Business Etiquette of the Netherlands

While visiting the Netherlands you’ll be expected to be punctual and organized. Schedule appointments two weeks in advance if you’re not far away, a month in advance if you are. Call within a few days to make sure all appointments are go. July and August are summertime in the Netherlands; try and avoid these months for scheduling appointments. December is not the best choice, either, since many people are on holiday vacation.

Business hours are usually from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekdays. Some banks have one night a week open for late customers. Most stores are open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. although some stores stay open even later.

Business dress is usually dark and conservative with white shirts or blouses. Avoid colorful, busy ties and scarves. If others remove their jackets during business meetings feel free to do the same, otherwise keep the jacket. Casual clothing is jeans and tee shirts or long sleeve shirts but avoid wearing shorts in public unless jogging.

Business cards and other materials can be printed in English and needn’t be translated to Dutch on the reverse unless the materials are complicated and in-depth. In some countries business is conducted only after some casual conversation amongst the associates but in the Netherlands business discussions are normally started after introductions.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep during the business discussions. Even if they are made casually you will be held to your word. Any failure to produce what you’ve promised and all deals will likely be finished. Honesty and integrity are treasured traits. Be straightforward if you want to be respected.

Privacy is important in the work place and all doors are kept shut. Knock first and wait for a response and remember to always close doors as you exit. Don’t gossip about other associates and never point one out – whether for achievement or for failure. At the end of a business meeting shake hands with each person individually. Group waves are unacceptable in this culture.

Conversations concerning the countryside, your home land or the arts are fine but avoid topics concerning legalized prostitution and religion. Remember that some people refer to the region as “Holland” but Holland is only a part of the Netherlands.

Gifts, especially large or pricey ones, are not generally seen in a positive light. For one thing the person will consider whether or not they are being bribed when presented with an expensive gift. Another problem is that the receiver may worry about how to repay such generosity. Give gifts which are small and tasteful but not before you have gotten to know the person better.

When invited to someone’s home for dinner be punctual or just a few minutes late, gift in hand. Flowers, a potted plant or chocolates, or a book from the U.S. are nice choices. If you know there are children it’s thoughtful to present them with a small token.

During dinner keep wrists above table and resist resting them in your lap. Knives and spoons are used with the right hand, fork with the left. There’s rarely such a thing as finger foods so use utensils no matter what you are eating except for bread. After seeing others pick up certain foods with fingers, such as fries, you are free to do the same but err on the side of using utensils if you’re unsure.

When dining out a simple nod to the waiter after catching his eye will suffice. If that isn’t working raise your hand slightly or just call out, quietly, to the waiter or waitress.

Converse in quieter tones than the norm for America. Refrain from wild gesturing or extremely loud laughing. Tones and attitudes are more reserved here than in America.

If in a theater or another place where you must pass in front of people and go down a narrow row never turn your backside to the seated people. Instead, apologize and pass by, facing them. In some regions of the Netherlands it’s inappropriate to just say “hi” to someone who is older than you. Don’t use toothpicks in public and never talk to someone with hands in pockets.

You’ll likely enjoy your time in this beautiful region of the world but things are somewhat different than in the states. Try to fit in by dressing and acting in a demure manner and by knowing your business inside and out. This will impress your counterparts, particularly if you have a likeable personality. Show respect to those who are elderly and mind your manners at all times.

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