"If you ain't Dutch, you ain't much."
February 20, 2015 8:06 AM   Subscribe

New job has me working with one of our most high-profile and important clients, a multinational that has a significant Dutch history and employee base. What do I need to know about doing business with these Netherlanders?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
They like mayo on their french fries. It's weird, but just roll with it.
posted by jeffkramer at 8:16 AM on February 20, 2015 [9 favorites]

The Dutch are famously plain-spoken, but what I've found the most striking in my 5 years is the emphasis on democracy and consensus. Everyone speaks their mind, and everyone deserves to be heard. This sounds great on paper but can be jarring in practice (for instance, it can be a bit weird for an intern to weigh in with blunt criticisms a project in process).

See also: strict punctuality and a fixation with schedules and planning.
posted by nerdfish at 8:23 AM on February 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

Don't mention the coffee houses. Talk about anything else.
posted by waving at 8:23 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Dutch organisation we worked with a lot has a culture of stopping for proper lunches and then everyone leaving at or soon after 5pm. Not sure how widespread this is.
posted by biffa at 8:28 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Read Dealing with the Dutch.

As nerdfish hints, Dutch decision-making through consensus can extend to the point where everything is a bloody meeting. It's different from American meeting culture which tends at its worst towards meetings for showing off and to fill time and just for the sake of it. Dutch business meetings have a purpose, and can feel like interrogation sessions, but the process of getting everybody on board and ensuring their concerns have been addressed can feel like extractive dentistry.

The Dutch org I worked for briefly also had proper lunches (not long ones, but proper ones) and kicked people in the evening.
posted by holgate at 8:35 AM on February 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

Dutch people can be blunt and can come across harsher than they realise when writing in English. The emphasis on consensus is called the polder model. They are suspicious of anyone who eats a warm lunch, and generally don't approve of eating at your desk. They're casual about swearing in English.

I worked for a Dutch company that was purchased by an American one, and my Dutch colleagues' main complaint was that Americans over-promised and consequently under-delivered, while the Dutch managers would have preferred that they had been more conservative in their estimates, even if they knew the numbers wouldn't make management happy.
posted by neushoorn at 8:38 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands is unexpectedly interesting and has a chapter on the Netherlands.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:54 AM on February 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

I studied in The Netherlands with lots of other international students, and many found The Undutchables to be a helpful, if irreverent, book on Dutch culture.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 9:16 AM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

(They're casual about swearing Full Stop. And fries and mayo aren't weird, it's the ONLY way).

It's important to realise that there is a thing about money going on in that country. It's normal to be precise about money, and to calculate things down to the [Euro]centjes. Also, nobody is uncomfortable talking about money, but people do tend to get uptight really fast if they think that they're getting a bad deal (which generally means that everyone else gets uncomfortable).
posted by Namlit at 9:26 AM on February 20, 2015

They will find it hilarious that you found it necessary to link to a definition of "Dutch". And they will tell you to your face. And they will actually be quite insulted by that, inside, but they won't let on that that's why.

Groetjes van de Jordaan.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:33 AM on February 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

It's normal to be precise about money, and to calculate things down to the [Euro]centjes.... but people do tend to get uptight really fast if they think that they're getting a bad deal

It's ironic that you say this, as the Netherlands doesn't produce a 1 or 2 cent Eurocoin like other countries, and when you pay at a cash register the total is rounded to the closest 5 cent. But as you say about deals, I've known Dutchies to switch to their PIN card if the rounding in cash is to the store's favor to save the 2 cents.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:41 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

'Kicked people'? Kicked people out. The kicking of people was reserved for special occasions.
posted by holgate at 9:42 AM on February 20, 2015 [6 favorites]

As mentioned above, be prepared for Dutch directness. It can be grating if you're a foreigner used to more indirect ways of communication. Also, small-talk is quickly considered to be a little suspicious.
posted by wavelette at 10:41 AM on February 20, 2015

You may enjoy Stuff Dutch People Like (as a half-Dutch person, I sure do). For example, this entry on work hours, or bringing your own cake to the office on your birthday.
posted by Gortuk at 11:59 AM on February 20, 2015

Dutch people can be blunt and can come across harsher than they realise when writing in English.

This. It takes some getting used to so try to resist feeling defensive if it's directed at you. In person, the profanity thing will be jarring for most Americans especially in a business context. It's remarkably easy to get used to.

