How to Say Hello and Goodbye in Dutch, Plus the 3 Kisses

Posted on 15. Mar, 2010 by in Dutch Language

In Dutch there are many ways of saying hello and goodbye.  Which greeting you will use will depend on the time of day.  Most of the estimates for the times of day you can use these greetings are estimates, so use whatever seems most appropriate to you.  For the Dutch, the night greeting is usually reserved for very late at night.

Saying Hello

hallo : hello

goedemorgen : good morning, for use from around 6:00am until around noon

goedemiddag : good afternoon, for use from around 12 noon until around 4:00 or 5:00pm

goedenavond : good evening, for use from around 5:00pm until around 11:00pm

goedenacht : good night, for use from around 11:00pm until around 6:00am

In the above examples, goede is often slurred so that it sounds like goeie, which is also a bit more informal.  Try pronouncing goede but just gloss over the d in your pronunciation.

dag : literally day, but means hi, good day

hoi : hi, informal

Saying Goodbye

dag : again it literally means day here, but it is used as saying, have a nice day, sometimes the pronunciation is closer to doeg

doei : bye

doe-doei : this isn’t an official way of saying goodbye, but you will hear it a lot, and it basically means bye-bye

tot ziens : see you later

tot zo : see you soon

tot straks : see you soon, usually used if you will be seeing the person again later that day

One cultural difference you might notice is that the Dutch can be rather reserved.  For me, it’s fairly common that if I see a friend on the street I might yell my hello across the street and get this person’s attention.  This isn’t considered a terrible faux pas in Dutch culture, but it is often preferred if your greeting stays more subdued.

Those Three Kisses

The other difference you might notice is that the Dutch give three kisses on the cheek when they greet.  A colleague of mine recently described it as a sort of head-bobbing chicken dance, and indeed, it can seem as such.  The general rule for these kisses is that women are expected to kiss women and men on each cheek, first one side, then the other, then back again to the first cheek, in a sort of quick pecking motion.  This is generally expected among friends and family.  Men are expected to give this greeting to women, but not with other men.  For men, a simple, firm handshake with a direct look in the eye will usually suffice.  Eye contact is fairly important for the Dutch, so even if it appears that they might be staring you down, it’s probably not intended that way.

There is a bit of debate over the whole “three kisses” vs “two kisses” within Dutch culture, since no one can really seem to find a good reason for that extra kiss other than that every one else does it.  Some Dutch people will even admit that three is perhaps a bit overkill, but as they say, when in Rome, do as the Romans do…and when in the Netherlands, give three kisses.

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22 Responses to “How to Say Hello and Goodbye in Dutch, Plus the 3 Kisses”

  1. Jan Castle 16 March 2010 at 4:21 am #

    I have a question about the 3 kisses.

    When in Holland in 2009 I was never sure if I was doing the 3 kisses correctly. Which side to you start with – bumping noses is awkward!

    I love getting this dutch blog daily – and is helping me learn the language. Ik spreak een kline betje netherlands.
    Thx. Jan (Canada)

  2. sarah 16 March 2010 at 12:39 pm #

    Hi Jan,

    Thanks for your comment! This one drives me nuts too. I’m honestly not sure what the “official” starting position is for all that kissing…I think I usually start on the right, although I have had plenty of awkward moments and nose/face bumps along the way. A sentence to help you out for those awkward moments: “Het spijt me! Ik ben nog niet gewend aan de drie kussen!” “I’m sorry! I’m not yet accustomed to the three kisses!” It usually gets a laugh and acknowledges the awkwardness. I used this one this weekend at a birthday party where I went in for the three and the other person didn’t….You never know what you’re going to get here!

  3. Ferry Swart 25 March 2010 at 7:30 am #

    Hi Jan and Sara,

    I’m 100% dutch and it’s funny to read about our own habbits:) You both ask what side to begin the 3 kisses? Well, there’s no rule to it actually. I had to think for my self a bit to know what side i usually start. I start on the right side. But it’s no rule, so indeed it will give some confusion when i’m aiming for the right cheek and the person i’m greeting aims to my left cheek. But no one is upset about it when that happens. It usually makes us giggle when our noses are bumping against each other.

