What it’s like being an expat working for a Dutch company

What it’s like being an expat working for a Dutch company

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Kate Aemisegger from UvA Talen shares some of her thoughts on what it's like to work for a Dutch company as an expat.

Are you an expat in the Netherlands working for (or applying to) a Dutch company? Have you found Dutch work culture to be different from that in your home country? Whether the differences are positive or negative, it’s important to be aware of them in order to acculturate and adapt to Dutch ways… and, above all, to avoid getting offended by stereotypical Dutch bluntness! Below you will read some of my thoughts as an American working for Dutch companies, in the hope that this will prepare you for similar experiences during your time here.

It’s not personal… I think?

News flash: the Dutch are blunt! If you are an expat in the Netherlands, you are probably aware of this stereotype already. Hey, even if you’re a Dutch person, this is unlikely to surprise you. But if you mix this with a culture known for its sensitivity to forthright, direct criticism, you get… offended Americans!

All jokes aside, these types of assumptions depend on the person, of course, and don’t necessarily apply to everyone or every company. To continue my point, it ultimately comes down to very little beating around the bush. As someone who is typically used to receiving work-related criticism in the form of hints, light reminders, and smiley faces within stronger-worded emails, I must say that the Dutch way is quite efficient.

One message: boom, done, over with. No one here will dance around a problem just to spare your feelings. But then again, why should they? It is NOT personal - I promise! They probably still like you as a person and this Dutch approach actually thickens your skin over time, helping you to become a bit less worried about what other people think of you.

Bluntness is such a huge part of the Dutch culture, and this brings me back to my point above: that understanding differences in communication styles can help you to acculturate to this wonderful country. It’s also useful if you learn some Dutch, as this will help you to understand how miscommunications can happen through translation. However, do proceed with caution…

Sick is sick is sick

One of the great things about working for a Dutch company is that you will probably never feel guilty for taking a sick day! Fellow Americans may appreciate this most of all, coming from a country where taking up sick days is often easier said than done. Companies and individuals differ, of course, but on the whole, I have found this to be true.

Have you ever woken up with a huge headache and sore throat, worried that you would get in trouble for not giving your boss enough notice about needing a day off? Can’t relate! It’s extremely comforting to know it’s OK to feel under the weather, and that the office won’t be seething with resentment in your absence!

Ziek is ziek - of je nu belangrijke deadlines hebt of niet, which translates to, sick is sick - whether you have important deadlines or not! My theory about this is that your Dutch co-workers would rather you missed a day and recovered quickly, than drag yourself along only to be less productive and unable to do your job to the best of your ability. Makes sense, right?

 I truly love these Dutch expressions that I learned through taking language courses because they help me to understand all of my Dutch colleagues better, as well as understand what is expected of me each day.

The good ol’ American “live to work" mindset

Another positive aspect of working in the Netherlands is the expectation that you’ll log off at the end of the day. Depending on the line of work you are in, you are not expected to put in extra hours unless there’s an emergency - which takes precedence, of course.

Being the American that I am, when I started working at my Dutch company, I immediately downloaded the workplace communication apps that I use day-to-day on my work laptop, in order to receive every notification at every hour of the day. Due to some deep fear I have of missing a message from my boss, I make myself accessible 24 / 7. A little bit psycho? Maybe. But hey, no one can ever say I am not reachable!

I soon realised how out of step I was when my co-workers began messaging me, asking why I had been online at 8 o’clock the previous evening… guilty! When I explained, my boss’s message read: “Ok, we will work on that in the future." If you are reading this and have this habit too… knock it off! It’s in your best interest to adopt the 9 -5 mentaliteit, as the Dutch call it.

Kate Aemisegger works and studies at UvA Talen, one of the biggest language schools in Amsterdam. They offer language courses from beginner to advanced levels. Want to improve your Dutch further, just like Kate? UvA Talen offers group courses and specialised courses if you want to concentrate on a specific aspect of the language.

Kate Aemisegger


Kate Aemisegger

Kate Aemisegger, employee and student at UvA Talen, the independent language centre of the University of Amsterdam, writes about her experience learning the Dutch language as an American living in Amsterdam. Her...

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