Life with the Dutch – an expats survival guide

The Dutch, as a nation are known for many things – windmills, tulips and canals are probably the most famous of all, but for an expat to survive in the Netherlands, they need to think like the Dutch and more importantly the need to know what the Dutch will be expecting of them. Luckily The Netherlands is known as being one of Europe’s most international cities and as so, millions of expatriates call the land of tulips and windmills home and since there are so many foreigners, most expats fit in with relative ease.
One other thing which the Dutch are known for is for their high levels of tolerance and they are very tolerant of other religions, opinions and customs. Their unmistakable tolerance has made the country, one of the most preferred countries for expats who are known to adjust swiftly and fit in easily. As if to show their tolerance to newcomers, the Netherlands are one of the few countries that will allow resident expats to vote in local elections and what’s more this may soon be extended to the national elections.

On the flipside of the country’s tolerance – strangely enough, individual Dutch people may not seem to portray the same levels of tolerance as those which have been adopted by their home country. Many expatriates find that the Dutch come across as being arrogant and are of the belief that their way is the right way. For an expatriate to survive, they are urged to remember that often the so called arrogant persona of the Dutch is often incorrect. By and large the people of the Netherlands are driven by a number of strong and firm attitudes and even though they may appear to come across as disinterested in others, their high levels of tolerance or their ‘live and let live’ beliefs dictates to them that what people really want is to live in peace and if they maintain their own privacy and they honour the privacy of others they will be able to achieve this. It may be due to this that some foreigners notice that the Dutch don’t go out of their way to engage in conversations with strangers and since they view personal space as being so important, their homes are private places or sanctuaries and few ‘outsiders’ are invited to their homes.

The Dutch at Work

One thing that the Dutch strive for is an egalitarian society, and in the country no person is treated as a servant, and everyone, no matter what job they perform or what income they earn, expects to be treated with dignity and respect. In the Dutch workplace, top executives do not wear different clothes or own more expensive cars than their employees – in such a classless society there is no need to flaunt wealth or possessions.

When it comes down to business, expats need to be modest to succeed. If you are familiar with the saying that the Dutch invented business on a global scale, this is not an exaggeration. Most Dutch people are motivated to work by a sense of personal satisfaction and achievement and not necessarily by money – as such, they have strong work ethics. It may be for this very reason why as many as 8,000 multinational companies have setup their European headquarters in the Netherlands.

As a nation, the Dutch are well organized, competent, practical, pragmatic, and punctual and in the business world they drive a hard bargain. To do well in the world of trade and commerce, it is important to make business appointments well in advance, and when made, these appointments should not be changed or postponed on short notice. Being punctual is a necessity and tardiness is often viewed as being incompetent or worse untrustworthy. The Dutch prefer to get down to business almost instantly and are not know to engage in small talk. Secrets or devious strategies are not tolerated and as such, negotiations and business deals are always straightforward. Many expatriates may find that the Dutch take time to make decisions; the Dutch prefer to reach agreement with all parties before making a firm decision.

The country has a high standard of living, and unemployment is only about 7%, a low figure when compared with other European countries. The unions are a lot weaker than they once were, and more people are opting to work as independent contractors.

Life in the Netherlands for expats

Foreigners are not restricted from buying property either to use as a personal residence or as an investment. Property ownership however does not guarantee being granted residency in the country. Expats will find out that housing is often difficult to come by and it is relatively expensive. Buying property entails transaction costs, and the expat should not consider purchasing property unless they plan to stay for at least four or more years. Depending on where the expat originates from, they should expect the homes to be smaller than they are used to. If they are from Europe, they may not be too surprised but if they are from the United States for instance, they may find the houses are smaller and more costly.

Most Dutch people are proud of their homes and they often leave the curtains open to show them off. Live-in domestic is rare and not usually the norm, but it is possible to source part-time people to come in an assist with cleaning.

Even though many Dutch people are able to speak English well, it is considered worthwhile for a foreigner to learn at least conversational Dutch. It will come in handy when communicating with trades people, postal workers etc.

With so many locals speaking English so well, many expats may believe that they have a lot in common with them, or actually see them as being very similar to them. This is not the case; the Dutch have their own set of unique priorities, beliefs and quite formal social traditions that may take time to become accustomed to. Thankfully the Dutch are quite forgiving of mistakes that foreigners do make. One of the worst errors or faux pas an expatriate can make is to pretentiously display wealth, and to be a braggart.

For the foreigners who are eager to make friends in their new home, they should feel free to take the initiative and invite the neighbours in for a coffee. For such an invitation, a Dutch host would tend to accept a 10:30 am invite. Often such a ritual would be to offer the guest a cup of coffee and a pastry, a second cup with another pastry, and when done, they would expected to leave.

If attempting to come up with a few suitable topics for discussion among newly made Dutch friends or work colleagues, sport makes for a good topic of conversation. It may be the case that the Dutch are seen to be a liberated nation – they are however, not comfortable talking about sex or prostitution, nor drugs. The fact is that the Dutch are not keen about having earned the reputation for being unrestrictive and promiscuous, and they often believe that their nation and their high levels of tolerance is misunderstood by other countries.