My experience was that something in writing carries a lot of weight. So if a company has a brochure or other publication that says a product does "X" or has "Y", then Dutch people will be unwilling to entertain any possibility it does or has anything else. Whether or not that is a good thing depends on what you have in writing.
posted by tommasz at 12:08 PM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

My experience is that Dutch and American people have different norms for greeting each other. Americans will say "how are you?" as part of the ritualized greeting, and expect in return "oh fine, how are you" regardless of whether the person is fine. (Some?) Dutch people hear the question and interpret it as an honest inquiry, even a touching expression of friendship, and as opening a real conversation about how they are.

I think this goes with the bluntness described above, and the tendency of Americans to give more-optimistic time estimates for projects. Seems like Americans do and expect more social-smoothing white lie stuff that's understood (by us) to be just ritual and not literal, whereas (at least for some) Dutch people that stuff may come across as dishonesty, merely-pretending to be interested, or deliberately being misleading about project expectations.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:13 PM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

I would be less worried about the macro-level culture and more concerned about the internal politics of the company you're working with. I have yet to hear of a Dutch company that doesn't contain a bunch of longstanding grudges between various executives, and when those come to the surface, look out. Some executive gets canned, everybody he hired has their contracts terminated*, and the vendors/partners/customers get to meet all new people until the next big blow-up.

* Some of the infighting is so well-known that when you get canned from a few companies in particular, nobody else in the industry even bothers to bring it up. They all just know.

I will, however, vouch for the birthday thing, which is 100% true. I had it explained to me (when I visited on my birthday, years ago) that you're also generally on the hook for a round of drinks when you go out with your friends (and you will go out with your friends), and not just the cake.
posted by fedward at 12:19 PM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

I am Dutch living in the US now.

Dutch are VERY organized and efficient.
There is this impression that the Dutch are very Liberal and have a "free for all" mentality. I find that when I return back home that its rather conservative. Liberal as long as you stay within the rules and regulations of witch there are many....
Yes you can smoke pot, and prostitution is a legal profession (posted as job offerings at the unemployment office...). Yes we are among the first to legalize same sex marriage and have legalized euthanasia for Humans. This doesn't mean that the Dutch are swinging from the chandeliers...

Lunch is very simple.
No free water with dinner.
No free refills of coffee.
Don't be surprised if you are offered "half a cup of coffee"

Unless you deal with my native tribe in the most Southern part to the Netherlands "Limburg" ;-)
Then things are more like in Belgium or France :-)
posted by Mac-Expert at 1:18 PM on February 20, 2015

I lived and worked in Holland for a number of years and was gifted the book The Low Sky by a colleague/friend. Really enjoyed it and found it quite insightful.
posted by lazywhinerkid at 4:45 PM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

It would be relevant to know your own country/background.

Start to embrace normalcy.
posted by blub at 2:49 AM on February 21, 2015

As a dual American-Dutch national, I'm going to go against the grain here. I lived here first for most of the '90s and became more or less culturally immersed. My current Dutch friends may find it hard to believe but my Dutch was actually good enough then that it took about half an hour for most people to realize I was a foreigner.

Then I moved to NYC for 13 years.

So now I'm back and the MD of a Dutch branch of an American company. I'm still pretty New York and my Dutch has suffered. I have to deal with Dutch people in a business setting constantly, in both Dutch and English. And what I've found is this: just be your American self and keep an eye out for the niceties. One of the things I'm convinced the Dutch (grudgingly, embarrassedly) admire about Americans is their optimism. You should totally underpromise/overdeliver as people have said above, but I've found that being continuously friendly is a contagion to the Dutch. They will also respond by being, on the basis of their native culture, superficially friendly. They will see you, socially, as a happy idiot, but so long as you are efficacious at business and honest, all will be well.

Essentially you should embrace being a "known quantity" as an American qua American while greeting onboard with the Dutch consensus model.
posted by digitalprimate at 11:56 AM on February 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

I know nothing about the Dutch, but I tripped across this on another forum and I thought it might interest you and potentially help you puzzle out seemingly bizarre remarks (My mother speaks English as a second language. I am familiar with how badly a thought can be butchered when someone tries to translate idioms or common sayings word for word) :

Netherlandish Proverbs

There is also this FPP about Dunglish that might interest you: When Dutch and English Collide
posted by Michele in California at 10:38 AM on February 23, 2015

« Older Cool rainbow effects! Wait...that shouldn't be...   |   Small Business Accountants in NYC? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.