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The Netherlands (Holland) - Business Culture

The Netherlands has a formal business culture in which honesty and courtesy are highly valued. Contacts and networks and very important, and you should try to arrange introductions through a third party.

Appointments should be made well in advance, preferably in writing. Normal business hours are 8.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m., Mondays to Fridays. You may wish to avoid the holiday months of June, July and August. Turn up on time, as punctuality is seen as very important.

Although Dutch is the official language, most business people can speak English so it is not necessary to have correspondence translated, or to arrange an interpreter. However, you should ideally have your company promotional materials translated into Dutch.

Normal business attire varies considerably vary between industries. Unless you are aware that informal dress is the norm in your business area, wear a conservative suit for meetings.

A brief, firm handshake, with good eye contact, is the normal business greeting. Don't smile too much as this may be seen as insincere.

People should be addressed by their personal or professional titles with family names, unless you are invited to use first names. Academic titles are not normally used in speech.

Business cards are exchanged on meeting, and should include details of higher educational qualifications, which are highly regarded in the Netherlands. However, you should not refer to your qualifications in conversation, as the Dutch respect modesty.

Meetings are usually quite formal and well structured, with adherence to the agenda. The Dutch communication style is fairly quiet and reserved, but also direct and frank. You will be expected to give a well-structured, factually accurate presentation, with clear evidence or data to back up any statements made. The Dutch have a very analytical approach and will examine your proposals in great detail. You will be taken at your word, so don't make promises you can't keep, and avoid hard sell or exaggerated claims.

Since team-working rather than hierarchy is the main feature of Dutch business culture, decision-making is usually consensual. Once made, decisions are quickly implemented and will be regarded as final.

Business lunches and dinners, usually held in restaurants, are popular. Gifts are not usually exchanged in Dutch business culture, but if invited to someone's home, bring a small, good quality gift such as flowers, a plant or chocolates.

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