    I haven’t got a clue why we do 3 kisses. Funny thing is that they’re not really kisses most of the time but more touching cheeks and kissing in the air at the same time.

    An other thing about the 3 kisses. We only do it with people we know well enough. Say i enter a room full of dutchies at the birthday party. Likely there will be a number of people that I don’t know. I don’t give those people even a single kiss but just a firm handshake and a look in the eye while greeting her and say my name. Giving the 3 kisses means: I know you, and i like you, I’m glad to see you. If i know someone and i don’t like the person i will not give that person the 3 kisses although it’s customary.

    I kinda like the “three kisses” thing here and it seems we’re the only ones in the world that do it this way.

    An other thing about saying hello in dutch. Indeed we say “goeie” instead of “goede” most of the time. But when in a formal gathering we do say “goede” because it’s more polite. “goeie” is more informal. And when coming at work or walking into a shop we say “môge” where the O is rond and stretched.

  4. sarah 25 March 2010 at 8:41 am #

    Hi Ferry,

    Thanks for your great comment and for the explanations! Indeed, I sometimes find myself doing nothing more than kissing the air. We have a very large extended family, making matters complicated. Some of them want kisses, some don’t, though of course, no one seems offended either way. I think it also depends on where people are from and the family situation. Some families are more formal than others. I don’t do the three kisses with my mother in law, we just give each other one big hug and a kiss on the cheek. Everyone sort of makes their own patterns for these things.

    Groetjes!

  5. Ferry Swart 25 March 2010 at 9:05 am #

    Yes, so true Sara. The three kisses are not mandatory. It’s a habit we dutchies don’t think about and do it fully automatically. I even find myseld doing it to my American family and they’re always amused when i do it. They like it though when i give them the three kisses and they even start to do it them selfs too because they like the habit.

    If you, or anyone else wants to know anything about our habits, traditions, and behavior just ask. I’ll be very glad to explain. Also because it makes me think about things that we do here without thinking but are sometimes different to other cultures.

    I even think about a few things about dutch people that are typical dutch where i can write articles about.

  6. Ferry Swart 25 March 2010 at 9:13 am #

    Men never kisses other men although it’s getting more and more custom that men hug each other. But they only do that with men they know each other well and the hug is firm and mostly they tap each other on the back while doing it. It is however not customary to do this with family but only among good friends.

  7. Peter Simon 28 March 2010 at 12:18 pm #

    Hi, Ferry, thanks for all the interesting comments. One thing about only the Dutch doing 3 kisses. Well, I’m from Hungary. It’s recently that I’ve discovered that teenagers there also give 3 kisses to friends, especially girls. It doesn’t happen among other people, only them. But it may also happen in some other countries. Cheers!

  8. Ferry Swart 28 March 2010 at 5:26 pm #

    Peter, sure there are other cultures that do the same things:)

  9. cecilia 1 May 2010 at 2:22 pm #

    Hi Sarah,
    I am kinda at a loss when it comes to cheek kissing. Recently, a dutch friend offered to cheek kiss when we met up and I felt really awkward at it. Hope to do it right the next time we meet. When I am being kissed on the cheek, am I expected to kiss back or is it just suffice by offering the cheek?

    Thanks and love your blogs.
    cecilia

  10. sarah 1 May 2010 at 7:42 pm #

    Hi Cecilia,

    Thanks for your comment!
    I honestly think it depends on how uncomfortable you are, and how close you are with the other person. If the other person is…oh let’s say…your mother-in-law, than perhaps you might want to go with the flow and give kisses back. But if it’s a friend and you really are uncomfortable, you should be able to say that it makes you uncomfortable, and perhaps soften it by making a joke. Generally the Dutch appreciate directness, so you won’t be stepping on any toes as long as you are polite.

