Dutch-German: Cultural Differences

First let me say that it’s not right to talk about the Dutch or the German people, because every country and tribe has very different people in them. However, there are general tendencies, or stereotypes, and it’s just interesting to think about cultural differences. So here come some thoughts:


The two countries are next to each other, and they share similar roots and language. Actually, the languages are so similar that you can learn Dutch if you’re German in four weeks, at least enough to study it at the university. The two countries have shared borders, a shared background with regards to language, and a comparable political system. They also have the same money and have lots of the same losses.

Structural Hierarchy of Leadership

Despite these similarities, there is a difference in the people. And where it comes down to, in my opinion, is that the society in the Netherlands is structured in a much more horizontal way than it is in Germany. In Germany relationships are more vertical. It means that there’s an authority figure, the boss, and there are sub-bosses. The person on the higher level always has more to say and makes decisions. It’s different in the Netherlands. You have team leaders, of course; bosses, project managers, etc., but just as a normal employee, you’re much more involved with your company and your influence is much higher.

System of education

I have a biased view of course, because I have not worked in Germany a lot but have several jobs in the Netherlands, and I have never studied in Germany. I did the bachelor and the master in the Netherlands. However, I think its okay to compare what I know of the German system to the Dutch system. For example, in a meeting here with teachers or with researchers, I dare to ask questions to criticize the professor. When I had a different and oftentimes wrong opinion, they would explain to me why I am wrong. It’s the possibility that is really nice.

What I hear in Germany is that the professor is the boss that makes the decisions and gets all the money and stuff. Here in the Netherlands, its very different because basically, some PhD students have their own funds which they can manage. They are financially independent with regards to research, at least, and they have the say in much more things.

Sayings that you cannot translate literally

What also inspired me to write this article is that, although a lot of sayings in Dutch can be translated literally to German, there are a few which you can’t. For example, the Dutch say “don’t put your hats high above the cornfield.” They have another one which is, “Don’t do so crazy, if you do normal you’re crazy enough.”, or, “the highest tree gets the most wind.”

In the Netherlands, they also have sayings like, “don’t stray too far away from the group; don’t get singled out as an individual!” In Germany, people are really encouraged to show themselves as individuals, and success is attributed individually, whereas in the Netherlands, that is often attributed to the group. Thus, I think people are much more grouped focus.

Collective vs Individual Orientation

That’s strange because the two societies are very similar. For one, you get a collective orientation, and the other, you have the individual orientation. But that’s cool and I like it, not always, but most of the time. Collective orientation means, for example, that everyone who studies at the University basically gets a monthly allowance to help them pay for the study, or there is a minimum wage for everyone, so it’s defined what people should earn. In the Netherlands, when you’re 21 or 23, you earn a hundred percent, and then the minimum wage is a percentage. For example, if you’re 16, your minimum wage is roughly 60% of the minimum wage of the person over 21 or 23. That’s great because it’s a kind of good security.

Giving back

Furthermore, I like the idea of helping people earn the living, but leaving it up to them. Whereas what you see in Germany is that a lot of unemployed people get paid by the state, here in the Netherlands, you also see a lot of people picking up rubbish. As far as I’m informed, they’re just unemployed people who feel that they have to do something back, like you can’t just get money from the state without doing something back. The people do something back for everyone, which is nice, and I think that totally makes sense.


Another difference between German and Dutch people is that German people are much more direct in their criticism. Critique in the Netherlands is often very friendly and they don’t want the other person to lose their faith. For me, I like being direct sometimes, because it can be very annoying to have to take into account the feelings of pretty much everyone who’s involved.

