First impressions count, and you should aim for a respectable and well-groomed appearance when attending a first business meeting in the Netherlands. Business attire varies between workplaces and professions. For men, the appropriate outfit for a first business meeting in the Netherlands is a suit or at least a business shirt plus a jacket. Whether worn with or without a tie depends on your industry. Colours are of no particular significance. While some Dutch tend to dress more conservatively, colour combinations are also common in sectors such as marketing and the service sector in general.
Women may wear trousers. A trouser suit, for example, is a good choice for a first business meeting as is a skirt and blouse or a dress. Make-up and jewellery should be kept very subtle.
When in doubt about the dress code for a particular business event, it is best to be well-dressed rather than under-dressed. If you have the chance, it is also ok to ask beforehand about the dress code.
Many Dutch ride their bikes to work, and, of course, this influences their choice of clothes.
In a first business meeting in the Netherlands, welcomes and responses will be warm. However, since the Dutch prefer to keep things low-key, do not expect an exuberant first hello.
When meeting for the first time, it is customary to greet each other with a firm and swift handshake accompanied by a nod. That goes for both genders. Shake hands again when leaving.
In a social setting, it is common to exchange three kisses upon meeting, starting with the left cheek – from the point of view of the person kissing. However, kissing is for friends and relatives only!
No matter how many people are present, be sure to greet everybody in the room with a handshake and introduce yourself, at least with your family name.
If there is no one present to introduce you, be sure to introduce yourself. The Dutch consider it rude not to identify yourself.
Names And Titles
It is best to address people using Mr. or Mrs./Miss, followed by their last name. In Dutch, it is “Meneer” for men and “Mevrouw” for women.
If there is a notable difference in age or rank, people will continue to use the formal you and Meneer/Mevrouw. However, once you have been acquainted, people tend to address each other more informally by their first names.
It is always nice to include a little bit of Dutch at a first encounter to show your appreciation for the guest country. Common Dutch phrases that accompany greetings are “Hoe gaat het?’’ – How are you? – or “Alles goed?” – Is everything alright?
As for titles, in the Netherlands, they are more critical than in most Nordic countries, so if in doubt, it is better to include a title in greeting and addressing someone than to omit it.
First, the Dutch value their personal space, which is slightly larger than many would expect. The so-called “intimate zone” is about 50 cm from another person. You might notice that the chairs around the meeting table are set relatively far apart. So, take care not to stand or sit too close to your conversation partner, making them feel uncomfortable.
Steady but not permanent eye contact is expected when talking to somebody. Intense eye contact is considered rude and intimidating. It is best to look away occasionally while talking to create a more comfortable situation.
The Calvinist precept that all people are equal still marks the Dutch, resulting in low hierarchies. Dutch managers are usually very approachable and easy to talk to.
Most people in the Netherlands speak English very well. This means that an interpreter for meetings or negotiations with Dutch business partners is rarely necessary. Moreover, it might even be regarded as a sign of mistrust if you rely on an interpreter. If you stay longer in the Netherlands, maybe as an expatriate, you might want to learn some Dutch. However, don’t be frustrated if most Dutch refuse to speak their mother tongue with you. As soon as they notice an accent, they are likely to switch to English out of courtesy.
In the Netherlands, there is no strict protocol for exchanging business cards. Usually, cards are exchanged during or after the first meeting. As most Dutch speak English fluently, it is unnecessary to translate your business card to Dutch.
Nevertheless, be sure to include your academic titles because, as mentioned before, they are pretty crucial to your Dutch business partners.
If you want to be successful in the Netherlands, please remember that business matters are more important than a personal relationship for the Dutch. Your background does not play a significant role in Dutch business life.
So, don’t be surprised if the Dutch do not bother with lengthy small talk before a first business meeting. Still, a little bit of small talk is exchanged before the meeting starts.
Good topics to “break the ice” are, for example, the beauty of the host’s hometown, the weather, sports like football or ice skating, music, the Old Masters and famous Dutch people. However, you can expect your Dutch business partners to turn to the subject of business rather quickly. And so should you.