Three assumptions the Dutch should make about internationals in the Netherlands


Dutch companies compete fiercely on the international market to attract qualified employees. And yet the Dutch culture is reputed internationally to be difficult to adjust to. What can we locals do to help internationals settle?

  1.  Assume that they WANT to integrate into our society

Knowledge migrants to the Netherlands often come for the job, of course. But they also need to set up a whole new life for themselves. They have left everything they knew and now must make new friends, establish routines and get familiar with their environment. At first their only contacts are colleagues and neighbours. It is a really tough process, creating a whole new network in a foreign country.

Though we Dutch are friendly – we will chat with and show an interest in others – we do not tend to invite newcomers into our lives. Many foreigners express frustration at not being able to create close friendships with locals and end up circulating in ‘expat’ circles. It is easy to criticise expats for isolating themselves into foreign groups – but have we made an effort to allow them into ours?

  1. expat question mark Assume that foreigners are having a hard time understanding Dutch culture

Most knowledge migrants do not speak Dutch. So when they first arrive they experience a sense of suddenly being illiterate: not only do they have trouble reading product labels and street signs, but even when we Dutch speak in English, we sometimes communicate and behave in ways that surprise or even shock people from other countries. For them, adjusting to the Dutch culture is like participating in a game where they are the only one that has not read the rulebook.

For locals, the way we do things is normal. For example, we may expect new neighbours to introduce themselves when they first move in. But in other countries established neighbours are expected to welcome recent arrivals. How can we expect foreigners to play our way if we don’t explain what we do and why we do it?

  1. Assume that internationals won’t ask for help

Asking for help is globally seen as a sign of weakness – many people need to have a sense of trust before they will ask anything meaningful. This is particularly tricky for foreigners who know no one in the beginning. They may feel comfortable asking about logistical things: for example, what floor is HR on, or where can I buy non-slip mats for my shower. But asking about relational issues is much harder.

We Dutch tend to be much more direct than many other cultures. We cannot assume that internationals will tell us when they are upset or confused. In order to have positive and effective colleagues or happy and well-adjusted neighbours we just may need to offer assistance without being asked first.

Making these three positive assumptions about foreign workers in the Netherlands will help these newcomers adjust more quickly to fully participate in our society.

About the author: Diane Lemieux

DSC_1896Diane Lemieux’s journey has taken her from her native Quebec through 11 countries during which she collected 4 languages, two passports and several cultural identities. She started her career in international development but decided over 20 years ago to raise her two children and pursue her passion: writing. Today, she is author of four books including The Mobile Life: a new approach to moving anywhere. For more information see her blog: or

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By aligning international demand and local supply countless opportunities exist to improve the quality of international life. Check-NL was initiated by the International Community Platform (ICP), and aims to bridge the gap between the local and global communities. Anne van Rossum (Researcher and Project Manager at ICP) writes blogs for Check-NL and invites inspiring guest bloggers from around the world to share insights that will help to achieve these goals.