NL Guides

Dutch Culture

An insider's impression of Dutch culture and society

The Dutch have less sexual hang-ups than most other nations; the idea that sex is somehow dirty is non-existent in Holland

Historically, Holland has always been an outward looking nation. Its coastal geography and advanced skills in wooden ship building ensured that Dutch navigators featured strongly in international exploration, colonisation and trade. This gave the country a leading role in international affairs disproportionate to its size. The result was a cosmopolitan outlook and an entrepreneurial attitude that endure to this day.

The people also developed a taste for the exotic and a willingness to accept aspects of foreign culture while maintaining their own unique identity. Holland remains a nation of prolific travellers with many people taking two or more foreign holidays a year.

The Nazi occupation in the second world war gave a stark illustration of where bigotry and hatred can lead; this experience has left its mark on the national character. The deprivations suffered then have also resulted in an attitude of ‘eat, drink and be merry’ and the realisation that everyone has the right to a decent standard of living.

Social factors

The Dutch have less sexual hang-ups than most other nations; the idea that sex is somehow dirty is non-existent in Holland. The sexual preferences and orientation of individuals are of minor importance to most Dutch people and there is little demand for a tabloid press dealing in gossip and titillation of a sexual nature.

The Dutch love to eat out and they enjoy visiting bars and cafes; cinemas are also popular. They are keen on sport and fitness, music, social clubs and organised events. They also love flowers and fill their homes with house plants.

Their sense of humour tends to be of the less subtle variety; comedians such as Benny Hill and Mr Bean are enduringly popular. Unsurprisingly, the Dutch are not noted for their sense of irony. Elaborate gameshows and quizzes are popular on TV, often with an element of slapstick. The popularity of theses shows has been challenged in recent years, however, by a wave of reality TV. In fact, the world-wide hit Big Brother originated in Holland.

Many visitors find the Dutch rude because of their direct nature and unwillingness to form queues. In fact, they have a highly ritualised system of social etiquette which takes time and effort to learn. Dutch people routinely wish each other a pleasant day, afternoon, evening, weekend and the like; these greetings carry a lot more sincerity than the American ‘have a nice day’. No quarter is given to foreign residents who do not follow these rules or appear reluctant to adapt.


Holland is known worldwide for its tolerant attitude and the aspects of this most visible to outsiders are the open attitude to sex and the widespread availability of soft drugs. Typically, the Dutch have turned both of these into money-spinning industries.

Immigrants from former colonies have largely integrated well and found acceptance. Other ‘guest workers’, mainly of Muslim origin, are tolerated rather than accepted and an undercurrent of racism has always existed in certain quarters. Anti-immigrant sentiments have unfortunately become more accepted in recent years.

Most people in Holland speak English and like to use it but long-term residents, particularly non-English speakers, are expected to learn Dutch and adapt to the Dutch way of life.