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TJC Global: Doing Business in The Netherlands

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Business Culture

The Dutch language is very direct and people from other countries can find this impolite. However, it is erroneous to assume that the Dutch people want to appear impolite. It is simply that the Dutch people prefer direct communication, plain language and straightforwardness. One of the things that a foreigner cannot help noticing is that the Dutch people who speak other languages do not use the word “please” in their communication. This is due to the fact that the Dutch language does not have the equivalent of this word, or at least it is safe to say that such words in the Dutch language are not commonly used. This is indeed the reason why Dutch people often give the impression that they are impolite or rude. However, once you know that simplicity and directness is most cherished by the Dutch you have identified the key to establishing a successful business in the Netherlands: avoid beating anything about the bush, tell people what you want without delay, and do not be afraid of calling things what they are!

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Dutch Culture

The most important Dutch trait culture is epitomised in the phrase “No nonsense”. The people are very business-minded. On some occasions, however, they might seem unexpectedly to give way to some overwhelming passion, like football. If you visit friends after a football match won by the national team, do not be surprised if you witness their sudden transformation into passionate fans, waving the orange flag in the streets and wishing everyone happiness and luck. 

Another national passion is skating. During winter most Dutch people put on their stakes and go to frozen areas to ice-skate. Due to its popularity, skating has become a dominant professional sport in the Netherlands. There have been years when Dutch athletes occupied all the three first places in the World Skating Championships.

Although the country is business-minded and depends predominantly on international trade, there are some peculiarly Dutch traditions. An example of this is the feast of Saint Nicolas on December 5th. According to the legend, Saint Nicolas lived in Spain with his servant, Black Pete, and used to come to Holland with a steamer. Despite the fact that Dutch people celebrate Christmas and the giving of presents is becoming fashionable, Dutch people very much cherish the feast of Saint Nicolas, whose arrival in Holland is a major annual event and is always documented on national television.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that a Dutchman is born on a bike. Almost everyone owns and rides a bicycle. There is probably not another country in the world whose roads are so well-adapted to bikes. On roads for cars, you will find smaller paths for bikes. In the past, the incident of the royal family being photographed while riding on ordinary bikes caused a commotion in the foreign press. However, this incident is symptomatic of the fact that bicycles are a very important mode of transportation.

The Netherlands is a monarchy, but royalty is not elevated highly above the people; the royal family stands in the midst of the people. Although there are strong tendencies for an egalitarian society, there is also strong support among the Dutch people for the monarchy. Despite scandals and controversies, the monarchy has adapted to modern times and seems to be part of the minds and the culture of the Dutch nation.

 

The Dutch Language

Apart from the standard Dutch language, which is spoken by approximately 16 million inhabitants, a language called Frisian is also commonly used, especially in the north. Nearly 500,000 Dutch speak Frisian. Standard Dutch has its roots in the Germanic language, while Frisian language’s roots lie with the English language. In the east many dialects sound very similar to German and in areas in the south-east, such as Limburg, for example, the dialect resembles German more than Dutch. English is spoken as a second language, and virtually everyone under 70 speaks it. You should not, thus, be surprised to see that in many cities, English is used for advertising purposes.

 

What to See

Dutch painters, such as Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Breughel, have established themselves as some of the best painters of all time. The Van Gogh museum, the Rijksmuseum and the Rembrandt House, all located in Amsterdam are musts to visit. The Netherlands is also the biggest exporter of flowers in the world and in spring time the flower fields at the “Keukenhof” in the Lisse area are real joy to behold.

 

Short History of Holland

In the middle ages there was no such thing as a Dutch state. Instead, there were Counts and Dukes who governed the area. Through a clever marriage arranged by the Duke of Burgundy, one ruler came to reign over the north-east of France - now known as the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The first person to unite these areas was Charles V, who was also King of Spain and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. During the sixteenth century, his son Philip II was troubled with uprisings in the northern provinces, partly due to religious reasons (the protestant religion was not tolerated!), and partly due to economic reasons (taxes were too high!). During the war led by William of Orange against the Spanish king, the north –nowadays the Netherlands – was liberated, while the south – nowadays Belgium – was not. It was in 1648 that all states in Europe recognised the independence of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. During this age this Republic was the most powerful country in Western Europe, even more powerful than England.

Due to the fact that the port of Amsterdam was one of the biggest trading places during the 17th century, that age is called the Golden Age in Dutch history. The power of the Republic declined later, and during the reign of Napoleon it was occupied by the French until 1814, when a new kingdom was established under the reign of the family of Orange that comprised both the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg. In 1830 there was a revolt in Belgium against the reign of the north and the independent state of Belgium was established, followed by a long time of peace for the Netherlands.

During WWII the country was neutral, until the Germans invaded in May 1940. The Netherlands’ monarchy and the government flew to London, where they organised the resistance. On 5th May, 1940 the Netherlands was liberated by Canadian and Polish forces and the monarchy was restored. During the 1960s the country participated strongly and progressive legislation was promulgated for soft drugs, euthanasia, abortion, prostitution, thereby making the Netherlands the dreamland of liberals worldwide. The rather liberal society established during the 1960s later reversed and stricter legislation was enacted both with regards the abovementioned areas as well as immigration.

 

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