Dutch Culture

Core Concepts

  • Tolerance (verdraagzaamheid)
  • Industriousness
  • Pragmatism
  • Permissiveness
  • Pride
  • Egalitarianism


The Netherlands, sometimes known as Holland, is a densely populated country located in Western Europe. The word ‘Netherlands' (literally “lower countries”) refers to the nation’s low land and flat geography. Much of the country's current land was taken from the sea. The shoreline was extended by building dikes in the ocean and then pumping the water out of the area between the dikes and the original shoreline. This required hard work and skilful engineering, which is often reflected in the Dutch saying, "God made the earth, but the Dutch made the Netherlands". This industriousness prevails today. The Netherlands' open economy and history of social tolerance have given it a reputation as being a liberal, globalised and progressive country.


Geographic Distinctions

The Netherlands has two major cultural regions. The first is the ‘Randstad’, which refers to the ‘Rim City' or ‘City on the Edge'. The Randstad encompasses the provinces of North Holland, South Holland and Utrecht in the shape of a horseshoe. This region is home to the country's major cities – Amsterdam (the capital), Hague (the government meeting place), Utrecht (transportation hub) and Rotterdam (a port city) – as well as a string of connected towns in between. Indeed, the culture of Randstad is distinctly urban and dominates the country’s political and economic life. The dominance of the Randstad explains why many people refer to the country as ‘Holland'. People from these areas tend to be more liberal in their attitudes.


The second region is the non-Randstad, which encompasses all areas outside the Randstad. This area is typically more rural and conservative in attitudes. Those residing outside the Randstad dislike being referred to as ‘Hollanders’ and prefer to call the country ‘the Netherlands'. The distinction between the Randstad and non-Randstad somewhat aligns with the distribution of those who affiliate with Protestantism in the north and Catholicism in the south. The Rhine and Meuse rivers form a natural boundary between the northern and southern part of the country.


For those living in the Randstad, there is a tendency to feel an attachment towards their city – for example, as inhabitants of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and so on. People will rarely identify themselves as coming from the Randstad, perhaps because the boundary of the Randstad is vague. However, the idea of a Randstad identity is evident in those who live outside the region. They may use ‘Randstad' as a point of reference in defining their own identities, distinct from the dominant Randstad culture.


National Identity and Pride

The Dutch tend to be patriotic and proud of their country. Many will happily talk of the Netherlands, whether it be on a global scale about the country's strong tradition of involvement in international affairs, or on a local scale through regional cuisine. They often consider religious, cultural and diversity to be a fundamental part of their culture. Meanwhile, the Netherlands has seemed to resist the formation of a strong nationalist mentality. In the absence of a shared national identity, the Randstad culture has provided many of the features that people identify as Dutch. For example, attitudes such as tolerance towards difference, a sense of openness and permissiveness largely originated in the Randstad.


In Dutch culture, there is a distinction between the allochtoon (non-indigenous), which refers to someone whose roots lie outside the Netherlands, and the autochtoon (‘indigenous’ or ‘native Dutch’). The allochtoon-autochtoon distinction refers to one's place of birth and citizenship rather than cultural backgrounds. is often understood in these terms as opposed to being based on distinct groups. In light of this distinction, Dutch culture may seem exclusive at times. Indeed, one question that arises is whether an allochtoon can become an autochtoon and, if so, at what point do they transition.


Nonetheless, there are unifying aspects of the Netherlands that help create a sense of national identity. Perhaps the most notable example is the monarchy. Throughout Dutch history, the monarchy has played a key role in unifying the country. To this day, the monarchy still enjoys broad support in society. Tagged as the ‘orange-sentiment' (‘het oranjegevoel’), many Dutch citizens feel united through the monarchy. It is common to find Dutch wearing orange during national or sporting events, which is the colour of the Dutch royal family.


Tolerance (Verdraagzaamheid)

From a young age, many Dutch are taught to value and exhibit verdraagzaamheid (tolerance). This involves respecting people's freedom of choice in their attitudes, beliefs and individuality. Tolerance continues to be most pronounced in the prosperous commercial and industrial centres located in the Randstad, which have attracted many people of persecuted religious or political minorities. The Dutch tradition of tolerance is readily encountered in Amsterdam, perhaps more than anywhere else in the country. This attitude of tolerance has led to social policies that some may consider quite permissive. Indeed, many Dutch are proud of the country’s progressive stances on social and ethical issues such as + rights, euthanasia, soft drugs and freedom of speech.


In recent decades, there has been an increase of migrants, typically from the Middle East and North Africa region, who identify as Muslim. Although the Dutch tradition of tolerance has generally extended towards its immigrant population, migration continues to be a contentious topic. Common debates that arise relate to the allochtoon-autochtoon distinction, as well as the difference between Christian and Islamic culture. Nevertheless, tolerance, openness and acceptance continue to be highly valued to many Dutch.


Pillarization and Social Stratification

The Netherlands has previously practised the segregation of groups based on religious, social and cultural differences. This is referred to as ‘verzuiling’ (pillarization). Each group created social and political institutions such as schools, hospitals and newspapers specific to themselves. Up until the 1970s, verzuiling kept many Dutch ideologically separated from each other. The leaders of each ‘pillar' cooperated with one another to ensure each group had the right to exist and function unquestionably; thus, public life generally ran smoothly. Remnants of the pillarization structure continue today whereby people from particular groups, such as migrants from the Middle East or North Africa, tend to be from a lower socioeconomic class. However, pillarization is not as heavily practised as it once was, with regional and lifestyle factors impacting socioeconomic class differences.


The Netherlands is also known for its elaborate welfare system. It was developed in the post-WWII period to provide all citizens with health care as well as old age and unemployment benefits. There is a heavy amount of taxation in order to sustain the welfare system. While the Dutch welfare system helps to minimise socioeconomic differences, the allochtoon-autochtoon distinction influences who can gain access to welfare. For the most part, however, a person's position in the social does not hold much importance in Dutch society, as most people share the same benefits of belonging to the broad middle class. To some extent, a person's ancestral background and level of education affect their positioning and circumstances. Many believe that one's social status can be subject to change and is indicative of a person's current circumstances, but doesn't limit their future possibilities.



The Netherlands has the highest population density in Europe. In comparison to the Australian standard, the Dutch live in relatively smaller spaces. Therefore, privacy is protected and sought after. However, the value of privacy is not limited to the physical space. Individual privacy is necessary to maintain the socio-relational boundaries between people's professional and private lives. Individuals who are friends outside the workplace often downplay their friendships while in the office, and individuals are expected to detach their emotions from business. This guarded demeanour relaxes during interactions with close friends and family members.


Privacy is also used as a way of maintaining a sense of fairness and equality in society. By keeping knowledge of one’s accomplishments or wealth from others, little hierarchical distinction can be made between peers and egalitarian beliefs can be preserved. Those who brag about their achievements and possessions or behave in a condescending way towards others are often cut down by the likes of .



A common Dutch motto is “doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg", which means that it is enough for one to act practically and modestly. This reflects the Dutch cultural tendency for pragmatism. People tend to be moderate and pragmatic in their reasoning and actions, rationalising everything before proceeding with decisions. They try to avoid limiting themselves by always searching for the ‘right way’ of doing something. Thus, they often seek out new approaches in a neutral manner and are willing to consider innovative ideas. One notable example of pragmatism is with regard to finances. At times, the Dutch are seen as . However, Dutch tend to be frugal with their money through eating simple meals and avoiding overspending. 

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