Home Page | Dutch Culture
Friday, 29 May 2020

Dutch Culture

Dutch Culture

The Dutch are neither the clog-wearing windmill-dwellers of popular folklore, nor the drug-dealing pornographers which they have been made out to be in recent times. Few Dutch people would recognize themselves in such stereotypes. They are certainly a unique people and this begins with the fact that they have quite literally had to create their own country in the face of overwhelming natural adversity. To do this they have had to be both ingenious and courageous, two traits that are as common today as they have ever been.

As a country, the Netherlands has a liberal image which stems from pragmatism and a 'live and let live' attitude. The historical roots of this provide an interesting look into the Dutch soul. 

Live and let live -

When visiting the Netherlands for the first time, you will probably be struck by the fact that everyone here is quite absorbed with his or her own piece of social space. People don't immediately speak to strangers, o­n the trains everyone tries to get a seat where they can sit alone and the foreign visitor soon has the feeling that he or she is being ignored. However, the latter is usually not the case, because when you do address them you'll be surprised at the friendliness of their response.

The Dutch usually keep their homes very private, so it is a rare treat to be invited into a Dutch home. You may have to know someone for months before he or she actually invites you home. And the Dutch usually do not associate hospitality with food: you will o­nly be invited to eat in a Dutch home after a very long friendship.

The Dutch like to keep a certain distance from others, and that is really not so strange in a country that is amongst the most densely populated nations in the world.

The Dutch also like to congratulate themselves o­n their tolerance, but the correct description for this character trait is 'live and let live'. A sort of: 'if you leave me alone then I'll leave you alone.' This way we have fewer conflicts.

Pragmatism -

Until a few years ago, the entire Dutch social life was organized around a number of religious groupings. If you were catholic, then you went to a catholic school, joined a catholic musical society, voted for the catholic political party and became a member of a catholic trade union.

The different groupings coexisted peacefully, and their representatives didn't fight with each other but instead jointly tried to find common solutions to the country's problems. The fact was, people needed each other and a consensus society was thus formed. Although these groupings have disappeared for the most part, this joint solution-finding still characterizes the Dutch people's nature.

The Dutch are, above all, pragmatic. They always ask themselves what the consequences of their actions may be. A Dutch person would think: If soft drugs were forbidden then their use and traffic would go underground and no o­ne could legally control it any longer. Furthermore, the prices would go up, forcing some users into criminal behaviour sooner rather than later. The remedy may be worse than the disease. The same line of reasoning applies to euthanasia (under strict conditions), prostitution and sex education (the number of abortions and unwanted pregnancies among teenagers is the lowest in the world).

[ Live and let die is new Dutch religion Article by Yashe Lange.]

Small differences -

Another striking feature of Dutch society is that government policy is focused o­n keeping the differences in income relatively small. The social minimum has been established at about NLG 25,000.-- a year. The Prime Minister earns 'only' NLG 180,000.--. The tax system is progressive: the more you earn, the more taxes you pay. Moreover, it is very normal to bike to work - whether you're a bank director or a nurse.

The display of wealth and status is really not appreciated. When you're with a group of friends in a pub, it is more usual that everyone pays his share than that o­ne or two people pay for the entire group. Even when two people go out for dinner together, the bill is usually split. It's no coincidence that this habit is known throughout the world as a 'Dutch treat'. 

Holland has kept many traditional aspects alive. For a small country, that, as a typical merchant nation, always has been extremely tolerant and open for many foreign influences, it offers a rich traditional culture.

Our Windmills: At o­ne time, some 10,000 windmills dotted the beautiful lowlands of Holland. Used for distributing water, draining the polders, and grinding corn, windmills are an ever-present reminder of a natural, non-polluting energy source.

About 1,000 windmills still survive, of which perhaps o­nly 200 are still working, mostly for preservation's sake, for reasons of nostalgia and aesthetics. The most spectacular concentration of windmills is at Kinderdijk near Rotterdam where 19 of them together used to drain the Alblasserwaard o­n the banks of the river Lek.

Windmill language :-)

Our Tulips: Did you know that the tulip originally came from Turkey, not from the Netherlands? The Austrian botanist Carolus Clusius brought the tulip bulb to the Netherlands in the 17th century. At that time the bulbs were so terribly expensive that o­nly the rich could afford to buy them.

...That in the entire world, 43 tulip books are known to exist. They are all manuscripts, made by different illustrators, and therefore unique.

...that Keukenhof is among the top three most-photographed places in the world and marked its 50th year in 1999!

Our Delftware: Royal Delft is the last remaining Delftware factory from the 17th century still producing entirely handmade Delftware.


Click here to find out more about our food and eating habits.

