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Local Do's and Taboos
Customs of the Country
The Dutch are generally warm and welcoming. Most are multilingual and proud of it. They are also open and direct when it comes to speaking their mind, and are not afraid of making personal remarks. This can sometimes come across as a bit abrupt, or even rude, but there is certainly no offense intended.
When greeting people, you should shake their hand and say your name if you have not already done so. It is usual to greet family and close friends of the opposite sex with a three-cheek kiss.
Common phrases are: goede dag (good day), graag (please), and dank U wel (thank you).
When visiting a Catholic or Protestant church service, you should not wear shorts. When visiting a mosque, women should wear long sleeves and pants or a knee-length skirt, and a scarf on their heads.
Out on the Town
If you are visiting a Dutch person's home, bring a bouquet of flowers or a bottle of wine as a gift. It is polite to arrive about 10 minutes late, to allow your host time for last-minute preparations.
Don't be surprised if you arrive for dinner and are offered coffee before any alcoholic aperitifs appear. During the meal, keep both hands above the table.
Arrive on time for business appointments. Shake hands, and use family names rather than first names.
The pace of business meetings is more relaxed than in the United States, so don't rush into business too promptly; instead spend a few minutes chatting about weather or travel. If you have met your associate's family previously, ask about them before beginning business. If you are in a meeting with several Dutch people, expect negotiations to drag on.
In Dutch business it is important that everyone has a chance to air their views, even if it means discussing trivial points ad nauseam. It is a very fair system, but can also be long-winded and frustrating if you are used to quick decision-making.
Breakfast meetings are not popular in Holland, as most businesspeople take a light breakfast at home. Business lunches are far more popular. Don't be surprised if your Dutch colleagues drink milk with their lunch.
Try to learn a little of the local language. You need not strive for fluency; even just mastering a few basic words and terms is bound to make chatting with the locals more rewarding.
There are two official Dutch languages: Dutch, used widely across the country, and Friese, used only in the north. In Amsterdam, and in all other cities and towns, English is widely spoken.
State schools teach English to pupils as young as eight. Not only is it the country's strong second language, but the general public is very happy to help English-speaking visitors, to the extent that even if you ask in Dutch they answer cheerfully in English. Signs and notices often have duplicated information in English, if not more languages. Even in small villages you can usually find someone who speaks at least a little English.
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