Dutch etiquette – How to kiss in Dutch
For a lot of foreigners who come to the Netherlands and meet new people, this is an exciting time. But also, sometimes, nerve wracking. Why? Because how do you introduce yourself to new people?
And I’m not talking about the Dutch sentences you should use, but the way the Dutch greet each other. For foreigners this is a really confusing situation.
So first, if you decide to kiss, how should you do it?
Instructions for kissing in the Netherlands
It might sound strange to read this, but there are some unwritten rules about it. Don’t worry too much about this, because, in general, people do it correctly without thinking about it.
So, how does it work?
- You give 3 (!) kisses
- You start left
- You kiss the air
But, like always, it’s not that simple. Let’s see how things sometimes go in the Netherlands.
If you are not sure about what to do, awkward situations might occur. As a foreigner says in the video, if you go to the same side at the same time, you end up kissing each other on the mouth … and this is really not common in the Netherlands. Especially when you’re not really close.
One of the most difficult questions here is when do you give three kisses?
When should you give three kisses to someone in the Netherlands?
It is really difficult to give one straight answer to this question. In fact, there isn’t one. In some situations it is clear, for example for someone’s birthday or to wish someone a happy new year.
And it’s also quite common with close family who you haven’t seen for a while. So, for example, you see your mother or grandmother for the first time in a week. It’s pretty common to give three kisses.
And for friends it gets trickier. Because here there are no common or unwritten rules. On top of this, young people tend to be more and more creative in greeting each other. Some examples of how people greet each other in the Netherlands:
- One kiss on the cheek
- One kiss on the mouth (Yes, i’ve seen some people doing this)
- A hug
- A handshake
- A fist bump
- A high five
- Complicated fist bumps
And all this for when seeing each other. When you leave, you might go through it all again!
When should you NOT give three kisses to someone in the Netherlands? – Three situations
It’s safe to say the three kisses thing is a complicated event. So let me help you a little bit and talk about when you DON’T do it.
- The Dutch don’t kiss at work
This is a safe zone if you’re scared of the kissing. In general, there is no kissing at work or in the office. And even when, for example, it’s someone birthday, you will probably still get away with just a handshake.
- The Dutch don’t kiss people they don’t know
If you meet people for the first time, it’s definitely not common to kiss. Even if it’s in an environment where people kiss each other. Let me give an example.
When you’re at a party with friends and they kiss each other. You don’t have to do this if you don’t know the person.
Of course it gets trickier if you know the person just a little bit. The borders on when you kiss are very vague here.
- Dutch men don’t kiss men
In other countries close to the Netherlands, like Belgium and France, it’s normal for men to kiss each other.
In the Netherlands this is exceptional and, when you do, it’s only for really close family members, like fathers and sons.
How to avoid tricky situations?
An awkward start to a conversation might ruin the situation for you. What can you do to avoid this?
A great tip that a foreigner shares in the video is:
- Just put out your hand
This is always a safe way to go. It is still friendly, people still accept it, and you don’t have any confusion about left or right, or one or three, or a hug, or whatever.
Why is there so much confusion? Not only because of the differences in the Netherlands, but because it’s different in every country.
How is it in other countries?
Greeting people is one of the things that differs in every country. What is apparent from the video with foreigners living in the Netherlands is that a difference here is the lack of clarity of the rules. And this can lead to awkward situations.
For example in the United States social kissing is something that is not really common. In this country friends give each other a hug.
From the comments: ‘As a Dutchy, I had the same thing when old American folks tried to hug me. I thought they wanted 3 kisses’.
The same applies in Britain. As someone said in the comments below the video on YouTube:
‘As a British person I would definitely ‘phone the police if someone I barely knew tried to kiss me’.
How do people great each other across the world?
What I’ve learned from the foreigners in the video is the following:
- In Russia, Canada and India the answer is simple: no kisses
- In Mexico and Brazil it is common to give just one kiss
- In France (in general) you give two kisses. Although, depending on the region you are in, it differs. Sometimes people give 1 kiss, sometimes 2, sometimes 3 and sometimes even 4.
Talk about confusing ….
- And Poland is the same as the Netherlands: 3.
Dutch people sometimes have difficulty with this!
You might be thinking: how do I crack this code of Dutch society? Well, that’s impossible. Because you know what? Even for many Dutch people there is a lot of confusion here.
Maybe it used to be pretty strict: three kisses to family and close friends.
But I think that nowadays people do whatever they want. That’s of course a confusing thing, and not only for you. The Dutch struggle with it as well.
As the comments section of the video shows:
‘Don’t worry, even for most Dutch people this is uncomfortable’.
But that’s also a good thing. It means that you can do whatever you want and it will probably be accepted.
Words relating to introducing yourself:
- Zoen geven (to give a kiss)
- Zoenen (to kiss)
- Kus geven (to give a kiss)
- Kussen (to kiss)
- Hand geven (shake hands)
- Handen schudden (shake hands).
Some people announce when they are going to give three kisses:
- Ik ga je kussen (I’m going to kiss you)
- Ik ga je zoenen (I’m going to kiss you).
Bart de Pau
online Dutch teacher & founder of the Dutch Summer School & Dutch Winter School