The ins and outs of Dutch culture: Your guide to integration

The ins and outs of Dutch culture: Your guide to integration

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In this guide from international moving company AGS Global Solutions Netherlands, they explore the essential tips for adapting and integrating into Dutch society.

Navigating any new culture can be challenging, but it gets easier when you know what to expect. From understanding Dutch directness to getting comfortable with bespreekbaarheid, let's dive in and uncover the secrets to thriving in the Netherlands.

The straightforward Dutch communication style

The Dutch are known for being extremely straightforward. They value direct communication and often express their thoughts and opinions without the social niceties you may be used to in your own culture - whether you asked for it or not. So, how should you respond to this directness? Be open, honest and don’t be afraid to speak your mind - but remember to always be respectful.

In Dutch business culture, direct communication is not a choice but a necessity. Candour and clarity are highly valued, as they reflect efficiency and a lack of ambiguity. Constructive criticism is a part of everyday work, so if you're corrected or reprimanded, don't take it personally.

The willingness to talk about sensitive subjects

Another important aspect of Dutch culture is bespreekbaarheid. This word has no direct English translation but fundamentally means "the ability to discuss anything”. The concept is deeply ingrained in Dutch society and is a key element that sets the Netherlands apart from its neighbours.

Bespreekbaarheid explains the nation's progressive approach to issues like marijuana use, which can be stigmatised and heavily regulated in other countries. In the Netherlands, by contrast, sensitive topics are discussed openly and managed in a way that emphasises regulation and safety, demonstrating a mature, pragmatic approach to controversial issues.

This commitment to open dialogue fosters a society where nothing is considered taboo, and all subjects can be approached with respect and honesty, as long as the discourse remains adult and informed. This highly valued social norm underpins the Dutch reputation for tolerance and liberalism and is a crucial aspect of daily life and law-making in the country.

Environmental consciousness

The environment takes centre stage in every aspect of daily Dutch life, from governmental policies to individual practices. The country is known for its innovative approaches to sustainable living, including green energy initiatives, waste reduction programmes and sustainable urban planning.

Cities across the Netherlands have introduced fully green public transport options, including trams and buses powered by electricity or hydrogen, marking a significant step towards reducing urban carbon emissions.

Individual households contribute to this effort by implementing solar panels, investing in energy-efficient appliances, and supporting local, sustainable agriculture. The widespread acceptance and implementation of these practices demonstrate a national ethos of respect and care for the environment, making the Netherlands a model for sustainable living worldwide.

Dutch cycling culture

Cycling is not just a mode of transport in the Netherlands; it's a national identity. Even the Dutch (demissionary) Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, cycles to work!

The country boasts over 35.000 kilometres of bicycle paths - the most designated bike lanes in the world. It is also home to the world's first solar-powered bike lane as well as numerous bike bridges and tunnels designed specifically for cycling safety and convenience.

These innovations - and the fact the country has more bicycles than people - reveal how integrally the Dutch view cycling as part of sustainable living and a healthy lifestyle.

Other social norms in the Netherlands

The Netherlands also prides itself on these social norms:


Being on time is important in Dutch culture. Whether for meetings or social events, arriving on schedule is considered respectful.

Respecting personal space

The Dutch value personal space and it's customary to maintain a reasonable distance during conversations. Invasion of personal space can be perceived as impolite.

Equal treatment

The Dutch have a strong sense of equality. Social hierarchies are as flat as the country itself, and individuals are approachable regardless of their titles or positions. All people are treated equally regardless of their gender, age or social status. The workplace is no exception. Dutch culture frowns upon gender bias, with equal opportunities for both men and women being the norm.

Meal etiquette

When invited to someone's home, it's customary to bring a small gift, such as flowers or wine. Additionally, it's polite to wait for the host to start the meal before eating.


Queues are a common sight in the Netherlands, and people generally wait in an orderly fashion. Cutting in line is considered impolite.

Celebrating birthdays

Birthday celebrations are a big deal in Dutch culture. It's common for the birthday person to treat friends and colleagues to cake or pastries.

Tolerance and open-mindedness

The Netherlands is known for its tolerance and open-mindedness. People are generally accepting of diverse lifestyles and opinions (although exceptions do exist).

Greeting customs

A common greeting is a kiss on the cheek, usually three times, alternating sides. Handshakes are also common in more formal situations.

Tips for smooth cultural integration

If you want to settle down in the Netherlands and integrate into the culture, you should follow these tips:

  • Learn the language: It's the road map to any culture. Speaking Dutch, even at a basic level, signals your willingness to integrate and is highly appreciated by locals. Many Dutch people are proficient in English and often enjoy helping others improve their Dutch.
  • Take part in festivals and celebrations: Whether it's King's Day, Sinterklaas or a local food festival, these events offer an authentic insight into Dutch culture and are fantastic opportunities to immerse yourself in local traditions.
  • Try the local food and drink: Dutch cuisine may not be as famous as French or Italian, but it's more than just cheese and stroopwafels. Try local favourites like the deep-fried meaty snack known as bitterballen, Nieuwe Haring (herring preserved in brine) and poffertjes (little pancakes served with sugar and butter).

Also, splitting the bill evenly at a restaurant or during a group activity is common practice, so don't be surprised when there's no detailed accounting of who had what.

Final thoughts

Adapting to a new culture is no simple feat, but with an open heart, a dash of courage and a willingness to step outside your comfort zone, it can be an exhilarating challenge.

Have you envisioned cycling alongside the canals on your way to a friend's house for a well-scheduled dinner, or gabbing about last night's football match at the local bar? That's the spirit of integration. Remember, living in a new country is not just about changing your physical address - it's about expanding the horizons of your mind and being part of a community.

AGS Global Solutions Netherlands can help you with all aspects of your move, from packing to immigration, relocation, and destination support - including cultural training. Contact AGS Global Solutions Netherlands for a free quote and start planning your move to the Netherlands.

Michiel Delmonte


Michiel Delmonte

Michiel Delmonte has been working in the field of Global Mobility since 1998. He has gained experience in multiple disciplines in the Moving and Relocation Industry such as Customer Service, Operational...

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