The Monochronic Dutch

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The omnipresence of time.

The cultural facet most impactful on my experience in the Netherlands is the Dutch’s utilization of time. Effective time management has been essential to meeting appointments and avoiding any cultural faux pas.

The concept of time in the Netherlands is viewed as a commodity to be utilized or wasted; therefore, the Dutch are punctual, prepared, and highly cognizant to not waste the time of others. Visitors should reciprocate these values since failing to do so is considered highly disrespectful and has the potential to permanently damage relationships.

How cultures interpret time falls under the umbrella of nonverbal communication—along with familiar associations such as body language, paralanguage, and more. The formal term for how cultures perceive and value time is called chronemics.

Chronemics is divided into two labels when used to refer to cultures: monochronic and polychronic. Monochronic cultures—most often connected with Western, core countries—segment time by creating schedules guided by the start and end of activities. On the other hand, polychronic cultures—commonly linked to agricultural societies—view time as fluid since life is directed by the seasons; not mundane, daily tasks.

Dutch culture, like American culture, views time as a sacred commodity. Expressions like “time is money” and “don’t waste my time” are indicative of monochronic cultures. As a result of these entrenched cultural ideologies, individuals from monochronic societies are often not sympathetic to those who do not value time similarly.

Professionally, tardiness and unpreparedness are two of the worst offenses one can commit in the Netherlands. When conducting business, meetings should be managed efficiently by sticking to the agenda, avoiding small talk, and focusing on the task at hand.

It’s important to remember that when communicating with the Dutch, circular speech is perceived as simple-minded, untrustworthy, and frequently engenders frustration in the listener. Effective communication should be direct, concise, and grounded in demonstrable facts—all clear example of monochronic values.

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Methods of punishment for those not observant to time. (Joke: It’s a 15th century torture chamber at the Museum de Gevangenpoort in The Hague.)

Another facet to understand about monochronic cultures is to have enough self-awareness to know when to leave. For example, if you are invited for coffee, general decorum dictates only one refill in the Netherlands. After that time, you should expect to leave—it is considered ill-mannered to infringe on your host’s time.

Punctuality has been critical during my study abroad trip to the Netherlands. Our group leader has allocated more than enough time to arrive at our appointments in advance; out of respect for the Dutch and American culture’s shared interpretation of chronemics.

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Lady Justice, and the Dutch, will judge you if you’re ever late. (Museum de Gevangenpoort, The Hague)

When visiting a new culture, especially in a professional capacity, keep in mind the concept of chronemics. A cursory understanding of monochronic and polychronic cultures may alter the trajectory of your transactions since business across both cultures has the potential to be strained if this concept is not recognized beforehand.

The quality of your future relationships may very well depend on it.

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