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Dutch office culture: A guide for internationals



In this article, the Dutch language school Taalthuis, which frequently organises in-company Dutch courses, guides you through a typical Dutch office, giving you tips on integrating into office life and practising your Dutch simultaneously.

The Netherlands boasts a unique office environment that can be both fascinating and puzzling for internationals. From the tradition of trakteren, the cherished borrels and the casual coffee machine chats, the Dutch workplace has a distinct charm and customs that play a significant role in everyday office life.

Small talk at the coffee machine: Building connections

As in many workplaces around the world, the coffee machine is a hub for casual conversations in Dutch offices. These informal interactions are crucial to strengthening colleague relationships, whether discussing weekend plans, sharing funny anecdotes or simply catching up on the latest news.

For international workers, engaging in small talk at the coffee machine is an excellent way to break the ice. If you only hear colleagues speaking Dutch and are hesitant to join the conversation, try stepping in the Dutch direct way, and say: “Hoe was je weekend?” or: “Kunnen we Nederlands praten?” Your colleagues will surely gladly help you practise your Dutch.

Typical Dutch lunch: Simple and satisfying

Have you spotted this Dutch classic lunch special yet? A soft bread roll with a veal croquette, mustard topping, and a glass of milk on the side? We would call this a broodje kroket, and it’s simply Holland on a lunch tray!

In the Netherlands, lunchtime is often a sober affair. Usually, Dutch lunches consist of bread with cheese, cold cuts or spreads like hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles) or appelstroop (apple syrup), with a bowl of soup on the side (if you’re lucky).

While it may not be as elaborate as lunches in some other countries, the focus on simplicity reflects Dutch pragmatism and efficiency. Joining in on the communal lunch break is an excellent way for international workers to connect with their Dutch colleagues. “Wat heb jij op je broodje?” or: “Mag ik erbij komen zitten?” are sentences you can use to break the ice and really show you are committed to being part of the conversation.

Trakteren: A delicious tradition

One of your first encounters with Dutch office culture might come on your birthday when you’re expected to treat your colleagues to something tasty. This tradition, known as trakteren, involves you bringing treats on your birthday, usually sweet or savoury snacks, to share with your coworkers.

While it may seem like an additional expense or obligation, trakteren is seen as a gesture of appreciation and camaraderie rather than a burden. It’s a chance to bond with your colleagues and create a warm atmosphere within the office: “Ik trakteer want ik ben jarig!

Een ommetje maken

If you need some fresh air, if you are having a rough day or just want to take a break to feel the sun on your face, why not go for a walk with a colleague? The Dutch won’t be surprised if you ask them to go on a stroll during the work day. Just ask your teammate, “Ga je even mee wandelen?” or “Zullen we even een ommetje maken?

A quick stroll is a great way to clear your head. It can also clear the air: if you have an issue you need help with, or if you are feeling some tension with someone, a short walk can be a great way to resolve minor issues or friction and gives both of you positive energy to continue your work day.

Borrels: The art of socialising

Another integral part of Dutch office culture is the borrel, a social gathering usually held after work hours at a bar or pub. The vrijdagmiddagborrel or “vrijmibo” is the most common, and is, in essence, the closure of a work week in an informal setting. Borrels serve as a platform for colleagues to unwind, chat and strengthen bonds outside the confines of the office.

They often involve drinks and snacks as well as conversations ranging from work-related topics to personal anecdotes and shared interests.

Participating in borrels is a great way to integrate into the Dutch office environment, as it provides an opportunity to socialise and build relationships with coworkers in a relaxed setting. “Wat zijn jouw plannen dit weekend?” is a great way to start a positive conversation.

Do as the Dutch do

By recognising the typical aspects of Dutch office culture and actively participating in workplace customs, you can seamlessly integrate into your new professional environment and build strong professional relationships.

A tip: Be really clear about your willingness to practise Dutch. Say, “Ik wil Nederlands oefenen!” with all the Dutch directness you have in you, and you will find your colleagues eager to help you feel more at home – op kantoor!

If you need more help learning Dutch at the office, or anywhere else, ask Taalthuis for advice for an in-company option. You can ask your HR department to do this. Or book a spot in a Taalthuis course, available online and across eight different cities throughout the Netherlands.

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