Dutch Customs and Etiquette - Conversation and Language

Conversation and Language

  • The Dutch avoid superlatives. Compliments are offered sparingly. When something is "not bad", "okay" or "nice", it should be perceived as praise for the recipient.
  • The Dutch speak directly and use a lot of eye contact. To a foreigner this may seem intimidating, especially in cultures where matters are discussed with extreme care and politeness, but it is the way the Dutch prefer to communicate. This is even more so in Dutch corporate society.
  • Discussing expensive items purchased recently (or anything similar) will be seen as boasting. Asking personal questions is equally dangerous, as the Dutch are private and feel uncomfortable answering questions they deem too personal. These problems can be avoided at least partially by acknowledging in advance that a question is rude or intrusive. One can ask permission to ask the question anyway if there is real need. This leaves the other person the opportunity to refuse to answer. In that case, it is considered extremely rude to ask the question anyway.
    • This especially includes asking about income or other personal finances; asking how much someone earns will be seen as rude, and volunteering your own income as pretentious.
  • The Dutch don't have a problem with saying No directly to someone's face. This is not considered impolite, but simply honest.
  • This honesty also translates into the willingness to answer questions: it is often better to keep asking questions about the subject in hand than to keep quiet and potentially misinterpret the situation.
  • Almost no subject is taboo in conversation, as long as it is discussed in general. Someone's personal affairs are usually off-limits, unless the person concerned brings up the matter him-/herself.
  • As a reserved people, the Dutch (especially the older generation) consider it rude to interfere with someone's personal business, though it is considered proper to interfere in a physical fight, or an exchange of words, should it seem likely physical violence is about to occur.
  • Whispering in the presence of other people is considered impolite. A whispered conversation in the company of unacquainted people in a relatively confined public place may also be considered impolite.
  • Relatively loud conversations in public are not uncommon. However, they may be frowned upon.

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