Giving an honest and well-meant compliment in any culture is often well received. However, there’s a difficult side to giving compliments in the Netherlands.
In some cultures, using certain words and phrases have different meanings than in others. This article is full of Dutch cultural information and example sentences and will help to avoid making awkward mistakes and misunderstandings.
Here is an outline of some of the main things which we will cover in this article:
Dutch culture is very informal and direct. This is apparent in the Dutch compliment-giving culture.
Dutch people are often not very generous with compliments. Instead, Dutch people often make an art out of hiding critiques in what they would call a compliment.
It’s best not to expect to get any compliments about a new haircut or new clothes. They might critique you and call it feedback instead.
This does not mean that giving compliments is not received well. On the contrary, Dutch people love receiving compliments.
It is in response to a compliment where Dutch people show their directness.
Give them a compliment about their pants and they will often start telling you details about it such as the brand, price and even where they bought it, no matter if it was cheap or expensive.
An example would be:
This might seem strange, but it is actually the most common way Dutch people respond to compliments.
In the English language, using certain words and phrases have different meanings than in Dutch.
Therefore, it should be carefully considered what words and phrases to use, as they might have a different meaning in Dutch. Intonation is also a very important aspect to consider.
An example would be the use of the word «interessant» (interesting). When an Englishman says: “That’s very interesting”, he often means the opposite. This is because English culture is very indirect and polite.
In Dutch culture, the word “interesting” could be positive or negative, depending on the intonation and context.
Intonation is very important in Dutch. Even though Dutch people are direct, they can also be quite sarcastic sometimes. It is therefore very important to try and sound enthusiastic.
If someone tells you “Gisteren heb ik een goed boek gelezen” (yesterday I read a great book). And you reply with “interessant”, using a low voice and no other words, it could be considered sarcastic or not interesting.
If you reply with “interessant!” using a slightly higher tone of voice and a more enthusiastic expression, the other person will see your enthusiasm and feel validated.
There’s certain words in Dutch culture that should be avoided while giving compliments. This is because they make a compliment sound insincere and give it a negative tone.
The words “bijzonder” (special), “apart” (different) or “speciaal”(special) are often regarded as insincere compliments in Dutch. It even sounds quite sarcastic.
For example, if someone calls a child “een speciaal kind” (a special child) it is often meant that the child is probably strange or badly behaved.
A “bijzonder” (special) painting often means that it is not to the persons’ liking. It is best to avoid these words while giving a compliment in Dutch, in order not to offend anyone.
There are two words in the Dutch language which can be used to compliment almost everything.
Those words are “mooi” (beautiful) and “lekker” (has many meanings such as great, delicious and beautiful). When not sure what word to use, use one of these two.
Examples of Dutch compliments with these words are as follows.
The word “lekker” is sometimes also used by people to describe other people. Do not do this because it is very disrespectful.
In Dutch culture saying “Zij is lekker” means “she is hot”. In other words, saying “Jij bent lekker” (You are hot) to someone, will not be received very well. Instead you could say “Jij bent mooi” (You are beautiful).
Just like in many other cultures, it is usually not okay to comment on the way a Dutch girl looks. Therefore, compliments about the body should be avoided.
It is more acceptable to comment on possessions such as clothes and accessories, on achievements and positive personality aspects. Things you could say to a Dutch girls are for example:
For romantic relationships it is okay to compliment a girl about her appearances, but only do this when you get to know each other well and you are sure that she will appreciate it.
Since Dutch people are very direct, Dutch girls will say something if they do not feel comfortable with a certain comment, even if it was supposed to be a compliment.
When giving compliments to a guy in Dutch, it is not very common to compliment on appearance. Furthermore, it is not common in Dutch culture for men to compliment each other.
An exception is if the person is family or a romantic relationship. Dutch guys like to get compliments about their possessions and achievements. Examples are:
In Dutch culture, friends do not really give each other compliments. It is reserved for special occasions such as birthdays or big milestones in someone’s life. However, there is nothing wrong with being supportive. Giving a sincere compliment will always be received well.
If a friend has a difficult test and you want to show your support, tell them “Je kunt het!” (You can do it!) or “Ik geloof in je! (I believe in you!).
If a friend is very good in a certain skill, tell them “Je bent zo getalenteerd” (You are so talented) or “je bent zo goed in …[skill] (You’re so good at …[skill]).
Dutch people do not take a lot of time to give a compliment. They sometimes even like to hide a critique in a compliment to soften it.
They call this “constructive criticism” or “feedforward”. The goal is to give someone advice for improvement. Sincere compliments that do not feel like “constructive criticism” are much more appreciated. Some examples are as follows.
As mentioned before, Dutch people are not really generous with giving compliments. This is also the case for Dutch families. Not all families are the same of course, but in most families there will not be much exchange of compliments.
Still, there are all kinds of compliments to give to a family member. The best compliment to give is of course “Ik hou van je” (I love you). Other examples of compliments are as follows.
Flirting is also a form of complimenting. Keep in mind that it should be respectful as Dutch women are often not responsive to disrespectful flirting.
Flirting should never involve comments about the body, the only exception being the hair. It is also wise to avoid sentences that are considered sexual harassment. Respectful sentences to use when flirting are, for example:
In Dutch romantic relationships, it is encouraged to give each other compliments. This shows lots of support and respect. Compliments that can be used for a significant other are:
There are infinite compliments to give in a romantic relationship with a Dutch person, as long as they are honest and kind.
When at a Dutch wedding, it is common to wish the happy couple lots of luck and happiness and give them a compliment about their wedding or reception. Some compliments to give about the ceremony and reception are as follows.
Brides are often the centre of attention at Dutch weddings. It is still very common for a Dutch bride to plan the entire wedding herself. Therefore, when complimenting a Dutch bride, you can always give some compliments about the venue or food.
Here are some example of Dutch compliments for a bride:
It is not really common in Dutch culture to compliment a groom about his appearance. It is more appropriate to compliment his new spouse, achievements or possessions.
Compliments to give to a groom:
When invited to a dinner party, it is polite to give some compliments about the food. Enthusiastic intonation is required or else Dutch people might feel that you are being sarcastic and do not like the food.
It is okay to be honest and tell the host if you do not like something, but it should be softened by giving a compliment about something else. An example could be:
Some Dutch compliments about food that you could use are:
In Dutch culture it is common to give a tour through a newly acquired house. Because Dutch people are so open, they will show every inch of the house, even the bedroom, attics, toilets, etc.
This hospitality should be met with many compliments about the house, preferably about every single room. Compliments that could be given are.
Editor's note: You can use our free language tool to make your own vocabulary lists, and record your own phrases.