The Shallow Man etiquette guide for staying with Dutch friends

Today I’m going to publish an email I received (if you’re younger than 25 you might want to ask your parents what an email is) from a reader who is resident in the UK.  She’s awfully polite and was left somewhat shell-shocked by her experience of staying with some Dutch friends in the Netherlands. You have to understand that in the UK we have Debrett’s who have published guides on good manners and social etiquette since 1769. There are still plenty of people in and from the UK who value good manners and social niceties.

Concerned that she might have committed some kind of social faux pas while staying here she has asked me for advice on the correct etiquette when residing with Dutch hosts and the correct approach for handling Dutch guests.

Before answering her questions, she’s been kind enough to allow me to share her experiences with you dear reader so that you can learn from her mistakes.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.

“The Things I do for my readers!”

An email from the UK

I have previously lived in the Netherlands and return frequently to catch up with all the friends I made while living here.  (I know what my expat readers are thinking. “She made Dutch friends? How is that possible?”)  Sadly, I had to return to the UK due to the recession.

Tighter than an ants condom

I am used to Dutch tightness (it taught me a lot about managing my spending arriving in Amsterdam from credit card happy London), and I have experienced Dutch tightness in hospitality with Dutch friends before living there.  To give you an example, once I came over to stay with a friend in Purmerend for a weekend. As is normal in the UK I arrived with gifts (of course), only to be taken to the local Albert Heijn (supermarket) – because it was declared there was “no food in the house”.  I followed them around the supermarket collecting the items they needed, only to find that at the till, once they’d put all the food on the checkout, they expected me to pay for it – all of it!  Over time, during that particular friendship, I managed to say “no” and to just pay for my stuff.  That said, it always left me feeling “on edge” whenever I visited them.

The unique experience that is Dutch hospitality

Onto the more recent experience.  As you may recall the British, and indeed the Mediterranean countries along with Germany and Scandinavia are very hospitable when people from overseas come and stay.  You prepare the room and provide towels, you stock tea and coffee, beer and wine and snacks.  You think ahead about where your guests might like to go.  You think about all the local delicacies you might have ready for them to share.  You are looking forward to catching up with them and spending time in their company.  You are not focused on the cost of it all, or who buys what.  You want your guests to have a pleasant, comfortable time in your home, and by doing so, presume that if the favor were to be returned, you would receive the same level of hospitality in return.  Not so with the Dutch.  They are unique.

Dutch friends love saving money

The Dutch learn to save money from an early age

Shameless in Scheveningen

On our recent holiday, my husband and I arrived at our friends’ house (a couple) in Scheveningen having left Utrecht after a late morning breakfast (we were after all on holiday).  We brought gifts.  We arrived around midday, and were ushered into the spare room to leave our bags, and then asked to promptly leave, to go somewhere with them “much better” i.e. the local beach-side cafe.  It was midday and my husband and I explained that we were still full from our breakfast and were not hungry, to which our host responded “well we haven’t eaten yet” and so we all headed off to a beach cafe, where they ordered themselves some lunch.  We just had drinks. The bill was split.  There was no offer of a drink or a sit-down or a tour of their home. No official welcome. We stayed with them for 2 nights and did this on purpose as visitors, like fish, stink after three days. We felt that we had to pay to be there, to earn our keep, be beholden to them.

dutch friend in gas mask

A subtle hint from a Dutch host that it’s time to leave

On the first night we stayed there, one half of the couple felt unwell and went home, while the other took us to another beach spot for dinner.  We paid for his dinner and drinks as a way of thank you.  There wasn’t an acknowledgment of this or a thank you, the friend just watched while we paid the whole bill.  No awkwardness or embarrassment on his part.

On another occasion at a cafe, we went to pay the bill with one half of the couple, and they let us pay for the whole bill without stepping in to only pay their share.  Not once did they pay for a beer or even a coffee for us.

During this stay, it was clear they were not going to cook us a meal at all, that we were expected to go out for all drinks and food.

On the morning of departure, my husband and I went to the kitchen, where we found one of them on their laptop.  We engaged in conversation, and then I had to ask: “would it be possible for us to make a cup of coffee or tea?”  The friend said that they didn’t know how the coffee machine worked but boiled the kettle for us to make tea.  There were hardly any teabags and no milk available.

They had no breakfast things available, what you would expect: fruit, margarine, milk, cereal, bread etc.  I asked them: “what do you normally eat for breakfast?” to which they responded, “rice cakes”.  So we ended up having some rice cakes for breakfast.  It was clear they hadn’t given it a moment’s thought to provide breakfast for us.  Despite the fact they’d been running errands the day before, there was no thought of getting in supplies for their guests.

