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Your Etiquette Guide for Amsterdam

Being a tourist is no excuse for rudeness, especially not in Amsterdam. You have to admit it – just because you’re new to the place does not mean you can be all careless and reckless in your expressions, right? You might not know it, but you may already be offending someone who’s with you, with your grand gestures and slightly ego-wounding jokes.

Thus, apart from mastering all the places you can go to, or preparing all the Dutch food that everyone tells you to try, you should also be gearing yourself up in terms of having some sort of shift in your framework of what’s perfectly alright and what’s perfectly rude. As it turns out, the Dutch may have very different standards from your own culture, and when you’re in Dutch territory, being new simply is not an excuse for being rude.

So, here are a few tips which might help you along the way, as you stroll through the city streets. That way, as you meet people, you don’t have to be too scared of offending them, because at least, you have a grasp of the basic code of conduct.

Shaking Hands
Shake hands with everyone.

When Meeting People for the First Time

Shake hands with everyone. This is politeness 101 for the Dutch. As soon as you arrive at the meeting place, immediately proceed to shaking everyone’s hands. And when they say everyone, they really mean every single one. (Nope, you can’t discount children; they’re people, too.) This means that you shake hands with men, with women, and with children, just to show them that you really intend to get to know them, and to identify yourself. Which now leads us to Step 2.

Always introduce yourself. The Dutch are big on identifying oneself. If you go on being there, waiting for the other people to ask you who you are, this will eventually be branded as rude behavior. It’s good to initiate and give your last name, even when there isn’t anyone to introduce you.

    Dutch EntertainmentIt’s not always about food.

When Out for Dining and Entertainment

Your host will tell you if it’s on them. For some cultures, it’s safe to assume that if you’ve been invited, then it’s also your host’s treat so you don’t have to worry about spending on anything while you’re in their charge. Not for the Dutch, though. If there was no mention of anything being ‘their treat’, then you expect to ‘go Dutch’, which means you’ll be splitting the bill (yes, that’s where the phrase comes from).

It’s not always about food. Contrary to other cultures, Dutch culture does not place food at the center of their hospitality. Where other cultures would perhaps treat food as the shining peak of their hospitality standards, the Dutch normally do not. Thus, if food is not expressly indicated in the invitation, do not expect a meal to be included. What you can expect, however, are other forms of Dutch entertainment (which are just as entertaining, to be sure).

Gift Giving
Giving gifts is appropriate when being invited to someone’s home.

When Giving Gifts

Giving gifts is appropriate when being invited to someone’s home. Your host will appreciate it if you remember to bring a token of some sort, in return for the invitation. It is best to include the children in your giving of gifts. Also, after the visit, it’s always a good idea to remember to send flowers.

Books, art objects, and wine are some of the generally preferred gifts. Forget about your other creative ideas (they might border on being outrageous). Once you’ve gotten to know these people better, that’s when you can let your creativity shine forth. While you’re still getting to know them, go with the general gifts first. (Also, don’t think of giving knives. That’s a no-no.)

Chewing Gums is not Allowed in Public
Don’t chew gum in public.

Quick Etiquetter Tips

Dutch humor is more subtle than slapstick. Think of the humor of Dr. House from House M.D instead of The Three Stooges.

The Dutch value a lot of eye contact. If you’re not used to this, then you’d better begin practising. To the Dutch, eye contact is a sign that the one they’re coversing with is genuinely interested in talking and in communicating.

Don’t chew gum in public. This is probably true for all, but let’s still add that in, just in case you’re thinking of chewing gum while talking to that girl you just met at the bar. Here’s some quick advice: don’t.


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