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The Netherlands (Holland) - Culture

It's not all sex, drugs and rock'n'roll in the Netherlands. Although you may find the attitude towards substances and sex relaxed, this is only part of the many things this country has to offer.

Courtesy, tolerance and a preference for consensus rather than conflict are typical characteristics of the even-tempered Dutch people, and the relative stability and efficiency of Dutch life and its political system owe a lot to these traits. Above all, Dutch people are modest and dislike ostentatious shows of wealth or claims of personal achievement, whilst individualism is often sacrificed in Dutch culture in the interest of achieving consensual agreement.

At the same time, the Dutch value their privacy and personal space; some foreign nationals may find it surprising that the Dutch will often stand so far away from the person they are speaking to. They also tend to be quite formal in their communications, and first names are not normally used except between close friends. At the same time, the Dutch have a good sense of humour, and frequently tease and make fun of one another in a friendly spirit.

The Dutch love of efficiency is reflected in an almost obsessive focus on punctuality and planning. Appointments are almost always necessary here, both in business and in social life, and transport timetables are specified to the minute and expected to be adhered to. It is not really acceptable practice to just drop in on anyone unannounced; similarly if arranging for anyone to visit you, you should specify a date and time in advance. Refreshments such as tea or coffee, perhaps with pastries or biscuits, should be made available for their arrival and served to the visitors; Dutch people will not expect to serve themselves.

Among close friends and family, women will normally greet one another with three kisses on alternate cheeks, while men will shake hands and sometimes kiss women on the cheeks three times in the same way. If you are meeting Dutch people for the first time, introduce yourself by your first name and family name.

Dutch people frequently exchange small gifts to mark a special occasion, such as a birthday, or as a thank you when visiting a Dutch home for dinner. The types of gifts commonly given are inexpensive but of good quality, such as chocolates or flowers, and it is also common practice for a group of friends to share the cost of a slightly more expensive present. Gifts are usually opened immediately in the presence of the giver, and will be received in typical Dutch style with courteous but not effusive appreciation. It is also typical to send greetings cards to mark all sorts of occasions such as birthdays, moving home or starting a new job, or a postcard to thank a Dutch family for a dinner at their home, for example.

In the Netherlands, it is considered important to celebrate birthdays, and the person having the birthday is usually expected to organize the festivities, or at least to take cakes, pastries or sweets to work or school to share with others. In return, they will receive birthday greetings and cards from family and friends. Indeed, birthdays are so important in Dutch culture that it is also common practice for people to be congratulated on the birthday of their close relative or friend. Moreover, the Dutch take pride in ageing and the fiftieth birthday in particular is considered especially significant. Reaching this age is often referred to as seeing "Abraham" or "Sara" (for men and women respectively), a tradition which originates in an interpretation of a biblical reference.

Very diverse cultural influences from all four corners of the earth can be found in cuisine, the arts and daily life in Holland and it can sometimes be hard to define what is typically Dutch. In the cities especially, Dutch culture is a mix of varied subcultures brought in from abroad or adopted by the Dutch and developed further - the very varied restaurant and bar life in particular is something that has to be experienced. Of course the Netherlands are perhaps best known for the unique artworks of the 17th century, of Van Gogh and Mondriaan. As a consequence there are many world class museums in the country: the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the Museum Booymans in Rotterdam or the Kroller Muller Museum in the Hoge Veluwe National Park for example. Classical music buffs will enjoy the world class Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (to name but one of many). For popular music fans, the summer especially offers many festivals with acts from all over the world..

Outside the towns, most of which have at least a few items of historical or architectural interest, The Netherlands has many wonders waiting to be discovered in the countryside, more often than not related to the never ending struggle to protect the country from the sea.

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