Eat at home

Eat at home before going to a Dutch home.

It is 16:00 hours and I am at my future in-laws house having tea and two cookies. The conversation is flowing and we are getting along well. It is 18:00 hours and we are still having tea. I know this because I am hungry and I have just looked at the clock.

My boyfriend and I stay until 19: 22 hours. I remember this because I was very hungry and looking at the time the whole time expecting to be offered dinner. In the car, I turn to my boyfriend and ask why we were not offered dinner. It is only common courtesy and good manners to do so, I think. Where I come from you are offered a full meal the minute you walk into someone’s house. You cannot leave on an empty stomach. Forbidden! “We were not invited for dinner, my boyfriend explains. A proper Dutch family will not serve you food unless they specifically invited you for that”, he says in a matter of fact manner. Note to self; eat at home before going to a Dutch home.

Cultures and protocol are different in different parts of the world. The following illustrates how it works in most if not all black African cultures when it comes to guests and visitors. I will specifically refer to the cultures I am most familiar with, that is, Tanzanian, Botswana, Zambian and Zimbabwean culture because I have lived in these countries but I am pretty sure this applies to the rest of Black Africa. In summary,the visitors are warmly greeted at the door then led into the sitting room. The drinks are offered and conversation ensues. Shortly a warm meal is served.The time of the visit is not a factor,whether someone comes at daybreak,midday or midnight, the same protocol ensues. I will give an example with fictitious persons for clarity’s sake;

How it is done in Africa (countries specified)

Host: “Good afternoon Bob and Stella, how are you? Don’t just stand there come in, its cold outside, you will catch pneumonia”. (always exaggerations in our culture, its possible it was not cold at all).

Visitors: “Good afternoon Tom, we are well. Don’t worry about us we will be okay. May we come in?”, they will ask politely despite being already invited in.
The parties will go into the house and Stella will, as usual, comment about what a lovely home Tom has. They will meet Julia in the sitting room and Stella will state her admiration for Julia’s dress. The two women will hug. Julia will immediately serve the drinks. The visitors cannot or should not refuse an offer of drinks. This is tantamount to accusing the hosts of having poisoned,bewitched or in any way tampered with the drinks. It is an indication that you do not trust the hosts. After a while (within an hour), food is offered. The following is the protocol;
Julia: ” Let me go and get the food. It’s time to eat. I have prepared a big meal. We don’t want you to go home hungry”. (Note: there is always food for visitors in an African home, expected or unexpected and it is always enough)
Stella: “No thank you. We have already eaten (they haven’t and they knew they would eat at Tom’s). Please don’t go out of your way. We didn’t come here for food”. This part requires outstanding skills in acting and all Africans have mastered this act.
Julia will go on insisting that their visitors eat and playfully emotionally blackmail them by claiming to be insulted. This usually goes on for one minute. In remote African villages it can take anywhere between 10 and 15 minutes to convince your visitors to eat.

Finally Stella will give in and insist on helping to set the table and serve the food . This will be met with a strong refusal by Julia and Stella will politely accept and wait for the meal. Meanwhile, the men are discussing football and pretending to be oblivious to what is happening. Of course it is only protocol, both parties knew there would be an offer of food, refusal of food, negotiation, compromise and agreement to eat eventually. As a matter of fact, Bob and Stella came on empty stomachs. Why do they go through this whole charade, you ask? For the simple reason that it is considered greedy and presumptuous to readily accept an offer of food.

How it is done in the Netherlands

First and foremost there has to be an invitation to a person’s house with a set and uncompromising time. You do not come earlier or later. Being early is a sign of inconsideration and being late a sign of disrespect. You arrive at the house and you are warmly greeted and served tea, coffee, beer or wine. If you are lucky your drinks will be accompanied by cookies, chips or peanuts. However, it is advised not to expect this. You will spend hours (can be 8 hours) having good conversations and laughter. I am not exaggerating. I will never forget the day I arrived at a friend’s place at 12:00 hours, left at 18:00 hours and left with a severe rumbling tummy and the taste of tea and wine. Always, always eat before you leave home!

Text taken from Adapt, Adopt or Suffer.


Edna Kuipers
17 replies
  1. Sana Azfar
    Sana Azfar says:


    It is different and weired for me. It happened to me too… and i was like dying of hunger. ?????

    Whats the reason behind it ???
    I find it rude and not welcoming.
    Inviting guest and being open heart and pushing some efforts for guests is a nice gesture.

    M from Pakistan. And their guest welcome is same as in africa.

    • Edna
      Edna says:

      Ha ha ha! I feel you. I have been told plenty of stories on the reason behind it. One of them is that during the Hunger Year(esp. Winter) of 1944 a lot of Dutch homes hardly had food. They kept the little they had for their immediate family and it was commonly accepted and understood. I think this passed on to become a tradition. Thank you for reading and commenting on my article.

  2. Marta Zielińska
    Marta Zielińska says:

    Didn’t realise African culture would have that in common with where I’m from (Poland)! 🙂 If you go to a Polish house it is generally also expected to decline the offer of tea/coffee/food at least once before accepting it (after a bit of convincing from the host of course). I’ve also had that shock when I visited my friends in Germany. I really was thirsty after a journey, but when they asked me if I’d like something to drink I was just like ‘No no, thanks, maybe in a bit!’. Counted on them asking me again and me going ‘Yeah, ok, I could have some water please’. There was no follow up question though. I said I didn’t want it. It was clear. So they didn’t give me water. One could think ‘How rude!’ in that situation 😀
    On the other hand, when they would visit Poland, if they say they don’t want anything, they meant it. I would still keep encouraging them to drink/eat. They would then think ‘Can she just sit down finally? I said I don’t want anything! How ignorant!’.

