Overcoming Stereotypes: How to Talk to Colleagues and Make Dutch Friends

Overcoming Stereotypes: How to Talk to Colleagues and Make Dutch Friends

Going to a foreign country to work is already difficult. When you move abroad, you step out of your comfort zone and leave your family and friends behind in search of a better life. A new country means a new culture, but if you want to meet the locals, you’ll need to make some extra effort.

Dutch people are quite honest and don’t waste their time on pleasantries. If you plan to move to the Netherlands for work, you’ll need to know how to talk to colleagues and make new friends in this beautiful country. And this blog will help you do so.

Talking to Colleagues in the Netherlands

Dutch friends

People come to the Netherlands with the idea of working and earning some money. They spend the majority of their day at their job. Learning how to talk to colleagues will make or break your experience here. All you need to do is follow these basic rules, and you’ll have nothing to worry about.

Learn Dutch or English

First of all, to make your life in the Netherlands easier, you’ll need to learn Dutch or English. Learning Dutch might be slightly more challenging but knowing one of the two languages will make it easy for you to communicate no matter which part of the country you’re in. 

Over 95% of Dutch speak English, and they speak it well.

But if you really want to impress and make new Dutch colleagues, learn the Dutch language! Showing interest in their language and culture will definitely put smiles on their faces, and make your communication with them a lot easier.

Also, by learning Dutch or English, you’ll increase your chances of getting a job through Robin. No matter which foreign country you’re coming from, you need to speak Dutch or English to get a job. Having some basic language knowledge makes you eligible to apply through Robin.

The Customer Is Not Always Right

In many countries, it is common to expect excellent service when paying for a service and to express dissatisfaction when it is not provided. People working in the service sector are often told that the customer is always right, but this is not the case in the Netherlands.

There is equality of treatment, even when money is involved, so don’t be quick to call the boss of the café if you are unhappy. The first thing to do is to take a critical look at your own behaviour to make sure you have done the right thing and have been polite.

If you spend time in coffee shops, book clubs, or any other places and you are not satisfied with the service, they will not hesitate to ask you to leave if they believe that you are overreacting and want to get something for free. If you’re working in a job that is customer-oriented, keep this in mind.

Friends vs. Colleagues

Doing business with Dutch people is a unique experience. They are quite straightforward and professional. Becoming friends with colleagues is rare in the Netherlands, and they usually separate their personal lives from their business lives.

You have your best friends, and you have your colleagues. If you want to make friends, you will not look for a new friend among your colleagues. 

In fact, asking them to stay for drinks after work is not something they’re used to. After work, they like to go home to their families and be about their business.

Communication With Colleagues Is Easy No Matter the Status

Dutch friends

One of the biggest surprises for foreigners living in the Netherlands is the immediate communication between employers and employees.

A lot of workers who went through Robin had similar experiences during their stay in the Netherlands. One of them is Milda Liutkutė, whom we asked to share more details about her stay abroad. 

She has worked in both the Netherlands and her own country and concluded that direct communication is common in the workplace. Talking to your boss “without politeness”, and informally quickly becomes routine, no matter where you’ve come from. And that’s something you’ll have to get used to.

A country similar to this is Denmark, but you can also draw similarities with Belgium and parts of Germany. Other foreigners that come to work in the Netherlands from countries such as Poland, Spain, the Czech Republic, etc. may find this slightly odd at first.

If You Don’t Like It, Say So

Ms. Liutkutė also noticed that shyness and modesty often prevent most people working abroad from getting good working conditions.

“I think that the main difference between a Dutch and a foreign employee is that a Dutch person will tell his employer if he is not satisfied with the working conditions or the salary. Whereas an expat, even if he or she is unhappy with something, will often keep quiet and continue working until his or her patience runs out”, she said.

In such cases, dissatisfied expats often find a new job and announce their departure at the last minute.

Skip the Pleasantries

Most Europeans know that an important email should start with a polite address and end with a tactful goodbye.

In many cases, this is exactly what is expected of you, but don’t be fooled—in the Netherlands, such ‘maneuvers’ are seen as a waste of time. Dutch people love to be direct, whether in email communications or any other work setting.

Here, it’s refreshing to be brief and clear, whereas in other countries, common courtesy will quickly lead to the suspicion that you’re about to ask for a favour, or are trying to “sugarcoat” the unpleasant news that’s about to come your way. Also, making small talk is unnecessary if you’re living in the Netherlands.

If you’re not sure what to do or how to approach colleagues or friends, just be direct and say what’s on your mind – whether you have questions or need help.

Talking to Dutch Friends

Dutch friends

What you do outside of work is completely up to you. You can choose your activities, but when you are in a new country, it might be worthwhile to meet people, attend cultural events, and get to know Dutch society the way it actually is.

Here’s what you should keep in mind when you immerse yourself in the culture.

