People and Culture in the Netherlands

“Discover the many secrets of this gently beautiful country and its masterpieces, canal towns and windmills. Revel in the welcoming yet wry culture at a cafe, then bike past fields of tulips.”

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Remember how your parents used to tell you to keep your elbows off the table during meals? Or that it’s rude to slurp your soup? Well there’s good news guys, these American cultures and customs don’t always translate to other countries! While the local people you meet won’t expect you to be fluent in their language, culture and customs, it is important to familiarize yourself with them.

Do you know how kissing, snoring and other things sound in other languages? That’s right, even sound effects can be translated!

The most important thing to remember while you’re abroad is that things will be different. But, different doesn’t mean wrong. Be open, be curious, and read more about the culture you will be stepping into. Get excited about LIVING the life you’ve only dreamt and read about until now!

People and Culture in the Netherlands

Official name: Netherlands

Population: 16.8 million

Capital City: Amsterdam

Geography: The Netherlands is located in the northwestern part of Europe, bordering Germany, Belgium, and the North Sea. The Netherlands literally means “Low Lands”, referring to the flat nature of the terrain.

Culture of the Netherlands:

  • Families tend to be on the smaller side, with usually one or two children.
  • Few women work full-time outside of the house, allowing them to be more available to their children.
  • The Dutch are very private people – they do not usually show their emotions or brag about their possessions. They also do not ask personal questions and will not answer any directed towards them.
  • Most people will only use their first names with family or close friends.

Non-verbal communication:

  •  A handshake is the most typical form of greeting someone.

Other customs to be familiar with:

DO: Use your table manners! Hold your fork in the left hand and your knife in the right.

DO NOT: Begin eating until the hostess starts eating.

DO: Finish everything on your plate – the Dutch hate wasting food.

DO NOT: Cut your salad, fold the lettuce onto your fork.

Phrases to know before you go:

Hello and Other Greetings

You’ll hear the Dutch greet each other and visitors with any of the following words and phrases. It’s customary to return the sentiment when greeted.

  • Hallo (“HAH low”) — Hello
    Universal greeting for hello (and by far the easiest to say). Appropriate almost any time or place.
  • Hoi (“hoy”) — Hi
    Used more often with people you know. A bit more casual.
  • Goedemorgen (“KHOO duh MORE khen”) — Good morning
    Most commonly used in museums, shops, restaurants, hotels, etc. More formal and appropriate for people you don’t know. Sometimes shortened to morgen.
  • Goedemiddag (“KHOO duh midakh”) — Good afternoon
    Same usage as above, only for a different time of day. Sometimes shortened to middag.
  • Goedenavond (“KHOO dun AH fohnt”) — Good evening
    Same usage as above, only for a different time of day. Not typically shortened.


When leaving a store or café, most people in Amsterdam use one of the following words or phrases. Be a friendly visitor and try one out.

  • Dag (“dakh”) — Bye
    Literally “day” as in “good day,” this is the most common word for goodbye. Appropriate with most anyone. Can also be used as a greeting.
  • Tot ziens (“toht zeens”) — See you later (figurative)
    Cheerful, yet still appropriate with people you don’t know. Often used by shop or restaurant workers as you leave.
  • Doei or doeg (“dooey” or “dookh”) — Bye
    Used more often with people you know, but can be used in a casual, friendly way. Much like the British “cheerio.”

Thank You, Please and Other Polite Words

Thank you and please are used regularly and a few different ways in everyday Dutch conversation and interaction, even in the most casual settings. As a visitor, you should follow suit (in any language).

  • Dank u wel (“dahnk oo vel”) — Thank you very much (formal)
    Dank je wel (“dahnk yuh vel”) — Thank you very much (informal)
    Most common way of saying thank you. The formal version is appropriate to use with people you don’t know and the informal for family and friends. Although it isn’t a literal translation, the added wel is similar to adding “very much” to thank you. A simple dank u is also fine.
  • Bedankt (“buh DAHNKT”) — Thanks
    A little less formal than dank u wel, but appropriate for most any situation.
  • Alstublieft (“ALST oo bleeft”) — Please or if you please (formal)
    Alsjeblieft (“ALS yuh bleeft”) — Please or if you please (informal)
    These words have various meanings in different contexts and are used very frequently. Here’s a typical example in a café situation:
    You: Een koffie, alstublieft. (One coffee, please.)
    The server arrives with your coffee and presents it to you. Server: Alstublieft.
    You: Dank u wel.
    The server doesn’t mean “please” as he gives you your coffee. He means something more like “here you are” or “if you please.” If you manage to thank your server before he says it, he may respond with alstublieft as a kind of “you’re welcome.” Sometimes shortened to blieft.
  • Pardon (“par DOHN”) — Pardon, excuse me
    Universal word for excuse me, whether to get someone’s attention or to be polite when trying to work your way through a crowd.
  • Meneer (“muh NEAR”) — Mister
    Mevrouw (“muh FROW”) — Miss, Mrs.
    These words are the Dutch equivalents of the English “mister” or “sir” and “miss,” “Mrs.” or “ma’am” (mevrouw is used for both married and unmarried women). You might say Pardon, meneer, to be more polite.
  • Sorry (same as English, but with a long “o” and somewhat rolled “r”) — Sorry
    This one’s pretty self explanatory. You accidentally step on someone’s toe on the tram. “Oh, sorry!” No translation needed.

Other Resources:

Dutch Greetings

Dutch Etiquette