Dutch Business Etiquette

Welkom in Nederland! (‘‘Welcome to the Netherlands!” in Dutch)

The Netherlands, which many people still call by its old name “Holland,” has no shortage of interesting cultural and historical contributions and tourist attractions.

The name “The Netherlands” means “Low Countries,” as inspired by the flat geography of the land. From the colorful fields of tulips to the wooden windmills,  bicycles, and canals, The Netherlands is a beautiful country end-to-end. Situated in Western Europe (with three island territories in the Caribbean – Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius) between Belgium and Germany, The Netherlands is an extremely densely populated country.

With so much beauty in one country, it is no wonder that The Netherlands has produced so many famous painters, including: Rembrandt, Jan Vermeer, Jan van Eyck, Piet Mondrian, and (most famously) Vincent Van Gogh.

The Netherlands has the 17th-largest GDP in the world and is a huge player in international trade. Some of the country’s biggest sectors are agriculture, finance, and law.

Before you take a business trip to The Netherlands, let’s first learn about the dos and don’ts of Dutch business etiquette.

The Lowdown

  • The capital of The Netherlands is Amsterdam, which is also the country’s largest city. Amsterdam, of course, is famous for its prevalent coffee-shop marijuana sales.
  • The official language of The Netherlands is Dutch, spoken by about 90% of the population. About 79% of the population identifies ethnically as Dutch.
  • Poland is a unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy (its monarch is Willem-Alexander). The official name of the country is Kingdom of the Netherlands.
  • Poland is religiously diverse, with a mix of Roman Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, and various others.
  • The Netherlands is an extremely environmentally-conscious nation famous for harnessing alternative power sources (such as wind power - hello windmills!).

Dressing Sharp

  • Conservative, clean attire is the standard in the Dutch business setting.
  • The Dutch are not as formal as other nations, many opting to wear a jacket but not a suit, but it is best to overdress instead of under-dress.
  • Women typically wear pants or pantsuits.
  • Some industries employ a much more relaxed dress code, so follow the lead of your Dutch host.
  • The Dutch are not flashy and do not value high fashion, expensive clothing, or accessories.

Make or Break Meetings

  • Punctuality is considered important in The Netherlands, but if you are late, an apology will generally be accepted.
  • Greet the Polish Dutch with a strong handshake and eye contact to assert confidence. (If you meet Dutch children, you can shake their hands as well.)
  • Do not ask the Dutch for personal information, as they are extremely private people and will likely not answer you.
  • Meetings are typically formal, and formal titles should be used to address all parties.
  • The Dutch take a strong anti-corruption stance and are considered one of the most honest nations with which to do business.

Dining Decorum

  • Business meals may be held at a local restaurant or Dutch home at either lunch time or dinner time.
  • Do not sit down or begin eating until the host indicates to do so.
  • Like many European nations, table manners are Continental.
  • Do not eat with your hands, even if you are eating foods which in the U.S. are considered “finger foods.”
  • When you have finished your meal, cross your utensils on your plate. Do not leave any food on your plate, as the Dutch do not like to waste food.

Giving and Getting Gifts

  • Gift-giving is not a typical practice in the Dutch business sector.
  • If you decide to give a gift to a Dutch business associate, a modest, small gift is most appropriate.
  • Acceptable gifts include: books, chocolates, or flowers. For a more comprehensive listing of Dutch gift-giving etiquette, visit this site.
  • Gifts should be wrapped neatly.
  • Gifts are typically opened upon receipt.

Down to Business

  • The Dutch have a long history of international trade with other nations, and will likely be adept at negotiating.
  • The Dutch prefer to negotiate in a straightforward, emotionless way. They typically do not engage in a lot of small talk.
  •  Negotiations will often move quickly as the Dutch do not like to waste time.
  • The Dutch party will appreciate an extremely well-organized, detail-oriented presentation.
  • Contracts are strictly enforced.

Now that you're well prepared for your next jet-setting business trip to The Netherlands, don't forget to stay tuned for our next Business Etiquette blurb!

Tot ziens! ("Goodbye!" in Dutch)