You don't know what you don't know March 2016

7 Mar 2016 | Mandie Rose van der Meer

« Back to Features

By Mandie Rose van der Meer
March 2016


You don’t know what you don’t know (#YDKWYDK)

An ACCESS column for expats in the early stages of their Dutch journey


Every newcomer to the Netherlands has been caught in a moment where we wish we had known the rules of engagement ahead of time. You don’t know what you don’t know about daily life in the Netherlands, but no worries – ACCESS is here to help. This month’s focus: the protocol of greeting the Dutch (Part Two).


I bring you the final six out of 12 tips on customary Dutch greetings in typical social situations. If you missed Part One, click here.




7. Getting on and off the bus: As you will observe of your fellow Dutch passengers – I like to let other people get on the bus first so I can see how it’s done – it is customary to verbally greet the bus driver with a simple “hallo,” or even a “goededag” if your guttural “gggg” sound in your throat is up to par. As you exit the bus at your stop, call out a friendly “Dag!” and wave thanks to the driver. (Unless of course he or she has taken the turns a little too sharply en route and you can’t manage a wave for fear of losing your lunch, then just moan vaguely and quickly get to safe ground outside.)


8. Getting on and off the tram: Greet the driver of the tram as you would a bus driver. Bonus: He or she generally has a glass screen blocking direct contact of your guttural “gggg” spit in their face – highly convenient. Apparently it’s okay not to greet the cashier in the back of the tram (when there is one, as in Amsterdam), unless you have to buy a ticket. This conductor is usually busy telling passengers to move along to make room away from the door, so no time for pleasantries.


9. At a Dutch restaurant: You will receive no greeting. You will not receive a “Isn’t this nice weather we’re having?”, nor a “Is this your first time visiting?”, nor “Hi, My name is”.  Instead, you will receive, possibly without eye contact and at least a full seven minutes after you’ve arrived, “What do you want to drink?” Whenever you receive more than just this question, know that you are having a good day.


10. Entering a Dutch birthday party: Be certain to greet your host and/or hostess (the birthday person) first. Kiss the birthday person (three times – see Part One) and offer your (modest) gift. Then walk around the room shaking hands (firmly) with Every. Single. Person. In. The. Room.

Say “gefeliciteerd” to each person, which roughly translates to “congratulations,” or as I like to think, “many happy returns of this celebration.”

Now you may sit down and have apple pie and tea. Comment on the lucky weather, the yucky traffic (or vice versa), or the reckless scooter that almost ran you off the bike path on your way to the party.


11. When the contractor comes knocking: It’s inevitable that at some point in your stay in the Netherlands a worker will visit your home, perhaps to fix your water heater or to seal those draughty windows. After showing the worker to his station, offer him (usually it’s a ‘him’) some refreshment such as coffee. I’m never quite sure when to serve it (how can he manage an Allen key and a hot beverage at the same time?!) so I just ask the worker to tell me when he is ready for it.

I’ve heard that a few Dutch people do not bother with this ritual, but I say your best bet is to get your brew on. Few workers will deny a hot “cup of Joe”, as us New Yorkers call it.


12. At the doctor’s office: Yes, you’re achy and ill and delirious with fever – and no, that paracetamol ain’t doing a thing for you – but that doesn’t mean you can’t say good morning to the other patients in the doctor’s waiting room. You heard it here: you should say hello to everyone in the waiting area at the doctor and dentist offices. Not individually – don’t go crazy. Just a general, polite, not-too-enthusiastic “goedemorgen” to the room will do.

Think of this salutation as a collective empathetic address to your fellow sufferer. Even at the dentist’s office, or maybe especially there, you and your neighbour could probably use a little perking up as you walk in the door.


Now, go with confidence and greet the people. Succes ermee! 

 Check out the handy book “Ready, Steady, Go Dutch” for more stories of expats’ personal experiences in the Netherlands with everyday living (chapter 4) and learning the language (chapter 9). The book is available for purchase at English bookshops in Holland, or via the Ready, Steady, Go Dutch website.


If you find that you could benefit from more in-depth, professional guidance for your integration process, contact one of the counsellors from the ACCESS Counselling Services Network. They provide individual and group sessions in English.


Mandie Rose van der Meer is an American writer, editor, instructor and ACCESS volunteer. She lives in Noordwijk with her Dutch husband. She did not answer the phone for the first three months of living in the Netherlands for fear of saying the wrong thing.


Have you come across surprises in your days here in the Netherlands? Share them with or on the ACCESS Facebook page.


Note: The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of ACCESS.

Share with