Dutch Customs and Etiquette - Miscellaneous


  • The Dutch value personal space and tend to avoid physical contact even among friends. When standing in a group, or when talking to one another, they tend to keep a rather large distance.
  • Many Dutch surnames start with a tussenvoegsel, i.e. a prefix such as 'de' (the) or 'van' (from). These are neglected in alphabetical order. So a Dutchman named 'de Vries' will say his last name starts with a 'V', and you'll find him in a telephone directory under that letter. In addition, if the first name or initial is mentioned, 'de' or 'van' starts with a lower case letter. If the first name or initial is absent, the prefixes start with capitals (Jan de Vries/J. de Vries versus meneer ('Mister') De Vries/De Vries).
    • In Belgium the prefixes are considered an integral part of the name and as such are written with a capital even when the first name is present (Jan De Vries), and names are sorted accordingly (under 'D'). Also, many names are written without spaces (Vanderberg versus Van der Berg).
  • Funerals are attended by invitation only (though a general invitation may be placed in the form of a newspaper ad if the deceased was well known, or if family members and friends can not be traced) and an invitation may be for a specific part of the funeral only. It may or may not include a church service. A funeral is often spread over several locations: gathering at a funeral home or a family residence for a wake or viewing, where farewells may be said to the deceased in the open casket, followed by a church service or a non-religious service at a funeral home or cremation center. A burial may follow the service. The funeral is concluded at the funeral parlor or a reserved room in a restaurant where food and drinks are offered; traditionally coffee and sponge cake.
    • Transport between the different locations is usually by car, with all cars having their lights on or marked with a small flag to indicate a procession. They tend to drive slowly on the way to the funeral, but usually maintain normal speed on the way back.
    • Generally people dress formally in black, dark blues or grays. White is not commonly worn.
    • Funerals tend to be muted affairs. People keep their voices down but avoid more overt displays of grief. The mood usually lightens after the funeral itself and can become quite lighthearted at the reception afterward.
    • Sending flowers to a funeral is common practice, but the displays are usually small. This is one of the few occasions that the Dutch usually send flowers rather than bring them, even when attending the funeral in person.
  • Weddings can range from small private affairs to elaborate parties, depending on the preferences of individuals. Dutch law only recognizes weddings as legally binding when performed by a government official, but a church ceremony may be included in the wedding festivities. Most people have a civil wedding, often conducted in the town hall. In the Netherlands there is a statutory requirement for couples intending to marry to formally register that intention with officials beforehand; allowing people who may object, time to learn of the intended marriage. This process is called "ondertrouw".

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