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Cultural differences between the Netherlands and the USA

Saskia Maarse | June 5, 2023

The difference in client-focus was one of the firs things that American intercultural coach Lisa Ross-Marcus noticed when she came to the Netherlands 30 years ago: “The first time I went to a restaurant here I couldn’t believe the reaction the waitress gave when I approached her. She literally said, ‘can’t you see I’m busy?’” According to Lisa, there are numerous reasons for the difference in client focus between the USA and the Netherlands.

Firstly, in the US they don’t have the same social system that we know in the Netherlands. Because of this, Americans sometimes need more than one job to pay the bills. This means lots of hard work and less free time. They fear losing their job, which can happen on the spot. Many Americans tend to take short vacations due to this, which can be very stressful.

Compensation culture
Alongside the present work stress is the famous claim culture. Where bad legal attention can lead to enormous (and incredibly expensive) lawsuits. Not only for the employer, but for the employee as well. Therefore, companies (out of fear of a lawsuit) will do everything in its power to solve the problem or the complaint of the client.

In America, the customer really is the king! In the Netherlands, complaints are taken just as seriously as in the US, but here we are more likely to seek a win/win situation. In The Netherlands there is much less hierarchy, and the customer is seen as equal.

Masculine vs feminine society (cultural dimensions of Hofstede)
Another difference between the USA and the Netherlands, where the client focused mentality and performance pressure come in play, is the fact that America has a masculine culture and the Netherlands a feminine one. Geert Hofstede and Gert Jan Hofstede studied the masculine-feminine culture dimension.. They concluded that the US scores high on this (masculine), and the Netherlands low (feminine), similarly to Norway and Sweden.

Feminine countries tend to heavily emphasize welfare in their societies. The quality of life is important, as is modesty (showing off success is not done) and compromise. It’s all about doing you best, and they work to live. Masculine countries strive for achievement and success which means they value challenge, salary, and promotions. It’s all about being the best. They live to work.

Their performance pressure culture places a lot of value on energy and enthusiasm, in contrast to the Netherlands. Here enthusiasm can be seen as exaggerated.

Blindness to these cultural differences can lead to misunderstandings. Even during job applications, the Dutch can lose out of international positions due to their modesty. At the same time, Americans applying in the Netherlands miss opportunities for appearing to be too arrogant about their skills and achievements. Tooting on your own horn is not done in the Netherlands, while in the US you’re placed on a stage when you when you are successful, so you better make use of the opportunity.

The USA and the Netherlands are both seen as western nations. Still, there are clearly differences. Doing business with Americans? Be spontaneous, energetic, quick, direct, clear, and client oriented.

About Saskia

Saskia Maarse is an intercultural speaker, trainer and author. She writes and speaks about Dutch culture in both business / professional and social life. In her blogs, books and professional talks and workshops she uncovers the origins of deep-rooted Dutch characteristics. Saskia also explains what we can learn from and about other cultures – in areas like communication, leadership and human behaviour.

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