The varying lifestyles between The Netherlands and the United States provide a unique juxtapose in regards to business customs and etiquette. The Dutch are a very modern and egalitarian society, who practices modesty, tolerance, independence and self-reliance on a daily basis. Their values align with those of a working-class society, such as education, hard work and ambition. As a people, they loathe ostentatious behavior, and see spending money as a necessity or a vice, rather than a pleasure. The Dutch do, however, value their cultural heritage, history of art within the country, and their ability to remain a powerful international entity.
The United States, on the other hand, is a more frivolous society in comparison, but certain aspects of the business world are still very formal. America consists of a diverse population, which is oftentimes why it is referred to as a “melting pot” of cultures.
Due to this, America tends to be a welcoming society as a whole, with informal and friendly attitudes. In the U.S., the phrase “time is money” is applicable in many different business settings; a person’s ability to be on time reflects responsibility and reliability in their personality. Individualism is another important characteristic of Americans; people tend to be very proud of their individual accomplishments, initiative and success. Through these varying cultural dimensions, America and The Netherlands provide an interesting contrast in relation to their respective business customs and etiquette.
The first dimension of differentiation is meeting and greeting in a business setting. In The Netherlands, it is customary to shake hands with everyone present, including children, upon arrival and upon leaving. When being introduced, it is important to identify yourself, as the Dutch consider it rude not to do so. Instead of “hello,” the Dutch will simply give their last name; this applies when answering the phone as well. If you are too far away from someone you would like to greet, simply wave, as the Dutch consider it impolite to shout a greeting. In the U.S., our greetings tend to be quite informal, as we pride ourselves on equality.
It is expected for everyone to shake hands when greeting in a business setting, but this does not occur again upon leaving, as it does in the Dutch society. Americans also use many rhetorical questions or pleasantries when greeting, but these do elicit actual responses. One should stand when being introduced, make eye contact when shaking someone’s hand, and use a firm grip. Limp handshakes are seen as distasteful.
The second dimension of contrast is body language. The Dutch are an extremely reserved society, and for this reason, do not touch or display anger or excitement in public. They are very private as well, rarely speaking to strangers unless spoken to first. Like Americans, they expect eye contact with the person to whom they are conversing. One should also avoid touching your forehead with your index finger, as this gesture is rude and means “crazy.”
On the other hand, Americans appreciate a certain distance when conversing with another person. If we feel someone is standing too close, we may subconsciously step back. Americans are uneasy in regards to same-sex touching, especially between two males. The insulting gesture in the States is holding up the index finger by itself, which is considered rude and insensitive. Americans tend to smile a lot, even to strangers, but appreciate when the smile is returned. Finally, it is customary to sit with your legs crossed at the ankle or knees, or with one ankle crossed on the knee.
Another dimension deals with the corporate culture in each country. The Dutch regard punctuality with the utmost importance, and will expect a visitor to do the same. If one knows they will be late, a call with an explanation and an apology are expected. Oftentimes, infractions such as lateness, missed appointments or a late delivery abuse trust and can ruin a business relationship. When participating in business transaction, the Dutch tend to skip the pleasantries and move directly to the task at hand, where negotiations proceed at a rapid pace.
Presentations should be practical, factual, straightforward and neat. The Dutch are known to be stubborn, which makes them tough negotiators, although they are willing to experiment, but with minimal risk associated. Companies tend to be frugal, profit-oriented, and very concerned with the bottom line; however, they are not number-driven. Strategic implementations should include a step-by-step plan, because most companies like to proceed cautiously and pragmatically.
Conversely, there are many different dimensions to the American corporateculture. It is customary to ask questions if something is unclear. This is not viewed as a sign of weakness, but if one does not speak up, Americans will assume everything is understood. Silence is avoided in business meetings, as it makes people uncomfortable. Avoid interrupting someone while they are speaking, as it is considered rude. Instead, say, “excuse me” during a pause and wait to be acknowledged.
There is a great deal of value in our written word, as American law requires contracts to be written out because verbal contracts are not legally binding. It is advised not to enter into any contract without hiring a lawyer, as the lawyer will aid in negotiations and any discrepancies that may arise. It is important to be on time and keep appointments that are made.
“On time” is considered five minutes early, and up to five minutes late is acceptable with a brief apology. Any more than ten minutes late requires a phone call with an explanation and sincere apology. Tardiness exudes a lack of respect, irresponsibility, and lack of dependability. Meetings are usually relaxed and informal in nature, but with serious content. Numbers impress Americans, so including statistics will help with persuasion. Meetings are generally called in order to result in a concrete decision, plan of action or signed contract.
Another important aspect of business customs are dining and entertaining etiquettes. The Dutch deem it acceptable to discuss business during lunch and dinner, but rarely over breakfast, as is sometimes customary in the United States. Splitting a bill in a restaurant is highly customary in The Netherlands, and no one should feel embarrassed by this. If your host does plan to pay the bill, they will make that fact well known. Spouses are often included in a business dinner; however, business is rarely discussed if spouses are present. Men should wait to sit until all women are seated, and wait to begin eating and drinking until the hostess has done so.
A small quantity of food should be taken to start, as a second helping is customary and polite to accept. Hands should be kept on the table at all times, instead of in the lap, but one should take caution against putting their elbows on the table. Also, it is considered rude to leave the table during a meal, even to use the restroom. In America, the person who extends the invitation for a meal typically pays for it.
The final contrasting dimension is dress code. The Dutch prefer subdued, casual, conservative, understated pieces. Foreign men may wear a suit and tie, but oftentimes, a sport coat is acceptable, while women should wear a suit or dress. Traditional suit and tie attire is typically reserved for certain business circles or government business. Also, taking off your jacket and rolling up one’s sleeves is acceptable, as it means you are ready to do business.
The United States, proper attire oftentimes depends on the region of the country, the day of the week, or one’s particular position. Close observation of others will elicit the proper attire, but better to dress more formally initially until one can determine the appropriate attire.
The varying cultural dimensions between these two countries help generate acceptable and proper business etiquette. It is important to recognize and respect these variations, as abiding by these customs could be the difference between reaching an agreement and striking a deal or not.
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