Cultural taboos

Living in Europe | Access to the culture of the host country/language courses | Netherlands


If your Dutch colleague responds critically to something you have said or done, do not take this as a rejection. He or she is simply giving an opinion.

Although the Netherlands is essentially a tolerant and pluralistic society, there are some issues that are best avoided, particularly at the beginning of a relationship.

  • Behaviours to avoid:
    • Addressing people by their first name initially
    • Walking into someone’s office without knocking
    • Talking with your hands in your pockets
    • Yawning or using a toothpick without covering your mouth
    • Chewing gum or spitting in public
    • Breaking promises
    • Littering
  • Discussion topics to avoid
    • What people earn
    • Personal or intimate questions
    • Dress, appearance or weight
    • Religion
    • Politics
    • Caution is needed in the domain of ethics (like abortion, euthanasia)
  • The following topics are safe and suitable for discussions with your Dutch counterparts:
    • The weather – e.g. “Nice day!”
    • Food and drink – e.g. “Would you like a cup of coffee?” or “Are you hungry?”
    • Travel – e.g. “How was the journey?” or “Did you have a pleasant flight?”
    • Family – e.g. “Please give my best regards to your wife”
    • Entertainment – e.g. “Did you see the film last night on TV?”
    • Holidays – e.g. “When do you plan to go on holiday?”
    • Music – e.g. “Do you like pop music?”
    • News – e.g. “Did you hear about the demonstrations in France?”
    • Sport, particularly football, cycling or tennis – “I see the winner was Dutch!”
    • General topics – e.g. “How was your day yesterday?” or “See you on Monday.”

(source: Passport to trade - a bridge to succes)

Do's and Don'ts in Dutch culture/sources

This is only a small selection of links that can be found on the internet.