Dutch Language Blog

Dutch ways to be polite Posted by on Sep 3, 2010 in Dutch Language

Where one culture appreciates it if you leave some food on your plate or give a burp after dinner, another culture might be appoaled by your behavior and show you the door. Personally, I think the Dutch are pretty flexible when it comes to manners, but no Dutchie is the same, so let me give you some of the general rules we appreciate in our little country.

Jij or u

The biggest difference in being polite lies between jij (you informally) and u (you formally). In general, we use u when we talk to any adult stranger and our superiors / maintainers of the law.

Between age groups u is sometimes too formal. Me, a 27 year old woman, would never say u to a stranger around the same age hanging out in the same bar. But if you would put two elderly strangers next to each other, the chances are more likely they will use the formal way of talking.

So you say u to your boss or teacher or job interviewer until he or she tells you not to. You say u to that stranger you ask for directions. And even though that police officer is a punk of 20 years old, still use u when you talk to him. In some families it is normal that the kid use the formal form to his and her parents, although that becomes rare.

Always serve others first

No matter if you are a guest or people are visiting you, when you poor drinks, always serve the others first. Even in the most familiar situations with the closest contacts, always follow this rule.

Shaking hands or kissing on the cheeks

In South America I felt like the stiffest person on the globe when I tried to shake someone’s hand (they are kissers and huggers), but in Holland it is seen as the best way to introduce yourself to someone new. If it’s just among friends we only say our first name, but in more formal situations it is polite to say your first and last name.

Once you are more familiar with someone, we kiss three times on the cheeks. This however, does depend on the kind of group you are in. Some people just say ‘hi’, closest friends or not. Others (me) think a hug and one kiss is the perfect greeting where some just hug. My advice: just look at what the rest does, or take the initiative in the form of greeting and the rest will follow.

Between men and women

Even though the lines between men and women are vaguer than ever, all women like some courtesy. This means keeping the door open for her, give her a compliment and offering her a jacket when she is cold. The picking up the check-situation depends a lot on the person, but I don’t know any woman who appreciates a man who’s cheap.

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