Flirtation and landing a date: is flirtation a foreign concept in the Netherlands?

Flirtation is defined as behaviour that shows that you find somebody sexually attractive but are not serious about them. (Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary, 8th ed.). In essence it is an interest in something but for a very short time. Connotations vary, in this article I will be addressing that which is of a flitting sexual nature. It is really supposed to be a harmless non physical fling. I prefer to refer to it as a casual and short romantic experiment.  Anyway, let me not bore you with semantics and get right down to my experiences.

I was sitting in a Coffee/Tea room in downtown Amsterdam one day waiting for the rain to dissipate. Out of boredom I turned on my iPad and proceeded to surf the internet. I was not looking for anything in particular. I ended up on and this led me to a blog site, where the following caught my eye. I found the excerpt amusing so I saved the page. The catchphrase was the following:

The Dutch are notorious for being tall, reserved and handsome – and lousy flirts…expat women in the Netherlands express constant frustration; they can expect more attention from a Dutch sack of bricks than its construction worker wingman”.

Interesting and funny indeed, though verging slightly on the offensive. I decided to analyse this. I like to think of myself as somewhat of an amateur social analyst. I have no qualifications in the field but I find it interesting to go around analyzing human behaviour (not in an intrusive way) to amuse myself. I may have already done it with you. Please do not get me wrong, I am not a stalker nor do I have sociopathic or psychopathic tendencies, I just find the human species an interesting, complicated and weird lot. Take note that the following is solely based on my experience and experiences of those associated with me.


 Scenario 1: In a Dutch bar

Beautiful stylish décor adorns a bar in central Haarlem. It is a little dim inside but it is just right. Pop music is playing in the background and people are in little groups laughing and talking. It is a typical central Haarlem café frequented by people (mostly tourists) of all ages. It is only 6 p.m. so the laughter, music and talk is till civil and mellow. I notice someone gazing at me from across the room. I gaze back and he gives me a crack of a smile that has some hidden truth. It is not really obvious that it is a smile (compare; Mona Lisa smile), it is more like an acknowledgement. I pride myself in being social and friendly so I flash a friendly and genuine smile.  Little did I know that I had just inadvertently made a romantic or sexual connection, a flirtation. Most of that evening he kept on looking my way with a slight smile and I would smile back. “Why does that guy keep staring at me, it’s weird?” I ask my Dutch girlfriend M.  “He is just flirting with you,” she says, matter-of-factly. What kind of flirting is this!? Why can’t he just come over and talk to me? I ask, puzzled.  That is not how it is done here. Once he expresses his interest (by eyeballing you it seems) you are usually supposed to go to him and talk to him and that seals the deal. “I will NOT go to a man, never!” I state adamantly. My friend calmly reminds me that I am in the Netherlands now. A Dutch person would have gotten the flirtatious cue. Men and women behave the same way; a woman could have done the same thing if she wanted a man. It is all about the look. I did not get this, nor did I view this as flirting. I am pretty sure the French and Italian men (notorious flirts) would also beg to differ.


A writer on IAMEXPAT compared Dutch flirting to climbing a Dutch mountain, “the tops are virtually non-existent and for a foreigner it is easy to overlook them altogether”. Had I been single in this country I would probably remain so or end up with a foreigner because I would most definitely miss the Dutchman cues. I am used to someone coming over and talking to you (chatting you up, as the British would say), perhaps offering a drink and getting to know you a little better before it is a done deal. The icebreaker is usually a flirtatious remark or gesture. It appears the Dutch are practical even when it comes to flirting. The idea is, why bother with the intricacies of long introductions and getting to know each other if you both know where it is most likely to lead anyway. They do not flirt for instrumental reasons. Being practical seals the deal.

I do not think that the Dutch way of flirting is a terrible way of landing a date. It saves time and can be effective. One may also view it as a mature way of landing a date, in that, instead of wasting time playing hide and seek games (figuratively speaking) like a pair of six year olds, you get right to the point. However, the simple truth is, most foreigners do not understand or get the hints. We come from different social backgrounds and environments. It goes without saying that we may view things differently.

On Queen’s Day 2010, I was in a bar in central Amsterdam having a chat with a French man. He mentioned that he was exasperated at how Dutch women failed to get his flirtatious cues. He believed they took flirting too literally and seriously. He was merely trying to butter up a woman before plunging into the question of a date.  His modus operandi, so to speak, would be complimenting a woman on her outward appearance, offering to buy her a drink, making a few sexual or romantic innuendos and following this up with light touches on the hand or knee.  According to the French man, the reactions were varied but not satisfactory. Some women would be greatly offended and threaten to slap him, some would very much welcome the sexual innuendo and want to act on it immediately (not exciting), some would be confused and at a loss  for words and others would simply switch seats and get away from the “sick and sleazy” man. The French man could not understand how one could get a woman here who is interested in having harmless sexy chatter that lightens the mood and may even have the effect of changing the interaction to a more serious one, a romantic relationship may ensue.


