Understanding Dutch Business

During my time abroad, I was given the chance to interact with and gain insight on Dutch business etiquette. When thinking about the Dutch, people often imagine a tall, direct, and frugal person. And, while cabinets in apartments are noticeable higher to accommodate for Dutch height, there is more to be said. Within one of my courses, I was able to connect with and interview a manager located in the Netherlands. Combining this interaction with my experiences within the classroom and at career fairs, I learned important business etiquette rules and gained insight into the typical Dutch managerial style.

  1. Be Sustainable

This one is not surprising considering how bikes, tulips, and windmills are intertwined within the Dutch identity. But, commonly unrealized, the Netherlands is the world’s second-largest food exporter. With such a small country helping to provide enormous amounts of food, it is unsurprising how serious the Dutch take sustainability. From the moment I landed at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, I was able to see this very clearly. In public bathrooms, reusable hand towels were the only things to be seen. At grocery stores, forgetting to bring your reusable bag meant having to pay for each plastic bag needed to carry your groceries home. Additionally, waste bins were sorted between plastic, organic, paper, and others. Countless times throughout my time abroad, I witnessed people hurriedly throwing all of their waste into one bin and being met by nasty stares.

Taking the train from Amsterdam to Rotterdam, I saw countless wind turbines and homes with solar panels. This is because of the Netherlands commitment to having 50% of the country’s electricity powered by sustainable energy. This commitment greatly impacts how businesses are run. For example, in 2012, NIKE partnered with a Dutch company to develop the world’s first textile dyeing machine that negates the use of water. Additionally, the importance of sustainability in this country has caused countless Dutch startups to lead the way in the world’s future of sustainability.

  1. Be Punctual

The first thing stated by the Erasmus exchange coordinator at orientation was “Never be late. Never be too early. We Dutch do not take kindly to those who are late. However, show up too early and your professors will be as annoyed with you as those who are late.” About 20 minutes later, I watched as the exchange coordinator refused to open the door for the students who arrived late.

At Ohio State, showing up on time is important. But, after witnessing what was said and unfolded before my eyes on my first day, I realized no one takes punctuality as seriously as the Dutch. By the end of the semester, I also learned that time management is key. Within company business meetings, meetings ALWAYS start and end on time. Time management is such an important part of Dutch business that companies often select an individual in the meeting to watch the clock and move the meeting along based on the duration of time left. That being said, the number one excuse to use whenever late is "the bridge was up for the barge and I couldn't bike over".

  1. Be Frank

I have always been told that honesty is the best policy. However, throughout my prior experiences at work, honesty when stating your opinion must be carefully planned and executed. You must choose when is best to be direct and honest – especially to your manager or boss.

However, in Dutch culture and business practices, being blunt and direct is an expectation. When interviewing a manger, he expressed his belief in being as honest as possible to his colleagues and subordinates, to the point where he expects his subordinates to be even more direct back to him. His belief is that, by being honest and straightforward in project expectations and performance realities, everyone is on the same page and can adjust as needed. That being said, being direct does not mean being uncaring. In fact, it is the complete opposite. While a frank response can be deemed as emotionless and uncaring, the only true reason the Dutch are as frank as they are is because they do care and want you to be your best self.

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