Offering a genuine and well-intentioned compliment is generally appreciated in any culture. However, giving compliments in the Netherlands can present some challenges.
Some words and phrases carry connotations that differ from one culture to another. This article is full of Dutch cultural information and example sentences which will help to avoid making awkward mistakes and misunderstandings.
Below is an outline of some of the main things covered 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, they 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 them such as the brand, price, and even where they bought them, no matter if the item 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.
In Dutch culture, certain words should be avoided when giving compliments as they can make the compliment seem insincere and carry a negative connotation.
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 person’s liking. It is best to avoid these words while giving a compliment in Dutch, in order not to offend anyone.
In the Dutch language, there are two words that can be used to compliment almost anything: “mooi” (beautiful) and “lekker” (which has many meanings such as great, delicious, and beautiful). When in doubt about which 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 aspects of a person's personality. Things you could say to Dutch girls are for example:
For romantic relationships, it is okay to compliment a girl about her appearance 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 them on their 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 center 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.