The Netherlands is a beautiful country with a long and rich history. It also gives you easy access to the rest of Western Europe. Although not a particularly large country it does have its own distinct business culture and customs which must be adhered to if you want to be successful when conducting business in the Netherlands.
Dutch people are typically very happy and friendly people although they are also extremely to the point. They take a no nonsense straight to the point view of all matters to do with business. There will be no small talk during meetings as this is considered to be a waste of time that could be better spent elsewhere. If you ask a question you will usually receive a very direct answer such as ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Long winded answers that do not get straight to the point are not the norm in Dutch society. Asking personal questions is also a bad idea unless you are on particularly good terms with the person.
The Dutch are a very Egalitarian society so you should shake hands with everyone present at a business meeting, men and women included. If no one introduces you then you should make sure to introduce yourself. When you are leaving, it is also considered polite to shake hands with everyone present again. It is also important to note that unlike some other western European countries the Dutch introduce themselves using their last name rather than their first name.
In general, the Dutch take a relatively modest view to business attire. Unlike countries such as Italy where you are expected to wear your most expensive suit, the Dutch prefer casual, unpretentious, conservative and modest fashions. Although it is perfectly acceptable to wear a suit and tie, a sports coat, shirt and slacks is perfect acceptable. The key is to dress smartly and not look like it is casual Friday.
It is extremely important to be punctual in the Netherlands. In a country that prides itself on getting down to business and avoiding small talk it is not surprising that punctuality is extremely important. Arrange your meetings in advance and if you are going to be late make sure you phone to let your Dutch counterpart know in advance. Although many Dutch people speak English, bringing a Dutch translator will be seen as a sign of your professionalism. It could also help to make the negotiations move that much faster and smoother.
Gifts will not usually be given or expected at an initial business meeting. Once you have developed a good personal relationship gifts may be exchanged, but it is important not to give large gifts. This could be seen as a show of your wealth and may make them uncomfortable. This kind of show of wealth is considered rude in Dutch society and as such is not generally advised. A good idea for a gift would be books or wine. If you are invited to someone’s home it is also polite to bring the hostess and children gifts.
If you follow the tips above then you should find conducting business in the Netherlands both a rewarding and interesting experience.