    Then again, practice makes perfect, and it does get easier with time if you just do it. As a foreigner, if you mess it up, no one takes offense.

    Good luck!

  11. Frans 12 September 2010 at 5:34 am #

    Dear Ferry, I have a little question about Dutch language and Dutch culture.
    When I meet an old friend (een vriendinetje) after so many years b’cause she moved to Holland many years ago, can I say “Can I hug and kiss you” ..and how can I say it in Dutch?
    Is it ok when we meet I embrace and hug her and give her kisses on both cheeks?
    Thanks.
    Please also forward your answer to my email frans_sela@yahoo.co.uk

  12. Melanie 8 October 2011 at 11:16 am #

    I love the Dutch 3 kisses and go right first. I’ve been embarrassed by kissing on this lips when it went wrong. It is difficult if you both wear glasses, but in case of doubt/danger air kiss! ;-P

  13. Mike 14 October 2011 at 2:57 pm #

    I’m a Canadian from a British background. So kissing upon greeting another person is certainly new to me. However, could you give me some guidelines as to who initiates the “kissing/greeting” when people meet?

    Mike

  14. Celanne 26 October 2011 at 2:45 am #

    I have corresponded with a Ducth man for several years. We once had a close relationship but for reasons of time, distance, and other things, we parted. But be sure that he is special to me. So here’s the question: When he signs his letters, he often puts three x’s like this:
    XXX…..
    I wonder, are these those polite Dutch kisses on the cheek or are they something more? My real question is: Is this the usual ending to a Dutch person’s letter? I wish I knew.

  15. AmsterdaMummy 11 November 2011 at 12:50 pm #

    I’m an English girl living in Amsterdam for about 11 years now and I was never one for kissing before, being English, having that awkward greeting thing of not really doing anything and getting embarrassed about it – I LOVE the three kisses and use it ALL THE TIME, it’s such a good way to break the ice… there seems to be a rule in the ‘expat world’ that you start on the left hand side, I’ve never had a ‘botsen’ yet!!!

  16. AmsterdaMummy 11 November 2011 at 12:51 pm #

    PS – I love your blog…

  17. heather 15 November 2011 at 11:31 am #

    Hi Mike,

    As far as I can tell, there isn’t really a rule for who initiates the kissing. It is usually more of a mutual cheek attack. :)

    Heather

  18. Hassan 15 April 2012 at 11:11 am #

    Am Ugandan., i read about the Dutch 3-kiss greating and really liked it. My question is, what if I kiss a stranger I have admired or one who has been introduced to me by a friend? Does that have anything to do with culture mis-conduct.?

  19. Guus 6 August 2013 at 7:59 pm #

    I am Dutch,
    I usually start left and most people I met also start left.
    @Celanne they are just to be polite, there isn’t really something behind these kisses (well, maybe it’s similar to dogs in a pack, it’s just our way of saying that this person is one of ours)

  20. Steve 20 December 2013 at 8:08 pm #

    I’ve met quite a few Dutch people over the years but none have ever greeted me with the 3 kisses. What does that mean?

    I remember there was one Dutch woman in particular that did insist on greeting everybody with a kiss but she favored the ‘Hollywood’ type of air kisses.

    Great blog btw and well done on a thought provoking article!

    Steve

  21. Natasha 8 July 2014 at 3:14 pm #

    Hi there,

    I am from Macedonia and we also have the three kisses rule when you meet someone [it is the same with most or even all ex-Yugoslav republics]. We always kiss firstly the other person’s right cheek [thus, with our right cheek]. It is not kissing as much as it is just touching the cheeks and kissing the air :D thus, it is a bumping between the right cheeks, then the left ones and the right ones again.

    Albanians, unlike that, have a two kisses habit.

    However, I somehow never used this way of greeting my great great Dutch friend, I have always been solely hugging him when greeting. Never knew you Dutch have the same rule :)

    Regards,
    Natasha.


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