Netherlands: Public Behaviour – Part 2


More on acceptable public conduct

When the encounter started with a handshake, that’s also how it ends, but otherwise the term used in saying goodbye will be just ‘bye’ or ‘dag, tot ziens’ [pron. dakh, tot seens = bye, we’ll be in touch]. ‘Nice meeting you’ is mostly reserved for somewhat longer talks. In business, take time to shake hands with everyone individually. The American ‘group wave’ is restricted to direct colleagues and casual private gatherings.

In brief encounters one does not bring up his or another’s personal income and [in a multi-party system] individual voting behaviour, although salaries and politics can be discussed.

In conversations with unknown Dutch people, any reference to hierarchy or status should be avoided or played down.

After informal meetings with more personal contact and lively conversation, like a lunch or a dinner with partners involved, the wives may kiss goodbye to all the guests [2 or 3 airy kisses on the cheek], and the men may do the same with the ladies. Only in urban artistic circles may men also do this to each other, in the ‘Russian’ way.

The bear hug is virtually unknown in Holland, and not welcomed.

Business cards are often not exchanged right away but at the end of a more or less successful encounter. But one might very well ask for someone’s business card, or present one’s own in order to receive one and thus have the other party’s family name in print. Business cards which include home addresses may be used privately also.

In Dutch education at home and in school the emphasis is on assertiveness and making one’s own choices, but also on skills to co-operate and compromise with others. As a rule, the Dutch value good craftsmanship, well-founded opinions and sincerity more than elegant looks, fine manners and pleasing superiors. As a result, Dutch culture is quite permissive, so highly individualistic behaviour can be observed in the cities and it may at times appear bizarre or rude. In business circles, of course, more regular behaviour is the rule.

In recent years, a bit more formality has come in, but this is mostly confined to work life, where companies demand their personnel to have a greater care for appearance.

Many people, especially men, prefer to be quite casual, both in dress and behaviour, with a few exceptions only for rare ceremonies like formal parties [work and private], marriage, funerals and events like applying for a job, passing an exam etc. Even at the opera house or other theatre events, where an increasing minority of people might go in evening-dress, quite a few others may still appear in casual outfits. The same is true for dinners except for the most formal ones. Also, on TV shows, one can see presenters without a tie, with uncombed hair, studio guests in well-worn sweaters etc.

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