Updated 6 months ago

Dutch culture is very much about having and doing things in the right order, in the right place. They’re not afraid to cut loose now and then and have a wild time provided that it’s a time and place you’re supposed to party. The word nette – translated loosely as “neat”, with overtones of propriety and a certain formality – is a good summation of the overall sense of Dutch culture and lifestyle.

Culture and integration in the Netherlands

In keeping with the “a place for everything, and everything in its place” mentality, integration into Dutch culture has a formalised aspect to it. In 2012 the government did away with providing Dutch lessons and shifted the burden of learning Dutch and inburgering (integrating) to those moving to the Netherlands. This means that if you have received your residence permit, then you must take and pass the inburgeringexam (test) or the Dutch language test (NT2) within three years, or else forfeit your residency in the Netherlands. You are responsible for paying for your own lessons – you can obtain loans from the government to help cover the costs – and for taking and passinOKg the exams.

A number of “schools” have popped up to meet this demand. There is, as of yet, no real set of standards for these language schools, so be sure to do your research before signing up.  As a general rule, language learning courses affiliated with universities are far more reliable and thorough.

You can also choose to take the Dutch language test, known as the NT2, in lieu of the inburgeringexam. However, be forewarned that if you choose this route the level of Dutch you must demonstrate is CERF level B2, which is rather difficult to obtain and almost certainly requires lessons at an accredited institution.

Koffietijd and other times

Nothing exemplifies the gestalt of nette quite like koffietijd, or coffee time.  Coffee time is, contrary to what Starbucks would have you believe, is a set time, between 10:30 and 11:00, when it is acceptable to leave your desk, have a cup of coffee, and socialise with your co-workers. If you are invited for coffee, then this is the half-hour during which it will take place, unless the person specifies otherwise. In most places, there is also an afternoon tea time, which generally takes place sometime between 15:00 and 16:00, and during which coffee is taken at least as often as tea.  Even if you do not choose to take a caffeinated beverage with your break, you are still expected to take a break, even if it is only for a few minutes. There is a time for work, and a time to relax, and the half-hour is the time to relax.

Today, with smartphones offering continuous connectivity, people do find it more difficult to separate business and pleasure. Nevertheless, this habit of compartmentalization and having a time and a place for everything remains pervasive in Dutch culture.

Dutch etiquette

The Dutch are very curious – some would even call them “nosy” – and they are not shy about it. This habit of being very direct can come off as quite rude to those who are not used to such bluntness – for this, the best remedy is to return that bluntness: “I’m sorry, I don’t wish to discuss that.” Fortunately, the Dutch are also quite tolerant and open to people being themselves – as long as it does not impinge upon others doing the same. 

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