How to Survive Dutch Service, Seven Essential Tips

The Netherlands, and Amsterdam in particular is famous for its picturesque canals, beautiful (but badly dressed) women, international character and terrible, shocking, appallingly bad service, or as the Dutch call it ‘belabberde service’. With this in mind, the Shallow Man, staying true to his remit of educating, informing and entertaining, has decided to advise his Multikulti expat flock on how to respond to appalling Dutch service, in het Nederlands.

Some of the Dutch phrases I’m about to teach you could be perceived as being rude, but the Shallow Man believes in telling it like it is. Big thanks to my Dutch teacher at Koentact for her assistance and patience, as always.

Now this post might be upsetting to some, and if as a result, I’m captured by a group of angry cafe employees, and am forced to listen as they explain that working in a cafe is not their chosen career path and that they are only doing this job while they study to become accountants, I’ll say to my enemies, “goede keuze, je autisme komt heel goed van pas als je als paperclip teller voor 1 van de big 4 werkt.”

The things I do for my readers!

1. How to Deal with the Classics of Dutch Service

One of the first Dutch phrases that expats learn when they move to the Netherlands and attempt to solicit service is this now classic and notorious phrase…

Nee, dat kan (helaas) niet/ Dat is (helaas) niet mogelijk.

I’m sure that somewhere in the Netherlands is a Dutch service training school for people that will work with the general public. There they learn that instead of helping customers, or attempting to find a solution to a problem, that the simple answer to use ALL the time is Nee, dat kan (helaas) niet/ Dat is (helaas) niet mogelijk.

Give me a K, give me an L, give me a ….


How to respond in Dutch

O, wat vervelend, kunt u mij uitleggen waarom niet? Of moet ik dat even vragen aan uw manager?/Oh how annoying, can you please explain why not or should I ask your manager instead?

Don’t hold your breath that this will help as where there are poorly trained staff, then there are often also indifferent and disinterested managers. You can at least try. Another option, of course, is to simply (as I have done several times) just walk out of the establishment and spend your hard earned money elsewhere.

Dutch service affects all levels

Be thankful


2. The Waitress That Says She Can’t Help You as You’re Sat in the Wrong Place

Is there anything more annoying than when you’ve been sitting in a cafe for what feels like ages. You’ve watched other diners meet, become couples, breakup and get back together again while you’ve been waiting to be served. Finally, a waitress arrives, dying of thirst you reach out to her, like a drowning Dutch TV presenter grasping for a lifebelt.

She looks at you as if you’re a piece of ever present Amsterdam dog poo that some selfish animal lover has left on the pavement in front of her door. She then says “Ik kan u helaas niet bedienen, mijn collega doet deze tafels.”/”Sorry but my colleague is serving this table.”

So some questions immediately spring to mind.

  • When you arrive in a cafe, how in the name of Bob Marley are you supposed to know who should be serving your table?
  • Is it really so difficult for the waitress to simply take your order and give it to the invisible person that’s supposed to be serving you?
  • Why do waiting staff in the Netherlands always say this in a tone of voice that seems to imply that YOU are the problem for not knowing who should be serving you

How to respond in Dutch

Jij: Oh wat jammer nou. Wat is precies je naam? –Pak je telefoon– Ik was net bezig op Yelp (=recensie website restaurants) jullie service een rating te geven en het is voor mijn verhaal wel leuk als ik er een naam bij heb.

3. When You Wait for Ages and You Haven’t Been given a Menu.

Catholics, are taught that between heaven and hell is a place called purgatory, where you can wait for thousands of years prior to entering heaven. Well you can prepare yourself for the long wait in the afterlife by experiencing Dutch service in some restaurants.

How to respond in Dutch

When the waiter finally arrives, you can say the following:

Optie 1: Je zegt tegen een ober: Krijgen we hier een menu of heb ik het concept verkeerd begrepen? (of course you didn’t misunderstand the concept. they’re just too slow).
Optie 2: Weglopen en naar een ander restaurant gaan
Optie 3: Naar de bar lopen en zelf een menu pakken. (lekker pro-actief! Daar houden Nederlanders van)

When receiving poor Dutch service use Monopoly money to tip

Good advice


4. When You’re in a Shop and the Staff Ignore You

The Shallow Man once waited around in a PC Hooftstraat store while the two members of staff present discussed what a fabulous club they’d been to the night before. I knew that they were talking nonsense as Amsterdam has a distinct lack of fabulous clubs.

How to respond in Dutch

Jij: Sorry dat ik jullie enorm interessante conversatie moet verstoren maar ik had even een vraagje.

You: Sorry to interrupt your thrilling conversation but I have a question.


