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USA and the Netherlands; Dutch Culture vs American Culture

In this article I want to talk specifically about:

  • Dutch culture vs American culture
  • American culture in more specifics
  • Cultural diversity in the United States; what does that mean?

The inspiration for this article came from a reader who asked me the question following question: “what problems could arise if a Dutch person would communicate with a North American customer base?

Furthermore, I’ll identify the differences between the US and the Dutch in the following ways:

  • Looking at the numbers (the scores on Hofstede’s culture model)
  • Practical implications and my own experience
  • Some tips to consider

But first, watch this short 2-minute video 

Dutch Culture vs American Culture

If we take Professor Geert Hofstede’s model of culture as a base than the differences do not seem to be so big (which is true). However, there does seem to be a significant difference in one dimension that still causes a significant difference in how both culture approach business.

United States Netherlands
Hierarchy  38 34
Individualism 90 81
Goal Orientation 63 17
Predictability 45 50

For more on these dimensions, read this short article

Only on the dimension Goal Orientation, there is a significant difference (significant is any difference of 10 points or more). A difference that does cause friction when Dutch culture vs American culture work together.

However, the difference between the dimension Individualism is something that Dutch people might also notice. Most Dutch will find Americans in general superficial, and not real. This does not mean that Americans are un-real and superficial. It just means that Dutch people perceive Americans like that.

 

American Culture in More SpecificsUS flag

American culture is the most individualistic culture in the world. The UK and Australia come close, but for many of us, it doesn’t come as a surprise that American culture is very individualistic.

In addition, American culture is characterized as being very competitive, or Goal Oriented. Not only is there competition between companies, but competition on the work floor between colleagues is also very common. In general, this is seen as fair play; you be your best and I’ll be my best. Let’s see who is the best.

Finally, American companies are masters at collecting data and statistics from and about pretty much everything. This is not because they have such a strong need to structure everything. This data and numbers are used to beat the competition; they’re used to win, which in American culture is very important. And to a Dutchman, winning is not really that important, since the Dutch are much more Process Oriented (with a score of 17)

Consider these examples:

As a Dutchman, you’re strolling in a big US shopping mall. When you stop and stare into a shop, you’re very quickly friendly greeted by an American working there with a “Hi, how are you?“.

It’s not that Americans are interested in how the Dutchman is really doing, it is just a friendly greeting. However, most Dutch find this way of greeting/communicating quite superficial.

Or this illustration about Dutch culture vs American culture: Americans use words like “awesome; great; fantastic; outrageous; etc.” much more often than the Dutch do. For the Dutch, things are more “nice; ok; not too bad; etc.”

 

Practical Implications; American vs Dutch business culture

The practical implications of Dutch culture vs American culture (mainly the dimension Goal Orientation) will come down to the following items:

  • The Dutch are (very) consensus-driven, while the Americans are typically goal driven (by the way, process driven says nothing about how accurate this process is executed; the level of detail of a process is the 4th dimension: Predictability).
  • Americans are in general fast decision makers, while the Dutch (being more consensus-driven) will take much longer.
  • Americans stick to a decision (unless changing it will provide a larger gain); the Dutch make their decisions using so-called Growing Insight (“Voortschreidend Inzicht” in Dutch).
  • Americans love statistics; not so much because they have a “need” for being accurate, but more to “beat” the competition and get personal gain.
  • Americans are good sellers; Dutch are good traders.

No doubt there are more so-called typical differences (if you know of a couple, please add them in the comments below!). But the differences mentioned above are all real and very practical.

So what should a Dutchman do to make his or her business efforts a success?

 

Some Practical Tips

Below are a number of tips that a Dutchman can do to let the business process go a bit smoother.

  • Be decisive and stick to your decision
  • Make your decision fast
  • Be accurate when it comes to numbers and statistics
  • Come up with impressive facts that you and/or your product or service will do for your American counterpart. In other words, “Sell”
  • Set goals (oh, and stick to them!)
  • Exaggerate what you can do and your product or service. Overstating is very normal in the US

There will be more tips to consider, also depending on your personal situation and context. But hopefully, these tips will be of some help to understand more of the differences between Dutch culture vs American culture.

Do you have more practical tips on culture? Share them at the end of this post!

image by Serfs UP ! Roger Sayles
 

If you’re interested in learning more why not get one of these books?

Overcome cultural differences in business

Uncertainty Avoidance in International Business

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Chris Smit

I'm passionate about Cultural Difference. I have been helping organizations save time and money when they work Internationally for the last 19 years. I have had the fortunate opportunity to hold lectures, workshops, and consulting projects on this subject World Wide. It has made me understand my own culture much better, and appreciate the differences around the world.
I have a Master's Degree in Organisational Psychology and have lived in the USA, the Netherlands and, currently, in Belgium.
Thank you!

Chris Smit
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