Netherlands: First Name or Title?

2015-06-12

Addressing others with respect

Academic titles [one’s own and someone else’s] are only used in writing and in work life, but not in speech and/or in private contacts. It is overly polite to keep on using them in correspondence [hard copy or e-mail] once a more informal contact has been established. If you expect your business letter to your good friend Tom to be filed or inspected by other people in his firm, you may prefer to address it formally and add ‘Dear Tom’ behind his official name, or say hi in a separate note.

In private life, especially the older Dutch and people outside the urbanized and more cosmopolitan western part of the country, are more reluctant than, for example, Americans or Australians to use first names. If contact goes well, both parties can suggest to do so and they will then happily use first names unless there is clearly a senior person involved. Gender plays no role here.

A second meeting may perhaps still involve a handshake but after that, contact usually turns informal, in a friendly tone. Things are said such as ‘Good morning, Tom’ or just ‘Hi, Tom’ [‘hi’ is hoi in Dutch].

Formality prevails in Dutch business culture at first contact. The best policy is to wait for your Dutch contact to introduce you to others. If this is not done, you may take the initiative by introducing yourself by name to those in your company and extending your hand. It is also part of Dutch business protocol to shake hands as you are leaving.

A courtesy or professional title, followed by a last name, should always be used unless you are invited to do otherwise. Academic titles are hardly ever used in spoken conversation.

The order of names among the Dutch is the same as in North America, with the first name followed by the surname.

Mr. = Mijnheer [also spelled Meneer][ abbreviated in writing as Dhr.]

Mrs. or Ms. = Mevrouw abbreviated in writing as [ Mevr. or Mw.]

Professional titles are hardly ever used when speaking. Usually, a lawyer, doctor or engineer who prefers that you use a title will introduce himself or herself to you that way [which would be considered very snobbish by his fellow Dutch].

If your colleague is experienced in dealing with North Americans, he or she may initiate moving to a first-name basis to help you feel at ease.

Written correspondence in the Netherlands tends to be very formal. Learn the recipient’s correct professional title and ensure that you use it in the letter [since the letter might be passed on to other departments].

When entering a smaller store, it is considered polite to say ‘Good day’ to the customers and employees present.

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