5. When They Close the Bloody till While You’ve Been Waiting in Line!

I’ve had this happen to me. I was standing in line at BCC for ages, waiting to pay for some kind of gadget. There were only two tills open, and a long queue for both. Finally, like a dying man in a desert that sees an oasis (water not the band) in front of him, there was only one person ahead of me. This person paid, and then immediately afterward they closed the till! Just like that. No apology or acknowledgment of the well-dressed man that had patiently been waiting there. I was expected to get to the back of the adjacent queue!

In normal circumstances, I would expect them to at least say,  “Sorry meneer, we gaan nu helaas sluiten.”

How to respond in Dutch

Jij: Geen probleem. Ik ga anders wel even naar de mediamarkt, die is tot 20.00 open. Toch wel jammer he? Dat de kleine electronicazaken tegenwoordig bijna allemaal failliet gaan. Dat ligt ongetwijfeld aan de crisis. Fijne dag nog!


6. When You Hire a Company and Pay Them Lots of Money to eradicate mice

In Amsterdam, there’s no chance of ever being lonely, as there will always be mice paying you visits. They make friendly neighbors, popping in to borrow some cheese, or to take a look at your copy of the John Steinbeck novel ‘of Mice and Men.’ Having had enough of laying mouse traps in the apartment, and waking up to the sight of dead mice first thing in the morning, I decided to hire a pest control company. They claimed that they would block all of the access points where mice entered my humble abode. A lot of money was handed over to them, and for a week or two, I saw no evidence of mice.

A couple of weeks later, I witnessed a mouse, attempting to exit my kitchen with a jar of peanut butter strapped to its back. I called the pest control company, and the next day had the same guy who’d botched the previous job return to explain how this was possible.  With the eloquence of a graduate of the Royal Shakespeare Company he delivered a long monolog about how mice are incredibly resourceful and creative and are constantly developing new techniques to enter apartments. He then had the cheek to ask for some more money.

How to respond in Dutch

Jij: O wat naar! Weet je wat die vervelende muizen ook hebben gedaan? Ze hebben jullie facturen opgegeten. Ik kan je dus helaas geen vergoeding bieden voor deze uitermate goede service.

Poor Dutch service leading to a mouse being caught in trap in my apartment

How I love waking up to the sight of dead mice


7. When UPC ask you if you’ve rebooted the media box

If you have Ziggo as your provider, then you know all about poor Dutch service. Ziggo (formerly UPC Horizon) is about as trustworthy as a footballer’s girlfriend. When you call them for the tenth time that month, due to the WIFI at home being as slow as using KPN 3G, save yourself some time by saying the following:

“Before you ask, yes I’ve rebooted the media box, and yes I took the power cable out and waited for 30 seconds, it’s still as slow as a Dutchman reaching for his wallet on a first date.”

The Ziggo support staff are often thicker than Yolantha Cabau’s collagen stuffed lips.

Huge lips overfilled with collagen thicker than Ziggo support staff

Ziggo support staff are often thicker than these lips

The only thing to say to UPC staff is the following:

Was je altijd al zo slecht in je werk, of heb je daar een speciale cursus voor gevolgd?


Extra tips

  • Add sarcasm to your answers. The Dutch are used to that. It is a good way to express a feeling of unhappiness about a situation. You can add an extra hint of sarcasm by

-Using diminutives ‘noun+(t)je’. Zou u heel misschien een stapje opzij kunnen doen?

-Use: O wat+vervelend/jammer/naar. O wat jammer dat u niet op de tweede verdieping bezorgt.

-Use: misschien when something is quite obvious. Zouden wij misschien een menukaart kunnen krijgen voor sluitingstijd

Is er nog hoop?

De gouden tip is eigenlijk dat je slechte service niet moet accepteren door het te vermijden. Bijvoorbeeld wat betreft de horeca is er ook onder Amsterdammers veel onvrede over de belabberde service (in het Parool is er zelfs een wekelijkse rubriek aan gewijd). Doordat het steeds meer een topic wordt, is in Amsterdam het aantal plekken waar het personeel streng gescreend wordt gestegen (voorbeeld: de Biertuin, Bukowski, Smoking Barrels, de Waterkant).

Wil je zeker zijn van een goede service van wat dan ook, check recensies op internet, luister naar tips van vrienden en blijf altijd lachen. Dan overleef je het wel! Succes!

Remember that the Internet is no friend of places that provide bad service. Get on Yelp, IENS and other review sites and make damn sure that you tell others when you receive poor service. On a positive note, I will add that the Shallow Man has seen some improvement in Dutch service in recent years, so slowly things are changing.


A huge thank you to Koentact for their assistance with this post.

No Shakespearean pest controllers were hurt during the writing of this post.

Until next time, hou je kop!