Punctual Planners

The Dutch are known the world over as very punctual people. They turn up at the agreed time and place and consider lateness to be rude.

However, there is one condition for this – everything must be agreed upon in advance. If you have Dutch friends, they do not like spontaneous changes, plans, or visits, and any trip or meet up is planned. The same goes for business meetings.

Dutch Are Friendly and Open-Minded

Although they aren’t fans of small talk and pleasantries and love to be direct, that doesn’t mean that Dutch people are rude. On the contrary – they are friendly and open-minded.

It’s not only common to say hello to colleagues, but also to shop assistants, café workers, and other people you meet while smelling your morning coffee or looking for ingredients for your favourite meal. 

“Good morning” and “good afternoon” are simple phrases that accompany people every day in the Netherlands.

As for their open-mindedness, they are very receptive to people who come from any foreign country. Whether you’re from an EU country or not, making friends shouldn’t be too difficult. Also, the Netherlands is one of the first countries to legalize same sex marriage in Europe, and they rank third in the European Union for gender equality.

The Dutch government is very proactive in making laws that benefit the Dutch people and everyone who comes here. Meanwhile, the Dutch healthcare system is one of the best in the world, and everyone has access to it, whether they are residents or foreigners.

Don’t Use Hand Gestures

In the sunny Mediterranean countries, hand gestures are an unavoidable accompaniment to words, but in Dutch society, you’ll have to give up this habit. In fact, making friends would be much more difficult if you were prone to gestures.

Dutch people are friendly and talkative, but personal space is highly valued here. “In the Netherlands, you only sit next to a stranger if you have no other option”, is how Dutch author Han van der Horst puts it.

If you are a dog owner and hang out with other dog owners or you love to watch sports clubs play, you’ll run into people with similar interests. 

However, be respectful of their personal space, and if you are looking to make some new friends, keep this in mind and let it flow naturally. If it happens, great, but if not, don’t force conversations.

Join Facebook Groups

Dutch friends

One of the great ways to get to know the Dutch is to join groups online. This is a great way to get into conversations, meet people, and make friends, especially if you’re more introverted and aren’t comfortable in social settings.

Most people will reply to your messages if you ask them some questions, or you can exchange some comments and immerse yourself in the community.

This is a great way to explore different cultures without being too intrusive or uncomfortable if you aren’t used to meeting people outside. Or, since you’re working in the Netherlands, you may not have the time or energy for daily social interactions.

Change the Subject Carefully

Interested in football? Although your Dutch friends are proud of their team and have a lot to say about it, don’t be too quick to bring up the subject when talking to them. Every nation has topics that are spoken about carefully or not at all. Also, don’t be in a hurry to ask about the royal family, intoxication laws, and alternative lifestyles.

Try to keep the conversation as natural as possible, and if certain topics come up, that’s good. The Netherlands may be the first country you’re working in as a foreigner, and it is natural that you want to learn some things about the Dutch people and their culture. It is better to let it come over time than to ask random questions you’re interested in.

Don’t Be Quick to Brag or Judge

The Netherlands is known around the world as a particularly tolerant country. You can feel free to express your opinions here, but be aware that you will have to listen to those who disagree. 

Equality and tolerance are Dutch strengths, so even when you talk about your achievements, don’t get carried away, or you could be criticised.

With your boastful attitude, you will not make friends that easily. This is universally true, not just in the Netherlands.

Visit Different Cities to Meet New Friends

One of the easiest ways to make friends is to travel around the Netherlands. You will engage with new people on the go, while having fun, trying different foods, and learning about the culture of the country.

Over the course of your trip, you will get a real sense of the Dutch people as you speak to them in daily interactions, ask locals for directions, or simply explore a city.

While Amsterdam is by far the most popular city to go to, cities such as Rotterdam, The Hague, Haarlem, or Volendam are also breathtaking.

Some cities will give you a sense of a close-knit community, while others are great for people who travel abroad for work. You can meet new people here or visit with friends and family.

“Let Op!”

To make Dutch friends, you can’t clog the bike lanes. “Let op!” is the phrase you’ll hear a lot, especially if you’ve never been in the Netherlands before. If this phrase is for you, get out of the bike lane immediately.

Even if you are an exemplary worker and love your job, never let your guard down when you go out on the street, because in the Netherlands, cyclists are the kings of the road, and they will only press the brake lever if they have to.

Make the Most Out of Your Working Abroad Experience

Dutch friends

Now that you know more about Dutch people and how to communicate with them, you’ll be able to navigate around your workplace and make some Dutch friends during your stay.

But first, you need to find a job in the Netherlands. And there’s no better way to do it than through Robin!

Go through our job offers and apply for vacancies on our website. One of our recruiters will contact you for further steps. We add new jobs consistently, so make sure you check our website daily for new job opportunities. 


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