Our Cheese: Cattle were kept in The Netherlands, as far back as pre-historic times. Pots have been discovered burried in ancient mounds in Friesland dating from the period 200 B.C. to 900 A.D. These seem to indicate that cheese was made at that time in pots which allowed the whey to drip and the curds to be preserved. The Netherlands boasts a rich history of dairy production.

Dutch birthdays:

Even when it is nobody's birthday, you are still confronted with birthdays every day! Most Dutch people display a birthday calendar in the bathroom, so as not to forget anyone?s birthday.

People rarely send out invitations and presents are often inexpensive. Gift certificates are popular.

The invitation to a birthday party is usually for 'coffee', from 8pm to 9pm; later o­n drinks are served. When visiting a Dutch friend at home, it is customary to take a bunch of flowers (quite inexpensive in Holland) or some candy. A bottle of wine is also appreciated. The Dutch do not feel comfortable with people dropping in unannounced, not even o­n a birthday! The custom is to bring pastry for colleagues at work to enjoy over coffee. It is customary to congratulate not o­nly the person whose birthday it is, but also their relatives. To say "Congratulations o­n the birthday of your brother-in-law" would be quite normal.

(Some text from rootsinholland)


A warm and hearty handshake is an appropriate greeting for both men and women. It is also popular among friends to kiss o­n alternating cheeks three times when greeting. A common phrase is Hoe gaat het? (How are you?) or Alles goed? (Is everything alright?) While people may wave if greeted from a distance, shouting is impolite. The use of given names generally is reserved for close friends and relatives, except among youth. Otherwise, the Dutch address others by their titles and family names. When answering the telephone, both the caller and receiver identify themselves before starting a conversation. It is rude not to do so.


Eye contact and facial expressions are important, though o­ne should not stand too close to another person when speaking. o­ne covers their mouth when yawning. When someone sneezes, a person nearby will say proost or gezondheid, the equivalent of saying, ?bless you.? It is impolite to pass between conversing individuals or to chew gum while speaking. Pointing the index finger to the forehead to imply someone is crazy is an insult. Wagging the index finger emphasizes a point.

A direct way of speaking:

Despite being basically reserved, the Dutch have a manner of speaking that may startle you by its directness. They look you right in the eye and can sound very abrupt, especially when they are speaking English or another foreign language and cannot express all the shades of meaning they would be able to express in their own language. But even when they speak Dutch, they tend to come to the point quickly without first going through a series of conversational rituals. This directness and lack of subtlety is in fact seen by the Dutch as a positive personality trait.

Praise and Criticism:

Dutch people often seem to be measuring themselves against their own ideas rather than against other people. Praise is less important under these conditions, and in the Netherlands you might hear less praise than is customary in your own culture. The Dutch avoid superlatives, and compliments are offered sparingly. A person who is too full of praise and compliments is seen either as a flatterer and thus insincere, or as simple-minded. Critical comments, o­n the other hand, are generally taken as a sign of intelligence.

Marriage and Family :

Many couples live together before or instead of getting married. Since January 1998, same-sex partnerships have been legally recognized. Same-sex partners are given rights that heterosexual spouses enjoy, such as taxation benefits and inheritance rights.

The Dutch have strong families, which are moderate in size. Most have o­ne or two children, but southern (Catholic) families tend to be a bit larger. Single parents are common. Grandparents live o­n their own or in a nursing home. People generally live close to extended family. Many holidays emphasize family gatherings. As is the case throughout Europe, both parents often work outside the home. Dutch women today often keep their own surnames after marriage, and they are entering the job market at a heightened pace. About 40.2 percent (1998) of the labor force is female, and o­ne-fifth of all legislative seats are held by women.


The Dutch enjoy home improvements and indoor plants?most Dutch homes overflow with greenery. Flowers are picked (if home grown) or purchased regularly to adorn the home, restaurants, and businesses. Television is very popular, and the Dutch have access through cable to numerous European channels.

The most popular sport is soccer. Tennis, field hockey, swimming, sailing, ice-skating, wind surfing, basketball, badminton, and other sports are also enjoyed.

Very popular in Friesland are, kaatsen (Pelota or "keatsen") and Sk?silen... and in years when the ice is sufficiently hard, a day-long ice-skating race takes place o­n a route that encompasses all of the province?s 11 main towns and involves going across some parts of the sea. As many as 80,000 people participate, and the event arouses great excitement throughout The Netherlands.

The Dutch also invented the sport of pole vaulting. The original Dutch version, though, is very different from the familiar Olympic o­ne. A tall pole is stood upright in the middle of a canal. The competitor then runs up to the canalside, jumps o­n the pole, shimmies as quickly as possible to the top and hurls himself forward as the pole falls towards the other side of the canal. The person who reaches the furthest distance from the bank wins.

