No. 13: Scheduling agenda appointments

Spontaneity is not a strong point for Dutch people. Sure, they might like the “concept” or “idea” of spontaneity but they certainly have a hard time putting it into practice. In the lowlands the concept of “popping by” a friends house when in the neighbourhood just doesn’t exit. What? Show up out of the blue? Without an appointment? Dat kan niet!!

Get out your agenda, folks!

Get out your agenda, folks!

Many a foreigner will be struck by the extreme oddity when suggesting a get-together with a Dutch person and finding them pulling out their agenda (or for the more modern folk, their iphone) to schedule a date. The more Dutchies you add to the mix, the more complicated the appointment-game gets! Let’s see I have some availability in 3 weeks, but Fokke is only available the following week and Marieke can do October 3rd. So perfect, dinner in 6 weeks it is!

You may try to fight this cultural phenomena but if you spend anytime in the lowlands the ever-present-agenda-scheduling-addiction might rub off on you. Believe it or not, I even have a Dutch friend who schedules in “down-time “in her agenda (i.e: May 3rd: night on the couch). Sorry, am busy that night – lying on the couch doing nothing! :)

I was recently at a work event and one of my Dutch colleagues proudly announced that she had gotten rid of her agenda. She was no longer going to be a slave to it and had decided to live her life spontaneously. (She had her breaking point when trying to schedule dinner with her best friend, and the only date in their agenda was in 4 months time). The other Dutch colleagues sitting with us were incredulously with her plan. This will never work! How will you see anyone? How will you keep track of your time! You’re not giving up your birthday calendar, are you?!? After a few minutes of proudly reciting the virtues of an agenda-free-life, she looked down at the table and quietly mumbled “well, it is a bit hard to be spontaneous when everyone else is unavailable due to their fully booked agendas…” It’s been a few weeks but I’d be wiling to bet that she fished that agenda out of the garbage and is back on scheduled time. After all, it’s hard work swimming upstream ;)

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67 Responses to No. 13: Scheduling agenda appointments

  1. Bart says:

    This must be a real Northern thing then. I’m from the south of Holland, and it’s more like opposite of that. Friends and family pop in all the time, without notice. If you’re home, you’re home, if you’re not, they’ll move on. Maybe people where you are have to cover bigger distances?

    • Mark says:

      I was going to say the exact same thing as Bart. I’m from the south, and live in the US. What I miss is the spontaneous dropping by of friends. Americans would consider that rude and thus never do it.

      • A. says:

        Americans in the south don’t consider it rude. That’s one of the things I miss about home :/

      • ssmanatee says:

        i live in south holland, in 5 years i have met only 1 of my neighbors. in the southern US, that would not be the case. A., i couldn’t agree more. i always welcomed friends stopping in.

      • Megan says:

        My boyfriend is from the south part of the netherlands too, and he is so spontaneous! I am American, so I think it is so rude to just stop by at his house, yet he always does it to mine!

      • Just a person. says:

        I disagree with this. I’ve lived in the northeast and in the southeast of the USA. People don’t really do this. They won’t close the door in your face but it will be awkward if you just show up.

    • Jeroen says:

      I doubt it is specifically a Northern thing. I lived for over 30 years in Breda until October 2008 and I hated it if people showed up without announcing, and not just me, everyone I knew had the same thing.

    • John R says:

      It’s mostly a thing commonly found among people with jobs and/or many side-activities. People with more relaxed daily schedules often have no problem with spontaneous activities.

      Aside from this: believe me, this one is not typically something found among the Dutch. Try making an appointment with your friend/colleague/partner/business associate in NYC. “March 2014 you say?…. right, nvm.”

    • Rex says:

      I do not agree, I’m from the north of Holland (Groningen) and i don’t even have an agenda. I just call my friends or I get called with the question: What are you doing this day, this night, tomorrow.. but never further. Most of the time I see my friends the same day.