Scenario 2:  At a Dutch party

In case you are not familiar with me, I am African, Tanzanian to be exact and I have lived in several African countries. African parties in general are very different in comparison with the Dutch parties. Our parties are mostly about music, dance and food. In my experience, Dutch parties are mostly about sitting or standing around and socializing with people. A few crockets, bitterballen and cheese snacks are served. It is not a bad concept and I like the idea of being able to have some deep conversations with people. At one of these parties, I happened to be conversing with a very attractive Ukrainian woman. She was a single woman and having a tough time finding a man. Her striking good looks had caught the eye of most men in the room but none approached her. She particularly liked one of these men, but she kept a cool distance to give him a chance to walk over, state his intentions and charm her. Nothing happened. The essence of a Dutch party being to move around and mingle with people, she lost sight of him, and then, all of a sudden she felt someone bumping into her.  She turned around and encountered the object of her affection looking at her.  This is a pleasant surprise, she thought.  But alas, that thought soon turned to confusion because the man immediately left her side without a word.  The most bizarre thing though, was that the gentleman would occasionally deliberately bump into her and walk away. “This is very annoying!!” she exclaimed. She finally walked up to the man and asked him what his problem was. To her surprise he said, and I quote, “ik vind je leuk”( I like you).  In flirtation terms (the way I have learnt to read it) this translates to ‘I find you attractive and I want to spend some private time with you’. Needless to say, she was not impressed. “This is certainly not a way to chat up a girl!” she said to me. It is very weird and unsexy.

Scenario 3: On the streets

I am in a relatively quiet part of Amsterdam withdrawing money from an ATM. I sense and notice two eyes boring into me. A thief! I think. I quickly do my business and rush away from the ATM.”Wait!, the man whom I believed to be a thief cries out in a Dutch accent, “Please show me how to make a quick money withdrawal? I always mess up.”“Okay, can you read and write Dutch, the instructions are in Dutch,” I say. “I know, I was hoping you would show me anyway,” he says. I immediately realize it is his way of telling me he finds me attractive and he wants to get to know me more. I proceed to assist him anyway. Again, the slow and ambiguous game (my interpretation), Why not just come out and say it!


It is extremely difficult for a foreigner to find a Dutch partner in the Netherlands. This is my general opinion. It is not the gospel truth because everyone is different. The Dutch have a code of social behavior which is understood by themselves, amongst themselves. The Dutch way is not necessarily a bad way, just a different way. The easiest way to meet potential Dutch partners seems to be via internet dating sites. At least that way, intentions are made very clear and there is a good chance of meeting and chatting.   This is not unusual in the Netherlands and I know of loving couples who have met that way.  The majority of foreigners are used to the old fashioned way of meeting people, hence their reluctance to search for internet love. My advice is: be a little bit more aggressive when approaching potential mates. Do not play hard to get games and display genuine interest. Learn to decipher the secret messages, the eyes and vague smiles speak volumes. Flirtation is a foreign concept in the Netherlands, so get right to the point of asserting interest or disinterest.

Edna Kuipers
3 replies
  1. Edna
    Edna says:

    I am glad you asked. I take it you are referring to the conclusion. No, that’s not it. That’s a death wish.I am saying make your intentions known without being an ass. My use of the word “aggressive” is in reference to determination and energetic pursuit of your ends. Aggresssion has a number of connotations and I suppose you read it out of context.That is understandable. Be smooth but telling in especially eye communication and smile. Be bold and take your stance without being disrespectful. Do not waste time.

  2. Tex
    Tex says:

    So, what do you mean?
    Going in front of a woman who I like and say simply “I like you. Should we go to have sex each other?”
    With the risk of hearing “get out of here”, or being slapped in the face, or that she calls th police?

    • Edna
      Edna says:

      I am glad you asked. I take it you are referring to the conclusion. No, that’s not it. That’s a death wish.I am saying make your intentions known without being an ass. My use of the word “aggressive” is in reference to determination and energetic pursuit of your ends. Aggresssion has a number of connotations and I suppose you read it out of context.That is understandable. Be smooth but telling in especially eye communication and smile. Be bold and take your stance without being disrespectful. Do not waste time.

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