From a relaxed work life to ‘non-existent’ customer service, expats in the Netherlands talk about the ‘norms’ of living and working in the Netherlands.
The common Dutch saying ‘doe maar gewoon dan doe je al gek genoeg’ means just act normal, that’s crazy enough. But if you’re a newcomer, what exactly is considered ‘normal’ when working and living in the Netherlands?
Attitudes to the ‘normal’ Dutch lifestyle vary widely. Some like the pragmatic and consensual Dutch approach to working and social interactions, while others struggle with the work-social divide. Hardly anyone complains about the Dutch approach to holidays: everyone enjoys a good work-life balance, and there is much to be said about the Dutch relaxed work environment and flexibility.
Here is a selection of anecdotes from Ready Steady Go Dutch from expats with varying lengths of experience in the country about what’s the ‘norm’ in the Netherlands.
The ‘norms’ in the Dutch workplace
“I love the fact that where I work there is less emphasis on hierarchy and more on consensus and delivery. I’ve heard that it is rather different in a small company where there are a lot of people who can’t be let go easily. The very employee-protective laws do influence the atmosphere; there is more focus on the work-life balance than on delivery. Nonetheless, the country is strong economically, so it works.” – Russian-Dutch, 8.5 years in the Netherlands, working in industry
“The work environment is quite relaxed; I saw people cancelling meetings just because it was sunny that day. (I only understood later why sunlight is such a precious thing.) The culture of debate was shocking. You get shot with all sorts of criticism, by everyone, before your idea/proposal is praised. The good part is, once a decision is made, it is pursued by everyone, even by the ones not fully in agreement.” – Ozgur, Turkish, relocated from the US, two years in the Netherlands
“I love the pragmatic approach to doing business and I appreciate the work-life balance. I will never go back to a country where I only get one week holiday a year.” – Canadian-Dutch, 13 years in the Netherlands, communications manager
“There are differences. The Dutch are a lot more laid back than in Australian workplaces. Some see this as a kind of laziness; others see it as a more healthy work-life balance. If you’re in management as a foreigner, then you will have an uphill battle to win the respect of a Dutch workforce. You’ll need to work twice as hard and lead from the front. From my experience the Dutch do not take fools lightly and do not like needless authority, especially in Amsterdam. Being bossy because you are a boss will get you nowhere fast.” – Julian, Australian, three years in the Netherlands, audio-visual industry
Dutch attitudes to customer service
“Short of the Japanese, the Dutch are the best queue-ers in the world. So be patient. And be aware that when you do get your turn, you can relax and do what you need to do. So stop rushing like it’s Los Angeles. Things happen at their own pace in this town and no amount of complaining or grumpiness is going to change that.” – Julian, Australian, three years in the Netherlands, audio-visual industry
“If you expect to be greeted with a similar level of customer service (as you might be used to in the US, for example) upon walking into a place of business, don’t. Customer service is practically non-existent here, with the few exceptions sprinkled in here and there. At bars or cafes, paying upon ordering is not very typical. You are usually free to sit at your table with an empty glass for as long as you’d like. The staff is normally in no rush to get you in and out of their place, like we are use to back home. At restaurants, having to ask for the bill upon completion can sometimes take a long, long time.” – Aldo, American, three months in the Netherlands, self-employed
Social norms in the Netherlands
Marriage is not given the importance we give it in the US. Most folks seem to think of it as a bit of an antiquated ritual. It’s a refreshing take on the institution, really. Singles, beware! Wedding bands often seem to be worn on the right hand. I was recently at an impromptu engagement party where the happy couple, both in their mid-30s, have been together for 20 years, own a home, and are raising a seven-year-old and a three-year-old together, without being married. Many of the other couples in attendance came into the home with toddlers and absent wedding bands. There seemed to be a sense of true surprise, almost bewilderment in the air. Way to deconstruct silly social norms. Leave it to the Dutchies! – American, a few months in the Netherlands
“You can’t help but get involved — the Dutch are very enthusiastic about their traditions. I only wish that their taste would change in carnaval music, or find the volume knob. Strange thing is that when it’s your birthday in the Netherlands, you pay!” – Paul, British, 23 years in the Netherlands, works in new media
“Everything seems more expensive but it is easier to save money than in the US. I think this is because I no longer have a car but in the US, I had two.” – Andrew, American, moved to the Netherlands seven years ago, teacher
Sinterklaas [lives] with us, and I find myself smearing a fairly large glob of butter on a slice of bread for lunch now and then! The greatest thing was that we adopted the – relatively early for us – bed time for the kids and we are still sticking to that. – Ozgur, Turkish, relocated to the Netherlands from the US two years ago