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Doing Business in the Netherlands

Business culture

Dutch language is very direct and people from other countries can find this impolite. However, it is erroneous to assume that the Dutch people want to appear impolite. It is simply that the Dutch people prefer direct communication, plain language and straightforwardness. One of the things that a foreigner cannot help noticing is that the Dutch people who speak other languages do not use the word “please” in their communication. This is due to the fact that the Dutch language does not have the equivalent of this word, or at least it is safe to say that such words in the Dutch language are not commonly used. This is indeed the reason why Dutch people often give the impression that they are impolite or rude. However, once you know that simplicity and directness is most cherished by the Dutch you have identified the key to establishing a successful business in the Netherlands: avoid beating about the bush, tell people what you want without delay, and do not be afraid of calling things what they are!
 
Dutch Culture

The most important trait of Dutch culture is epitomised in the phrase “No nonsense”. The people are very business-minded, but on some occasions they might unexpectedly give way to a strange passion, such as football, for instance. If you visit friends after a football match that was won by the national team, you might witness their sudden transformation into passionate fans, who wave the Dutch orange flag in the streets and wish everyone happiness and luck. This might all be caused by the team’s victory. (Dutch football coaches belong to the best in the world and a coach like Guus Hiddink has been very successful in training the national teams of South Korea and Australia.)

Another national passion is skating. During winter most Dutch people put their stakes and go to frozen areas where they skate. Due to its popularity, skating has become a dominant professional sport. There have been years when during the World Championship in Skating Dutch athletes occupied all the three first places.

Although the country is business-minded and depends predominantly on international trade, some peculiarities could be found in the Dutch people. An example of this is the feelings they have for the feast of Saint Nicolas on December 5th. According to the legend, Saint Nicolas lived in Spain with his servant, Black Pete, and used to come to Holland with a steamer. Despite the fact that Dutch people celebrate Christmas and giving each other presents is becoming fashionable, the Dutch people genuinely cherish the feast of Saint Nicolas, whose arrival in Holland is a major event that returns every year and is always documented on national television.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that a Dutchman is born on a bike. Almost everyone owns and rides a bicycle. There is probably not a single country in the world, whose roads are so well-adapted to bikes and usually along a road for cars you find in Holland smaller paths for bikes. In the past, the incident of the royal family being photographed while riding on ordinary bikes caused a commotion in the foreign press. However, this incident is symptomatic of the fact that bicycles are a very important mode of transportation.

The Netherlands is a monarchy, but royalty is not elevated highly above the people; the royal family stands in the midst of the people. Although there are strong tendencies for an egalitarian society, there is a strong support among the Dutch people for the monarchy; the percentage of the republicans is below five percent. Despite scandals and controversies, the monarchy has adapted to modern times and seems to be part of the minds and the culture of the Dutch nation.

 

The Dutch language

Apart from the standard Dutch language, which is spoken by approximately 16 million inhabitants, a jargon called Frisian is also commonly used, especially in the north. Nearly 500,000 Dutch speak Frisian. Standard Dutch language has its roots in the Germanic language, while Frisian language’s roots lie with the English language. In the east many dialects sound very similar to German and in areas in the south-east, such as Limburg, for example, the jargon resembles more German than Dutch. English is spoken as a second language, and virtually everyone under 70 speaks it. You should not, thus, be surprised to see that in many city centres the English language is used for shop advertising!

 

What to see when you are there?

Dutch painters, such as Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Breughel, have established themselves as arguably the best painters of all time. Some of the places one must definitely visit in their life are: the Van Gogh museum, the Rijksmuseum and the Rembrandt House, all located in Amsterdam. These museums guest in Europe is also worth a visit, but it is more modern than the harbour of Amsterdam. Furthermore, the sight of the “Dick Bruna house” in Utrecht, where the rabbit “Nijntje” lives is especially popular amongst Japanese tourists. The Netherlands is also the biggest exporter of flowers in the world and in spring time the flower fields at the “Keukenhof” in the Lisse area are real pleasure for the eye.

 

Short history of Holland

In the middle ages there was no such thing as a Dutch state. Instead, there were Counts and Dukes who governed the area. By a clever marriage policy of the Duke of Burgundy one ruler came to reign over the north-east of France, what is now known as the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The first person to unite these areas was Charles V, who was also King of Spain and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. During the sixteenth century, his son Philip II was troubled with uprisings in the northern provinces, partly due to religious reasons (the protestant religion was not tolerated!), and partly due to economic reasons (taxes were too high!). During the war led by William of Orange against the Spanish king, the north –nowadays the Netherlands – was liberated, while the south – nowadays Belgium – was not. It was in 1648 that all states in Europe recognised the independence of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. During this age this Republic was the most powerful country in Western Europe, even more powerful than England.

Due to the fact that the port of Amsterdam was one of the biggest trading places during the 17th century, that age is called the Golden Age in Dutch history. The power of the Republic declined later, and during the reign of Napoleon it was occupied by the French until 1814, when a new kingdom was established under the reign of the family of Orange that comprised both the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg. In 1830 there was a revolt in Belgium against the reign of the north and the independent state of Belgium was established, followed by a long time of peace for the Netherlands.

During WWII the country was neutral, until the Germans invaded in May 1940. The Netherlands’ monarchy and the government flew to London, where they organised the resistance. On 5th May, 1940 the Netherlands was liberated by Canadian and Polish forces and the monarchy was restored. During the 1960s the country participated strongly and progressive legislation was promulgated for soft drugs, euthanasia, abortion, prostitution, thereby making the Netherlands the dreamland of liberals worldwide. The rather liberal society established during the 1960s later reversed and stricter legislation was enacted both with regards the abovementioned areas as well as immigration.

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