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How to survive in your Dutch office… In Dutch!

Categories: Career Advice,Education

Don’t just survive – Thrive!

Living in the Netherlands is wonderful, but working in a Dutch office can be a bit of a challenge sometimes. However, there are ways to not only survive the Dutch office but even thrive in a Dutch workplace. We at Taalhuis Amsterdam would love to walk through your day and teach you some handy and accessible Dutch phrases to make your Monday to Friday even more fun.

Starting the day

A good day starts with a good opening line. When you walk into the office, ask the receptionist, the porter, and every colleague you encounter: hoe gaat het? Or even, alles goed? When Dutch people ask how are you?, they are actually listening to your answer. So if you say, het gaat wel or slecht, expect that your Dutch colleagues will ask you: oh no, why? However, als je met het verkeerde been uit bed bent gestapt, which means you woke up out of sorts, and you want to avoid a Dutch conversation before you even had your coffee, just answer with goed! Which means yes, I am doing fine or go for prima, which in the dictionary is a very positive word, but actually means “fine”. Trust us, no further questions asked.

Socializing with your colleagues

For socializing with your colleagues, have your story about your weekend ready to go. Your Dutch colleagues will ask you on Monday: Heb je nog iets leuks gedaan dit weekend? Then you can tell them that indeed you had a fun weekend, lying on the couch watching Netflix or visiting an epic party in Amsterdam. And on Friday they are bound to ask, ga je nog iets leuks doen dit weekend? What are your weekend plans? In case you are stuck in the elevator and you have to talk about koetjes en kalfjes (small talk), you can start a conversation by talking about public transportation, tourists that are unable to cycle properly, and the weather. Is the temperature lekker (nice), benauwd (stuffy), bitterkoud (cold), or bloedheet (so hot that your blood is boiling)?

After the morning conversation, try to find a spot in de kantoortuin (the open plan office, or literally: the office garden). Make sure to arrive on time, because a flexplek, the flexible workspace where you can sit, can be hard to find.

The Heart and Soul of Every Dutch Company

The heart of every office is the coffee machine. It is good habit to complain about the coffee. You can say that you don’t like the slappe koffie from the machine, meaning that the coffee is too weak to your taste. Probably, you prefer een sterke koffie, a nice strong coffee! If someone gives you only a half-filled coffee mug, you are allowed to call it een Haags bakkie. If you want to comfort someone with coffee, you can give it to them while calling it een bakkie troost – a cup of comfort.

Time for lunch

At exactly twelve o’ clock, your Dutch colleagues will either buy a cheese sandwich or eat their own packed bread. Lekker! Een broodje kaas! – you might hear them say when they open the lunch box they prepared themselves. After 30 minutes, you will find yourself sitting at your flexplek again, for Dutch lunch breaks are bliksemsnel (lightning fast).

Of course, your computer will act up sometimes. Then simply call the ICT, and ask them to come over. Before you do so ask yourself, zit de stekker erin?, is the pc plugged in? And have you tried switching the computer ‘off and on again’? (aan en uitgezet?).

Dutch meetings

Dutch meetings can be slow and tend to drag on because of the Dutch poldermodel. The so-called polderen is a discussion system in which all present are allowed (and feel inclined) to speak up and contribute. This means that our colleagues welcome a clearly expressed opinion, and won’t be offended if you bluntly say ik ben het daar niet mee eens – I disagree! Regardless of all the clearly expressed opinions, a quick or clear outcome is not to be expected, because polderen also means finding compromises. (The first meaning of polder is the word for land that used to be water, that’s why you also find it in so many place names in the Netherlands). )

In reality, because of the many vergaderingen and all the polderen, you might want to work with de Franse slag, meaning only half-heartedly. You may even find yourself cutting corners, or: de kantjes ervanaf lopen. Nonetheless, in case you promised to do something, then don’t forget to follow up: Terugkoppelen. And if you don’t want to do something, you just throw your task or questions over de schutting (over the fence) to another colleague. If everything is running smoothly with your project, then say: het loopt als een trein, it is running like a train. Naturally this only occurs if you put your shoulders under it: je schouders eronder zetten, or to put in the effort.

Don’t forget the following helpful phrases: to move around the office, say ga maar zitten (please take a seat), when you receive people at your flexplek. If you want to be more welcoming, then encourage them to make themselves at home (doe alsof je thuis bent), or suggest to take it easy (rustig aan). Dutch coworkers are very collegial, so do contribute when someone is collecting money, geld inzamelen, for a shared (birthday) present, gezamenlijk (verjaardags)cadeau.


And then comes life outside the office. On Friday from 17:00 hours, you can join your colleagues at the ‘Vrijmibo’, de vrijdagmiddagborrel. This is a Friday afternoon “borrel” (borrel means an alcoholic drink or a jenever or also the act of drinking around 17 o clock).  This weekly event tends to be filled with bier and bittergarnituur, and is preceded by one of your colleagues stating Ik ben er klaar mee! or Het is genoeg geweest! – I am done with it, it has been enough, time to drink! Another way of signalling the start of the vrijmibo is the rethorical question zit de 5 al in het uur?, is the five in the hour? Let’s go for a beer! Is laten we biertje doen. And if you want to make friends for life, you can give a round, een rondje geven. Just say at the end of the first round of drinks: ik trakteer!

However, instead of going for a beer you can also first go for cosy Dutch language lessons in the centre of Amsterdam.  Take the Dutch you just learned in this article to the next level at Taalhuis Amsterdam. We have many opportunities to learn Dutch, from complete beginners to almost native speakers.  This summer we’ll have a few immersions planned for you as well as our inburgering exam training and from September our regular weekly or biweekly courses. In addition to our regular courses, we also offer lectures and events – to practice Dutch outside the classroom.  We can even come to your company! Please contact us at info@taalhuisamsterdam.nl to discuss the many possibilities!

Article written by Eleá, one of the Dutch teachers at Taalhuis Amsterdam