Many Dutch participate in cycling; nearly every person old enough to ride a bicycle has o­ne. Fietspaden (bike paths) run throughout the country. People participate in sports through clubs. Games are organized locally, regionally, or nationally depending o­n the level of the players. Each sport has a national association that oversees its organization. Football (soccer) clubs have a million members; tennis clubs have 800,000. The Dutch and tourists alike take advantage of sandy beaches o­n the North Sea, although it is windy and the water is often cold. Discos are popular gathering places for young people. Most people also enjoy drama, music, and art. There are more that six hundred museums in the Netherlands, and with good reason: some of the world?s most famous artists are Dutch, including Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Van Gogh.


Schooling is free and compulsory between the ages of five and sixteen. Children may be enrolled for an optional year at age four. Primary education ends at age twelve. Students may go to a Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, or ?non-religious? school, but the basic curriculum is the same. Secondary school begins with two years of ?basic education?; all students study the same 15 subjects that emphasize practical applications of knowledge. After that, they can choose between different types of high school, ranging from pre-vocational to pre-university. The number of years varies with the program. Vocational schools train students in such professions as accounting, nursing, or teaching. Graduates of vocational and general high schools often enter apprenticeships. Higher education is subsidized by the government. There are 13 universities, the oldest of which, Leiden, was founded by William of Orange in 1575.

Our Sinterklaas: Did you know that Santa Claus, the character, was introduced to the USA by Dutch settlers who colonized the Hudson Valley (1614-1674) and stayed after the colony fell to the Britsh.

Christmas in the Netherlands Every country and family has it's own traditions... mine are based o­n growing up in my native country, the Netherlands. 

New Year?s Eve is a family occasion. Everyone gathers after dinner and the whole evening is spent playing family games or watching television. There are lots of drinks and snacks, but no Dutch New Year?s Eve celebration would be complete without oliebollen sprinkled with powdered sugar. All over the country fireworks are let off at midnight and toasts are drunk with champagne or wine. 

Our Costumes: Holland doesn't have o­ne single national costume. It does, however, have a rich variety of traditional regional costumes. The traditional costume is hardly ever worn anymore, except for in a few places in Zeeland, the northeastern edge of the Veluwe and in Volendam and Marken.

Our Folk-songs and Folk-dances: :-)

Our Wooden Shoes: The most famous part of the Dutch costume are the wooden shoes. Not too long ago they were approved for industrial use by European Community regulations, something Dutch farmers have known for centuries of course! Wooden shoes are therefore not o­nly abundant in souvenir shops, but are also worn by many farmers and bulbgrowers as cheap, long-lasting and safe working shoes.

Please take your time to visit "Klompen Museum" Gebr. Wietzes in Eelde (Drenthe),The biggest Wooden Shoe Museum in Europe!

Last o­n this page, but certainly not least... Carnival in Maastricht! Oh, how often I have celebrated Carnival in Maastricht with my friends while growing up in Lanaken, Belgium, which is just over the border with Maastricht!


Carnival starts in Maastricht with the running up the flagpole of 'het mooswief' (Maastricht dialect for: the greengrocerwoman) and the firing of 'the cannon' o­n 'the Vrijthof', the well-known square in the middle of the town. That is followed by the grand procession, followed in turn by three days and nights of celebration! In the streets, in the pubs and everywhere. We o­nly went home when we grew hungry! For sleeping we had no time... for three days and nights we would just walk, dance, sing, jump and play o­n the streets and in the bars.

Totally broke, very tired and most of the time with no voice left, we would go back to school or work o­n wednesday. The Maastricht carnival is indescribable: it's something you should experience!
Print This Article
Comments on this article
CK: → 21 October 2015 - 05:48

I'm here because I've just talking to to a Dutch man. Thank you for your information, they are very direct.

Kristine Romen: → 15 January 2015 - 20:07

Hallo! :) So I just stumbled upon your site and this is for me a total package of what I want to know in Dutch culture and other stuffs. Well, I'm now just curious about how a Dutch man takes a relationship seriously. I have a relationship now with a Dutch from Zaandam and I really like him. Though we're far apart because I live in the Philippines, we still manage to communicate everyday. I just sometimes wonder if, is a Dutch really takes it serious to have a relationship with someone like me even though we know we have a vast amount of cultural differences.
I hope you can read this and I will greatly appreciate if you give a response. Dankje. :)

Herb Kersten: → 16 January 2013 - 23:36

An interesting and honest summary of Dutch lifestyle and practices. Thanks!

Name : *

E-mail :

Message : *

* = Required fields