Are the Dutch stingy, greedy , economical or just thrifty? Experiences from expats!

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Some myths and stereotypes seem difficult to change. Or is it true when people say that the Dutch are cheap, stingy or greedy?

In this video we asked expats about Dutch greediness: is it a myth or is it true? These foreigners have a fresh view as (relative) outsiders.

First let’s start with the definitions.

Stingy (Gierig) or Thrifty (Zuinig)?

As a student explains in the video, these are two terms that mean different things. Being stingy (gierig) is something negative. You have the money, but you don’t want to spend it. Or share it with friends or for charities. It is really unfriendly to be gierig / hebberig.

In Dutch you can call this person een krent.

Thrifty or economical (zuinig) isn’t really a negative thing. This means that you organize your finances. Living zuinig can also be good for the environment. You don’t want to waste energy for example.

Let’s see what the foreigners have experienced in the Netherlands.

Examples of Dutch greediness / being thrifty

  • One thing is for sure: Dutch people love the uitverkoop (sale) and getting a korting (discount)
  • They have a wallet full of ‘bonuskaarten’, for Albert Heijn, Hema, de Kruidvat. The list goes on and on.
  • If you see someone in the supermarket handing out free stuff, be sure you pass him at least twice. When caught, you can save the situation by saying ‘Ik ben een Nederlander, he’!
  • Or another famous expression is, ‘Als het gratis is, is het nog lekkerder.’ (When it’s free, it tastes much better).
  • The Tikkie is seen as typically Dutch. This app makes sure that someone can’t get away with not paying you. You can ask someone for his money, easily and simply. It’s a really popular app in the Netherlands.
  • So you could end up having this conversation:

Thanks for paying for my beer.

No, thanks. Anyway, I just sent you a tikkie. (Which means you still have to pay.)

Where does this image come from?
I think, and this is my opinion, that there are two origins for the image of Dutch being stingy. The first is the Calvinist belief.

Whereas the Catholic part of the Netherlands is seen as more ‘burgundic’, which means carefree and easy going, the Calvinist idea of ‘work and pray’ and sober living prevails more in the North.

And another part is, I think, due to climate. In the Netherlands there are really four seasons. And with a lot of people on a small piece of land. It’s important to be economical with the resources you have.

Cliché image

I think this image is a cliché. Which means it is based on some behaviour in the past, or present, but is not actually factual now.

This is rivalry between countries. For example, our Minister of Finance who said that Spain, Greece and Portugal, spend their money on “booze and women”.

But it is also within countries that you have stereotypical opposites. For example, you can contrast the stubborn Hollander (North Holland) with the Burgundian Brabander and the sober Frisians with the gezellige Limburger.

According to the research the Dutch desire to save does not necessarily have anything to do with the Calvinist national character. The Netherlands is a prosperous country without major inequality. Many people have been able to build up a buffer as a result.

It’s also a matter of convenience that we’ve managed to put money aside so well. Banking is very easy here, for example via apps on our phone. That makes it easy to keep an eye on our own finances and can lead to more sensible savings behaviour.

The Dutch ARE more economical / stingy

According to a research done by ING, the Dutch get more satisfaction from saving than inhabitants of countries with a similar economy. More than half of the Dutch are satisfied with the savings they have put aside.

Compare this with the French, and you see the difference. A large majority of 58% of French respondents feel that spending money is more rewarding than saving. (1)

Saving together

Another noteworthy feature of ING’s research is how often Dutch couples pool their money for household expenses. Only Romanian and American couples combine household money more often.

Is this stinginess?

Some students don’t see these examples as being stingy. It has to do with something else.

According to them, it has to do with everyone being independent and being responsible for themselves. Also, it’s smart. The Netherlands is a small country with a lot of people so they have to be efficient and make the best use of their resources.

Going Dutch is NOT going Dutch

One phrase that always comes up is ‘Going Dutch’. Which means that each person pays for his or herself.

But according to the British researcher Michael Quinion this is based on a misunderstanding.

The term was first used more than 150 years ago. It was in a news article about how American café owners could prevent excessive drinking. Let the customers ‘Go Dutch’ and have every guest pay for their own drink. The owner based this term on the ‘Dutch’ customers who already did this.

The problem is that these customers were not Dutch, but German!

They were Pennsylvania-German (Deutsch), which was wrongly translated by the Americans into Pennsylvania Dutch.

How do you know that you are in the Netherlands?

Our neighbours (the Germans and the Belgians) in particular, think that the Dutch are really cheap. To demonstrate this they have a lot of jokes about Dutch stinginess. Some examples:

  • If you’re on a plane and you’re flying over Europe, how do you know you’re in Holland?

The toilet paper is hanging from the washing lines to dry.

  • How can you get 20 Dutchmen in a car?

Throw a eurocent on the back seat.

  • How do you recognize 4 Dutch people in a café?

1 café, 1 table, 1 glass of beer, 4 Dutch people and 4 straws!

Expressions about Dutch being greedy

  • De hand op de knip houden

Keep your hand on ‘the clasp’ (of your wallet)

  • Op de kleintjes letten

Look after of the small ones (pennies/cents)

  • wie wat bewaart, die heeft wat

He who saves, has something.



Bart de Pau
online Dutch teacher & founder of the Dutch Summer School & Dutch Winter School