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How welcoming are the Dutch, really?

How welcoming are the Dutch, really?

How welcoming are the Dutch, really?

Taalthuis teaches you how to speak, read and write Dutch in an enjoyable way, using a wide range of interesting subjects. At Taalthuis, you will learn a lot about life in the Netherlands and that anybody can learn Dutch!

The Netherlands is ranked in fifth place on the United Nations’ World Happiness Report (March 2019). This small, densely populated country is also a popular location for expats, of which there are approximately 200.000.

It seems there is not much of a language barrier; almost everyone speaks English, so you can always make yourself understood. And yet, surprisingly, you often hear the complaint: when it comes to integrating into the local community, making friends among the Dutch, it often turns out to be remarkably difficult. By learning the Dutch language, you really get to know people much faster.

Lifelong circle of family & friends

Even long-term expats say that after countless years they have managed to make only a handful of Dutch friends. One example is British expat Charlie (40), a psychologist who is married to a Dutchman and has been living in the Netherlands for twelve years: 

“I have nice colleagues, one of whom has become a friend and another one or two with whom I sometimes drink a cup of coffee. Three Dutch friends in twelve years, that is really very few. It is a lot easier to make friends with other expats, but the disadvantage is that they will eventually leave.

I am a very social person, chatting with everyone, so I don't think that it’s me. My Dutch sister-in-law once made an interesting statement. She said that she does not really need new friendships, as her social agenda is already full enough. I was actually shocked by that.

I think that Dutch people build a closed circuit with neighbourhood, school and study friends, such as their year club at university, and, apparently, don’t need to meet more people beyond that. I have also lived in Australia and New Zealand, but the locals there were significantly more open to getting to know new people.”

Not invited

Jennifer (28) from England, who has been working and living in Amsterdam for four years, also shares the experience that real penetration into Dutch circles is not easy: 

“At work, I am the only foreign person, but everyone speaks English. Friday afternoon we always have a drink after work. At a certain moment, my Dutch colleagues move on to another pub and I am not asked. Not out of unwillingness, I think they assume that I have my own circle of friends. And they probably find it easier to be able to speak Dutch among themselves. Everyone seems to have their own group of friends and work and private life are often kept strictly separate.”

Patience

Cem (34), a computer engineer in the IT sector, is from Istanbul. He has been living and working in Haarlem for a year and a half: 

“So far, I find the Dutch surprisingly warm and helpful. I thought such a northern country would be distant or reserved, but in general, I find the people very sympathetic and talkative. I don’t notice discrimination; the Dutch are used to other nationalities. Making real friendships is indeed a bit more difficult, you have to be patient and do your best.”

Everyone has an opinion

The Dutch are known for being very direct, even blunt. Charlie: “Everyone must have an opinion about everything. Sometimes, I suspect they are coming up with one on the spot. Recently, I was asked what I thought about a certain topic, and I said I had no opinion on it. In England, you speak up if you know something, and if not, you just shut up. The British are also more cautious when commenting, so as not to hurt anyone.

Once, a colleague of mine had bought a new bag. It was an ugly thing, really, but I would never say that. When she asked me about it, I said: “You look very beautiful!” A Dutch colleague blurted out, “Well, I would never buy such a bag!” That may be fair, but it is also blunt and not really nice.”

Cem also notes that the Dutch can be pretty direct professionally. However, he does not take it personally: “I know that it will benefit the work if you directly state what is going on. To be honest, I actually really like it!”

Invest in friendships with time and attention

Expats unanimously say that it is not easy to gain access to the inner circle of the Dutch, but the friendships that do exist are very close and loyal. It seems that Dutch people maintain a small, close circle of friends instead of abundant and superficial acquaintances. If, after a few years, you only have a handful of local friends, don’t take it personally, but cherish what you have.

Realise that it is difficult for everyone in this country – including Dutch natives – to build new friendships as adults. So, organise a dinner at your home or invite people over for your birthday, a drink, a sports event, or to practice your Dutch. It can be the start of a beautiful, loyal and lifelong friendship.

Learn the language

English-speaking expats seem to be at a disadvantage when trying to learn Dutch. Certainly, in the professional world, English is very common, so there is less urgency to learn the language.

Jennifer: “I sometimes get the impression that Dutch people want to brush up on their own English. As soon as they notice that I am British, they immediately switch to English. That makes it even harder for me to learn Dutch. And it is already such a difficult language. A word like yummy (lekker), for example, has so many different uses. But I do see that learning the language is important, certainly in order to ultimately be able to integrate into Dutch society.”

Charlie now speaks Dutch fluently, thanks in part to an intensive language course. Cem is also busy learning Dutch and has just successfully completed an A0-A1 beginner’s level course: “It's really about me being able to understand something. I just want to understand what is being said at the lunch table, exchange a few sentences in the supermarket, or be able to read the newspaper a bit.”

In any case, learning the language of the country where you live is important. People open up when the other person makes the effort to speak in their language. No matter how broken your Dutch may be, it is certainly a lot better than not speaking any Dutch at all!

At Taalthuis, you can learn Dutch in a fun and supportive environment in seven cities around the Netherlands, including Amsterdam, Leiden and Utrecht.

Noor Feije

Author

Noor Feije

Noor studied Algemene Letteren at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. She has lived in Iceland, Canary Islands, Syria, Israel and Spain. Since 1999, she runs her own text bureau and...

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COMMENTS

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mokumhammer 11:46 | 20 August 2019

If you think you don't need to speak dutch, or can't be bothered to learn, then you will always be, & treated like, a tourist.

Thijs van Boven 22:17 | 20 August 2019

Interesting topic! I think this rings true even within Dutch circles. A lot of people I know tend to stick to their study, or even childhood friends. Making new friends happens at work, at sports or by living in the same buildings, but even those friendships (Dutch to Dutch) can be very superficial when compared to the old friendships.

Juan Pik O'Henry 16:21 | 6 September 2019

It may be a carry over from the war, when the Germans occupied Holland everyone would have been suspicious of everyone else and maybe just stuck with their own trusted friends. Children tend to follow the habits of their parents, so after a generation or so, being wary of strangers could easily become the norm.

Anne Kathleen 15:56 | 22 August 2019

I've been here for more than 30 years and I have dutch people in my life but I wouldn't class them as friends. I speak Dutch but that doesn't make any difference. They are lovely but some can be bossy and they don't like it when you don't play along. I was married to a dutch guy and in the 11 years that we were married his family never once showed any interest in me. They never asked me about my family, where I came from, nothing. I still find the dutch strange.

Juan Pik O'Henry 16:15 | 6 September 2019

I first visited Holland in 1994 on business. The group I was with (all of us English) sat on their own at a cafe, I saw a group of older Dutch gents and went and sat with them, made some really bad attempts to speak the language and was laughed at! - but, I was warmly welcomed and I was bought beers for the rest of the evening, they helped me pronounce what few words I knew. Recently I spent a few evenings learning some more and went to Amsterdam where, only a few of the people I met were actually Dutch! - Een appelsap alsjeblieft and other requests in Dutch ensured I was warmly treated, one Dutch cook (at our hotel) came over and chatted to my wife and self for almost 30 minutes. I now have several Dutch friends I regularly communicate with and use as much Dutch as I can, Wher ever I go in the world I learn a few phrases first - and try to learn more when I am there. - No problem.