels will add a 15 percent service charge to the bill, so if you do tip your porter, stick to one to two euros per bag. If you’re in a taxi, stick to a three to five percent tip.

In a restaurant, it's common in the Netherlands to round up the total of your bill. So, if your bill comes out to €38, many Dutch will often give €50 and say, "make it €40."

If you're just getting drinks from a bar, it's not necessary to tip on each one, but if you have a large tab, you can use the rounding up method when you pay. You can also leave small change as a tip. The same goes for cafés as well.

As long as you do your best to respect the culture while you’re in the Netherlands, you’ll be just fine. The Dutch are open-minded around foreigners and typically won’t be offended if you don’t follow all the social customs to a T. Use these tips to to help you feel more comfortable while you’re travelling, and if you need a place to stay while you’re in the area for work, trust Dwellworks to help you find it.

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