Home About the Netherlands Basics When in the Netherlands, go Dutch
Last update on February 18, 2020
Written by Distant View

One expat blogger’s insights “to help foreigners integrate more easily in the Netherlands.”

When in Rome do like the Romans do, so you won’t be noticed.

This is an important evolutionary strategy that has enabled the remaining Dutch to survive through many invasions. Keep a low profile and don’t excel in any conspicuous way, so you won’t be plucked from the crowd and be made an example of.

Depending on your field of endeavour you can find the right way to behave.


If customers enter, immediately dominate them with your commanding presence and loud voice. Usher them to the most convenient table for you.

If they head for a table of their choice, look affronted and tell them that table is not possible.

Never acknowledge or look at a seated customer until they have tried to get your attention at least three times.

Avoid eye contact and brush off any attempts to stop you in your tactics by marching past, as if in a hurry, muttering ‘one minute’.

Take their drink order, but don’t bring a food menu until asked twice. This should induce them to order more drinks, which are of course the cash cow of a restaurant.

Ensure the food arrives at least an hour after ordering. Give the impression that it was recently prepared with great care.

If you see diners engrossed in conversation, they might be planning a quiet complaint, so you should loudly interrupt them, and with challenging eye contact demand loudly ‘Everything is good!’ (expressed as a statement rather than a question). As the eyes of other tables will be on your subjects, most customers will be too timid to disagree publicly.

Let dirty dishes and mess accumulate on the table, to give that homely, ‘gezellijk’ feel.

If customers order dessert and coffee, bring the coffee half an hour before the dessert. Make the customer order another coffee to enjoy with dessert.

If anyone orders beer, hold the glass low under the tap to ensure there is no more than an inch of beer in the bottom, with froth filling at least half of the glass. Air is cheaper than beer! If two-thirds of the glass of beer is air, beer profits are up 66 percent.

Keep a dirty old plastic spatula in a dirty glass of water to wipe the excess bubbles off the top of the glass into the recycling tank below. This gives the impression that you care, and also helps the customer’s immune system fight against bar germs.

Don’t waste your effort being polite or helpful. The customer will use their pin card and leave no tip, regardless of your efforts.

Shop assistants

Converse as much as possible with other shop assistants–this will reduce the possibility of ignorant customers approaching you for help.

Try to form a cluster of three or more shop assistants, which gives you two advantages:

  • it’s easier to maintain an uninterrupted flow of conversation;
  • a bigger group is more intimidating for customers to rudely interrupt.

If a customer asks if you if you stock a certain item, immediately answer in an authoritarian voice, ‘No no. We don’t stock those! Not possible.’

An inexperienced customer will simply leave with their tail between his legs.

The experienced customer will proceed to find the item themselves, but should leave you unmolested thenceforth.

If the customer complains in English—whether Australian/ American or whatever—or should make some sarcastic remark thanking you for your generous assistance, just ignore them or snicker about ‘Engels‘ to the other shop assistants in your group. This technique should cause them to hasten their exit.

If you work in a food shop, touch the food with your unwashed hands as often as possible. When a customer asks the price of a cream cake, press your index finger into the cream as you ask ‘This one?’

If a customer orders a hot roast chicken, manhandle it into the bag with your bare hand, then take the money with your ‘gravied’ hand.

This will:

  • assist development of stronger immunity in the customer (Dutch believe in prevention rather than cure and take the ‘natural way’ wherever possible);
  • save on soap, water, electricity (for hot water) and plastic gloves.

Never use tongs. If gloves are provided they are to keep your hands clean, so you should handle food, money and cleaning rags without changing gloves.

Office workers

Start work at around 9:00 and leave exactly 8.5 hours later, taking exactly half an hour for lunch at 12:00 or 12:30.

For lunch you should eat a cheese, ham or Amerikaans (spiced raw meat paste) sandwich with a sliced hardboiled egg inside on Friday. Wash it down with one cup of karnemelk (sour milk) or halfvolle (skimmed) milk.

The only hot food you can trust are croquettes, frikandellen and meat balls with peanut sauce. Avoid any foreign food in the canteen.

On special days you can spread butter on bread, add chocolate sprinkles, and eat with a knife and fork.

You should go to lunch with a group of colleagues.

Take your turn to get coffee from the office Douwe Egbert or Senseo machine for the whole team, using a tray, usually a plastic tray with cup holes in it is provided.

If you get a phone enquiry, do not accept responsibility: transfer the call to a colleague who is away, or else tell the caller that the person responsible will be back in one month, and to call back.

There will be frequent work meetings in which you should endeavour to obstruct as much as possible any progress on the projects at hand.


As with shop assistants, gather in groups of three or more if possible, and ensure that no more than one person works at any given time.

Endeavour to obstruct the traffic flow as much as possible:

  • block off a complete lane if the job requires work on a footpath or roadside;
  • block off the whole road (including highway exits) if you need to work on any part of the actual road itself. This rule also extends to accident assistance workers.Maximum inconvenience is the catchword.These rules, if followed, will:
  • enable the job to last as long as possible and hence improve the employment statistics of the Netherlands;
  • increase the citizens’ submission to authority (since they have no choice;
  • help foreigners slow down to a more relaxed pace in Holland.


If you have ice or snow on your car windows, laboriously scrape it off with a special scraping tool, rather than simply pouring a bucket of warm water over the windows.

Scraping will:

  • give you exercise (natural way again);
  • save on water costs;
  • demonstrate normality.

Never indicate when changing lanes: just cut into the traffic in the next lane. Police do not mind so why waste the petrol and electricity on powering the indicator light?

If you are in a single lane road, you are in control, so use that authority:

Drive as slowly as civility will allow you, but as soon as you reach a double lane or passing section of the road, accelerate to maintain your supremacy.

If you come to a pedestrian crossing, do not stop if a pedestrian tries to cross near the edge of the crossing – he must ‘walk the middle way’ to show he is an orderly citizen.

On the street

Closely scrutinise passers-by, without making eye contact.

If you spot someone with an unusual fashion item or other abnormality, wait until they look at you, then stare at the said item with a look of stern disapproval. To emphasise the point, mutter ‘niet normale’.

This will make them think, and help them adjust to the Dutch way of life.