Germany vs. the Netherlands: A comparison for expats

Germany vs. the Netherlands: A comparison for expats

by Leona Quigley

Updated June 23, 2023

The Netherlands and Germany have a lot in common, starting with a 350-mile border. Despite their troubled history, the Dutch and the Germans share quite a few cultural attributes, which have drawn the two countries closer together in the modern era of the European Union.

Still, despite their close proximity and ever-growing bonds, the culture and lifestyle in Germany and the Netherlands differ in important ways. (You certainly don’t want to tell the Dutch that they’re even a little German, unless you’re looking for trouble!) In this article, we’ll look at Germany vs. the Netherlands — from the lifestyle to the language, and from the culture to the cuisine.

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Language and communication

German vs. Dutch

Dutch is the national language of the Netherlands. The national language in Germany is, of course, German. Both of these languages belong to the Germanic language family, so there are many common features. 

Nevertheless, they are not mutually intelligible. Dutch and German speakers may be able to piece together the gist of each other’s conversation, but it’s usually better to speak in English if you’re a German visiting the Netherlands. The Dutch typically do not appreciate being spoken to in German unless it’s already clear that they speak it fluently.

There are some important differences in vocabulary between the two languages. For example: Dutch has only two articles and no genders or declensions, whereas German has three genders and four declensions.  

English as a second language

English is widely spoken in both Germany and the Netherlands as a second language. Particularly in major cities like Berlin and Amsterdam, you’ll find that most residents have at least conversational ability in English. 

Both countries tend to place a strong emphasis on English language education, and exposure to English language media is widespread. This is to be expected, as English serves as the lingua franca of international business across Europe. With that said, the average level of English proficiency is somewhat higher in the Netherlands than it is in Germany.

Communication styles

Both the Germans and the Dutch are known for their direct style of communication, expressing their opinions and thoughts openly and with little beating around the bush. Though outsiders might interpret this as brusk or rude, the Dutch and Germans are generally in agreement that honesty is the best policy and it’s best to lay your cards on the table. 

People in both countries will generally keep their distance until they get to know you well and trust you. They tend not to divulge much about their personal lives until they have accepted you as a friend. When you do make a friend in Germany or the Netherlands, you may well have a faithful friend for life!

Quality of life

Quality of life in Germany vs the Netherlands is quite evenly matched. Germany has the largest economy in Europe and is one of the world’s leading export nations. It has a diverse industrial base, with particular strength in the engineering, automobile, pharmaceutical, finance and tech sectors. Although the Netherlands is a small nation, it also has a robust economy, with a focus on international trade, finance, agriculture and high-tech industries.

As of 2021, the gross average annual salary in Germany was 43,700 euros per year vs 51,000 euros per annum in the Netherlands. Accordingly the cost of living is lower on average in Germany vs. the Netherlands. This varies considerably across different regions in both countries, of course.

Both countries have faced significant challenges when it comes to maintaining affordable housing in their major urban centers and have implemented policies that promote greater availability of reasonably affordable housing. The success of these programs has been a mixed bag, however, with a lot more work to be done.

Germany and the Netherlands have excellent healthcare, education and social welfare systems, alongside well-developed public transport infrastructure. The provision of bicycle lanes is excellent in both countries, but it has to be said that the Dutch have the upper hand here. Almost everyone of all ages cycles in the Netherlands, and the infrastructure in most cities reflects this bike-first mentality. This contributes enormously to saving carbon emissions and to reducing the number of cars clogging up beautiful old cities like Amsterdam.


Germans are famous for strict punctuality. If your German friend invites you over for dinner at 7 p.m., they mean 7 p.m. sharp. It’s considered quite rude to arrive late in Germany, as it implies that you value your own time over the time of the person you’re meeting. 

In contrast, the Dutch are somewhat more flexible when it comes to punctuality. While they generally appreciate you being on time, the culture in the Netherlands is generally more tolerant of small delays.

Work culture

According to a widespread stereotype, Germans tend to hold an ardent and very ordered working culture. Efficiency may indeed be a particularly German preoccupation. Germans tend to work smartly and don’t  waste much time on small talk at the water cooler. 

There’s a correct method for everything in Germany, and you’ll find it pays to learn it. Do something wrong, and you might hear “So nicht!” (“Not like that!”) with an emphasis on the first syllable. Everything is done calmly and in an orderly sequence, so as to avoid a last-minute rush. “Immer mit der Ruhe” is a common mantra in Germany. It means “Don’t get yourself in a tizzy” or, literally, “Everything with tranquility.”

While the Netherlands certainly has a strong work ethic as well, the Dutch are somewhat more interested in a healthy work-life balance. Of course, with the rise of remote work, all of these traits are in flux in both countries.

Legal protections for workers are robust in both Germany and the Netherlands. Strikes are rare because the system in both countries allows for issues to be ironed out before a conflict escalates.  


As Germany is a far larger country than the Netherlands, there are greater regional varieties of cuisine. Still, both countries favor hearty and rich foods, including bread, potatoes, stews, a wide variety of sausages, schnitzel, bean casseroles, sauerkraut, cheeses and pretzels. 

Traditional Dutch cuisine tends to feature herring, cheeses such as Edam and Gouda, stroopwafels, bitterballen (Dutch meatballs), frikadellen and croquettes. Traditional German foods include Spätzle noodles, Kartoffelsalat (potato salad), cabbage, Rinderbraten (rolled roast beef) and Klöße (potato dumplings).

Fresh rolls from the bakery are a breakfast staple in both countries. Dutch and Germans alike often eat them with boiled, fried or scrambled eggs, or with cheese and slices of ham or sausage meat. There will usually also be marmalade and yogurt on the breakfast table. Freshly brewed coffee is the beverage of choice for breakfast. 

Quark (a creamed, low-fat cheese) is popular in Germany, where it’s typically spread on bread with jam or eaten with fruit. Children in both countries like chocolate hazelnut spread for their bread. A large English- or Irish-style cooked breakfast does not really feature in the Netherlands or Germany, nor do stacks of American-style pancakes. 

In years past, the heaviest meal of the day was eaten around noon in both countries. This practice continues in farming families, but most office and factory workers now have their main meal in the evenings. 

Germany vs. the Netherlands: Dear neighbors 

These are necessarily generalizations. Across both Germany and the Netherlands, the culture and lifestyle can vary greatly by region. But if you spend time in both countries, you’ll find that they have a lot in common in their culture, lifestyle and cuisine. While they differ in too many ways to count — language being the most apparent — these neighbors have more in common than they have to separate them.

Leona Quigley

Leona has her roots in the South of Ireland, where she grew up on her family farm. She went on to study World Politics at Leiden University College, The Hague and then completed her MPhil in International History at Trinity College Dublin. Leona has now settled in Berlin, having fallen in love with the city. In her spare time she is working on perfecting her German in anticipation of her doctoral studies, during which she plans to study modern German social history. Her hobbies include bouldering, dancing and reading a healthy mix of history books and corny fantasy fiction. You can find more info about her on LinkedIn.

Leona Quigley

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