    It takes a bit to get used to that you’re right 🙂

    • Edna
      Edna says:

      Wow! I didn’t know Poland shared the same culture. Perceptions can vary indeed. Just like me, I thought it was very rude and discourteous not to treat a visitor “like a King/Queen”ha ha ha, by the warm welcome ,offer of something to eat and insisting they eat or something. Indeed, I also see the Dutch/ German reasoning and no nonsense stance of not wanting to play charades. Both parties can find offense in this cultural etiquette. Thank you very much for reading, commenting and teaching me something new about the Polish culture.

  3. Aledys Ver
    Aledys Ver says:

    Great article! I find all these quirks really interesting and endearing; plus, it gives me material to introduce the Netherlands to my family and friends back home in Argentina. They find it absolutely strange that here you are not served at least five courses whenever you go on a visit to a Dutch home. Having said this, I perfectly understand that it’s just the way it is here – it’s not “bad” or “wrong”, just different.
    One tip of advice I’d give to someone new to the Dutch way of doing things would be: if you hsve been invited for coffee at, say, 2 pm, make sure you leave well before 6 pm, because that is when they have dinner. If you haven’t been specifically invited for dinner don’t expect food if you stay too long. They won’t run out to the supermarket to get food and make you dinner and they won’t feel embarrassed for not offering you anything to eat.

    • Edna
      Edna says:

      I like the last bit of advice you gave. Spot on! I am hoping a lot of foreigners read this article so they can be prepared for a different( not bad) way of doing things. Some of us were thrown into the deep end.Lol. It is easy to dismiss the Dutch behaviour as being rude or discourteous when you are new to it., that’s why it is very important to not Judge until you know. Although, I must admit it may be very hard not to judge at first because our expections were ingrained in us since childhood. Most of us haven’t experienced this with other cultures so we presume it will be the same way of treatment, perhaps universal. Anyway, I love the cultural differences and reasons behind them. Thanks for reading and commenting on my article.


  4. expatsincebirth
    expatsincebirth says:

    Every international should learn how to manage their expectation. If you expect that everything is exactly the same as where you come from, you will most probably be disappointed, deceived, surprised. – I always advise to get very well informed about “how it is done here”. Why didn’t you ask your boyfriend about what you can expect? And please don’t judge others by doing it differently. They have their reasons, their habits and values that are not “bad”, “worse”: they might be different but deserve to be respected.

    • Edna
      Edna says:

      kindly note that there is no judgment, just observation. I am merely reporting my experience. It would be short-sighted of me to expect the same. I have lived and travelled in many countries and observed and appreciated different cultures? is nowhere in the article where I mention or insinuate that the culture of not being offered food is bad. I actually understand and see reason in it. Indeed I could have asked my boyfriend about how it is done here but this ofcourse is said in hindsight. It is for this very reason that I advise others to always ask about “ it is done here”. I thank you for reading my article and commenting.

  5. Peter OO'Connor
    Peter OO'Connor says:

    I’m Irish and lived 20 years in the Netherlands – this is all very correct.

    However as an Irish person, the African experience is correct too (or it was when I was young and still so among my age group – 60ish). If asked to eat “a bite” one must refuse 3 times. A drink, be it tea or something stronger must be refused at least once and then accepted with .. “just a small one then .. or .. a cup in the hand”. “. “I really can’t stay” is a prelude to hours of chat and sustenance but be prepared to respond in kind when they come around to your door.

  6. Fatimah
    Fatimah says:

    Love this. I totaly agree. I am south african and in South Africa and India and Tanzania it is the norm. It is expected. Even if you dont eat, there is always the offer, an insistence and the whole charade exactly as you described it. Very different from my experience here in Holland. I think its too much effort to prepare a meal for guests here as they dont want to go through the clean up and I was told this when I got here from a foreigner who married a dutch guy.dont expect to be invited to peoples homes and never for a meal.enjoyed your article!

    • Edna
      Edna says:

      Thank you very much Fatimah! Your compliment is very much appreciated. Indeed it is a different culture and it can be quite surprising for most foreigners. In hindsight I should have inquired first from my Dutch boyfriend. To be honest I never expected to experience hours of not being offered a meal. I say this because I have had experience with persons from Dubai(Emirates),Egypt,Sudan,Syria,India, Mauritius,Guatamala, Thailand, Philipines, South Africa etc and they followed the same cultural protocol of drinks and food. Perhaps it was shortsighted of me to expect the same. However, the Dutch way is not necessarily a bad way, there is reason for it and I respect and appreciate their culture.

  7. modiiulia
    modiiulia says:

    This is so true. Do they never get hungry? I always eat more before going to my mother-in-law and take some sandwiches because even if we eat there, it is never enough:(.

  8. Dagmar
    Dagmar says:

    I think you were just unlucky. I have lived in the Netherlands all my life and have always been offered food when visiting people. Nice article though 🙂

    • Edna
      Edna says:

      Thank you Dagmar. I think you were lucky! It happened to me on too many occasions to put luck into it. However, I do appreciate the culture here and see good reason for the behaviour. It is not necessarily bad, it is different.

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