Culture Shock in the Netherlands
The Dutch are among the most liberal people in the world, so more conservative expats may experience some culture shock in the Netherlands. Prostitution is legal and flaunted in Amsterdam's red light districts and marijuana (while technically illegal) is sold in coffee shops across the capital.
Making new friends can be difficult for expats moving to the Netherlands, especially if they don't speak Dutch, and establishing a social circle often takes a lot of effort.
That said, the Dutch say it like it is and expats will know exactly where they stand with locals. This can seem abrasive, but having an open mind and a sense of humour will go a long way to easing the transition to life in the Netherlands.
Language barrier in the Netherlands
The Dutch language could be the biggest hurdle for new arrivals. Locals are often multilingual, and in the big cities most speak reasonable English, French or German. However, unless expats can speak some Dutch, they could end up feeling isolated.
Expats can miss a lot of information if they don't speak the local language. Posters and adverts hanging in shop windows might carry vital information, especially when looking for work or entertainment. Local newspapers also have valuable info about local happenings in and around the neighbourhood.
Once they can speak Dutch, most expats find that locals seem friendlier, more helpful and more encouraging.
There are several options for learning Dutch, including private individual lessons and intensive courses at language centres and universities. The latter is the most efficient and valuable for expats working in the Netherlands. The courses are designed to teach individuals to speak Dutch quickly and offer a wealth of invaluable information about Dutch culture and history.
Meeting and greeting in the Netherlands
In the Netherlands, it's customary for people to introduce themselves by shaking hands and stating their name. Another local tradition at gatherings like graduation ceremonies or birthday parties is that everyone related to the guest of honour gets congratulated – so remember to shake the hand of those present and congratulate them by saying, "gefeliciteerd".
Locals also tend to eat dinner early. Unless invited, expats shouldn't visit anyone around 6pm as most Dutch families will be sitting to dinner and won't appreciate the interruption.
Work culture in the Netherlands
With respect to the work culture in the Netherlands, interviewing tends to be informal. The Dutch love to have meetings or vergaderingen. They often run overtime since everyone, regardless of rank, needs to be heard. If a decision isn't reached then they simply adjourn to the next meeting.
Rank is also unimportant and it's not unusual to find bosses to be more approachable than what expats might have previously experienced.
Foreigners need to be modest, as the motto in the Netherlands is "doe maar gewoon", which means that things should be done in a practical manner and never over the top.
To add to this, the Dutch like to keep their working life and personal life separate, so it can be difficult to socialise with colleagues outside of work.
Service in the Netherlands
The Netherlands isn't the most service-orientated country. It's normal to enter a shop and be left waiting unattended and service in restaurants can be slow. Even the Dutch complain about the lack of good service in their country. One explanation is that employees get their salary no matter what. Commission systems, like bonus and percentage increases on every sale, aimed at motivating staff to perform better, are relatively rare.