19 Responses to “Dutch-German: Cultural Differences”

  • Stuart:

    @Mary Peck: The Wikipedia article on “Netherlands in World War II” is in disagreement with your statement. The article indicates that a number of the Dutch citizens had collaborated with Nazi Germany in the Holocaustic extermination of Dutch Jews.
    Of course, this does not mean the majority of the Dutch people supported the Nazi regime or its purposes; yet, neither did a majority of the German people support that regime and its practice of genocide. It is an untruth that the nation of Germany is solely responsible for the horrible acts. Even those nations of the Allied powers are not guiltless for the atrocities as each have had Nazi sympathizers throughout the tiers of government of their respective nations.
    Though there is no strong evidence that the Dutch made a serious attempt to conquer the world, there is evidence they tried to conquer portions of it. As well, it is but speculation and propaganda that the German Empire tried to conquer the world. There is only evidence that the German nation, like many other nations before it, tried to expand their empire.
    In other words, the subtle distinction you referenced is more a similarity of the Dutch and Germans than a difference, as it is for most, if not all nations on our planet.

  • fahad:

    I am half German and Dutch so ? what does that mean the same thing but different countries

  • Mike:

    I’d say this is kind of backwards in many ways. I would say most Dutch people are more individualistic than Germans, as well as more direct, more confident, relaxed, although they are probably more progressive at work as they are in other aspects. I find Germans are more uptight and quiet, but more humble and considerate. They are less fun but also less douchey.

  • Neither did I. Just a subtle reminder we are in 2014.

  • Mary Peck:

    The Dutch did not incinerate people in concentration camps or try to take over the world. Just a subtle distinction.

  • Well Cynthia, I did live in the Netherlands for 6 years. I am not claiming to know the “truth”. This is my opinion. You are welcome to have a different view of things.

  • cynthia:

    Dear Martin.
    It’s hard for me to read this being dutch. Also if you were dutch or german you would have known that the dutch have their kings and queens in opposite with Germany they have a prime minister. That is a big difference! Maybe you mixed up Belgium with Germany? Furthermore, the people that you subscribe as unemployed trash collectors are probably the people that have a good job and are either very concerned about the environment or employed bythe city to clean up the streets. There’s a lot more in your article that isn’t correct, i don’t know what exactly you studied i do hope that you’re anexpert in your field of knowledge because you hardly know anything about theNetherlandsand the dutchat all.

  • Bebetta:

    Deutsch is German duh. I’m German and we speak Deutsch at home which is Dutch. The only difference is the dialect duh.

  • Kein Deutscher:

    Just wanted to say that the Dutch are really direct, too much in my opinion.

  • Martin Metzmacher:

    Call me (;

  • Madeleine:

    Hello, I am a german student and plan on doing a training for Dutch on how to deal with the Germans! Do you have some mmore ideas or suggestions?

  • Martin Metzmacher:

    Hi Lamis,

    what do you suggest? You can also leave an open question in the blog – you might get input from other people reading this article for your intercultural management course.

  • Lamis:

    Dear Martin,

    How are you doing? :) here i am, back to your article, delighted that you have replied. Well I have to prepare something else to my intercultural management course and I just love the Deutch- German topic. Do you think you can help? Do you have any hotmail account so we can talk about it?

  • Martin Metzmacher:

    Hi Lamis,

    If you have any other question feel free to mail or leave a comment.

  • Lamis:

    Hi Martin,

    What you wrote here is exactly what i was looking for for my intercultural management project :) thanks :)

  • Martin Metzmacher:

    Hi Beth,

    feel free to contact me if you want to chat about your project. Just google me or use the contact form.

  • Beth:

    I’m doing a project based on the same ideas for a college scholarship to move to Aachen next year and this is really enlightening!

  • Martin Metzmacher:

    Actually I am German

  • Kiki:


    Google send me to you site and what you wrote is interesting.. i’m guessing you are neither Dutch or German?
    There are some mistakes in your text about the minimum wage and the sayings. And i think the Dutch are more direct than the german and around A’dam/R’dam people are more direct than people in the rest of the Netherlands, so it’s funny that you think about it differently.
    And about the horizontal communication, it depends on the company, but to criticize you manager isn’t a smart thing to do when you want to keep your job even in the Netherlands.

    But I still liked to read it,

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