From bad to worst

A little different, but still felt it was a “trading” let’s see how uncomfortable I can make these English guests feel without looking like I’m totally tight.

We stayed in Blaricum with a female friend in her 4-bedroom apartment.  This friend has lived in several different countries.  When we arrived, she served “bubbles” (2 bottles of Prosecco she had been saving them for us) and hapjes/snacks for us.  My husband relaxed. This was more like it!  It was coming up to six pm, and she proposed that we go out for dinner. We told her that we’d like to pay for her as a thank you.  We went out to a restaurant, and she recommended the dishes, which were delicious, and we happily paid the bill, including drinks.  She then suggested going somewhere else for some lekker apple tart, even though we were completely full.

She had already planned the following day:

  • Pancakes for breakfast in a local cafe (lovely!),
  • A visit to The Rijksmuseum
  • Sate in a favourite brown cafe in Amsterdam – all sounding super.

This is how it played out:-

  • Pancakes, we paid for the lot.  She absolutely made no offer to pay her share or contribute or even pay for us.
  • At the Rijksmuseum, she paid for the parking and entry (wow!)
  • Sate, fries, and beers – she let us pay for the lot without even pretending to offer to contribute

We returned to her home, and she asked us if we would like to go somewhere else to eat.  By this time, we were:

a) stuffed
b) fed up with having to go out for drinks and food constantly, and
c) pay for it all.

I have come away thinking these are the rules of Dutch Hospitality when staying in someone’s home:-

  1. Expect to have a bed and towel only
  2. There will be no welcome drinks or snacks or breakfast freely given.  If it is, something will be asked of/traded in return
  3. Expect no home-cooked dinner.  There may not be any food in the house to get you to go out for all meals and pay for it all.
  4. Depending on how hospitable they are, they may not move their schedule just because some good friends have made the effort to come and see them.  They will expect you to fit in with them
  5. You will have to feed yourself
  6. They are not going to pay for you as thanks for coming to visit
  7. They will expect much better treatment if they visit you.

When the klomp is on the other foot

An example, I had a friend visit me in England who arrived off the plane late at night and asked me if she could have some bread and butter because she hadn’t eaten any dinner.  After which she then proceeded to eat her way through most of the snoepjes/sweets she had brought me as a present.

When I visited the supermarket to get more eggs and bacon – on which she insisted, she offered to pay for none of it even though I was having money problems at the time myself.

My husband and I have come away feeling that the next time we visit Dutch friends in the Netherlands, we’ll stay in a hotel and invite them to meet us, and we will “go Dutch”!!!

With more visits to Holland and visitors from Holland planned, how would you guide an English person in the etiquette of staying with a Dutch friend or having them stay?

I have Dutch friends visiting in a few days’ time, how should I define my boundaries/stop being a walkover/do the opposite of normal European hosting???

The Shallow Man’s guide to Dutch house guest etiquette

Dear reader, what a story! I’m wiping the tears away from my keyboard. (Tears of laughter). I must admit that I’m not in the least bit surprised. So here are some etiquette tips to use when dealing with the Dutch as hosts or guests.

1. Learn to be assertive

Unfortunately, you and your husband behaved so passively that you may as well have had the word ‘doormat’ tattooed to your foreheads. The Dutch regard politeness as a weakness, so I’m not surprised that your hosts took advantage. The next time you stay with Dutch guests, if they take you shopping, immediately give them their own shopping basket and take one for yourself. That way, you can walk to a different checkout and pay separately. Problem opgelost!

2. Be direct

The Dutch love being direct and telling everyone that they’re not rude. So be equally direct. You must drop the English politeness and just tell them what’s on your mind. For example:

“hey! did someone superglue your purse (or wallet) together?  I haven’t seen anything come out of it during my entire stay.”

“When you get round to opening your purse, watch out for the dust. You don’t want to choke to death”

“We’re not on a diet, you know, so no need to hide the food from us.”

“It’s a good thing that we like our food fresh as the only thing on offer for us to eat here are the mice.”

dutch friends being direct

Dutch directness overload learn to behave like your hosts

3. Go Dutch with Dutch friends

If your hosts suggest going somewhere to eat, immediately tell them that you have no problem with this, but as you’re in the Netherlands, you’ll be going Dutch.

If you are hosting Dutch guests, by all means, be hospitable while making it clear that you’ll be going Dutch on any expenses incurred outside the home. They’ll probably cancel the trip. Problem solved!

No Prince impersonators were hurt during the writing of this post

Till next time, hou je kop!