      • Jan Mulder says:

        Groningen is NOT Holland, it is in the Netherlands… Holland are only two provinces: Noord Holland and Zuid Holland, that once were a autonomous state, which brought fame to the region. Later other parts (countries) joined in the republic of the Netherlands (there is more to it but to much to state here) of which most provinces, but also Belgium and Luxembourg. We are called dutch because our language comes from NiederDeutsch (Nieder= Lower because we are on the lower part of Europe relative to the Rhine river).)on the contrary Germany speaks HochDeutsch Hoch=high like higher on the rhine).

    • Danny says:

      It’s more of a city thing. In small towns and villages it’s very commen for people to just drop by. I recon NYC and Amsterdam are not much different in that aspect.

  2. Simone says:

    ahahahah I already got an agenda from my dutch manager! Two months in Nederland and already getting into de inburering.

  3. Invader_Stu says:

    It’s true some of my Dutch friends have trouble with the spontaneity of my expat friends

  4. MissNeriss says:

    It’s so true! I had a hissy fit when we were trying to “book in” for dinner with friends. A month in advance? Sorry, I’m not booking a dinner with friends a month in advance. Nobody is that busy.

    I’d love to hear how the colleage sans agenda is coping, btw. I also reckon she’s back to the agenda!

  5. Suzie says:

    Omg, this is so true! …and this goes hand in hand with female colleagues always going in groups of 2or more to visit someone who’s off sick, or new house, etc. They wouldn’t DREAM of going on a visit alone, god help if you even SUGGEST it!…so that means BOTH getting out their agenda’s to check for available time!

  6. Desi says:

    Your blog is just amazing, really funny and totally true. I’m totally Dutch and I think it’s pretty normal to schedule everything. Why not? Yeah, sometimes I’m spontaneous, but most of the time I’m not. And I schedule ‘me time’ in my agenda.

  7. Bjorn says:

    Oh, I hate that about my country. When I was a student I used to do a lot of socializing (and little studying). Either go to the university (convenientlty supplied with a pub opening early afternoon) or stroll around and see who’s home and what are they up to. But as a student you’re sort of outside regular society. Much to my disappointment I found that in ‘normal’ life, just dropping is less appreciated… (There are notable exceptions to this rule, though. I once visited the parental house of a childhood friend after 20 years and his folks were like: ‘ah, haven’t seen you in a while, grab a chair, do you want something to eat? Dirkjan’s not here at the moment but you can wait and sleep over if you like, maybe he won’t be here until tomorrow’. In a small village things work rather differently than in a city and there are great regional and ofcourse individual differences).

    For planning a trip with a couple of friends, the assistance of http://www.datumprikker.nl/dp/scripts/default.asp unfortunately has become essential… and it will still take anything up to 8 months for example to finally get to visit Verdun for a weekend, with 5 guys (only 3 of whom have families)…

  8. Albert says:

    Sounds all interesting, these obnoxious experiences about scheduling things. In business during work days yes, you need to stay atop your own agenda. Socially, postponing a date is very convenient when the proposal is not so urgent or not even that desirable.

    For the most part, the discussion is very much driven by professionals who, I think, play hard to get. Something like, I am soooooooooooo popular you line up for your turn.

    I am a professional and keep focussing on my priorities. If someone needs urgently help I often fit it in. Very un-Dutch don’t you think?

    • Esther says:

      No, it is not un-Dutch. It is all about priorities and (work)schedules. I never had a doorbell. My friends knew/know my phone number.
      Now that I live in the USA people (international, Dutch and USA) also get their calender to schedule a visit/diner etc. It’s just because they have children, work, other friends etc. I don’t see it as a problem. It’s still about priorities.

  9. CT says:

    I’m 21 and I still don’t have an agenda! I use the google planner for important things like dentist appointments but I’m almost always available for a spontaneous dinner. I don’t really encounter problems when dealing with people who do live by their agendas – usually I don’t have to wait four months… :)

  10. I have no iphone, don’t use my old phone, I don’t have an appointment book, but I am Dutch. However, I have lived in Asia for 12 years. I don’t bother with the Dutch any more, with their ridiculous schedules. Since my return to Holland 6 months ago, I haven’t seen that many people. I don’t fit in any more.

  11. Now I get why nobody has time to do anything anymore, I don’t use my agenda… maybe I should try it sometimes :p

  12. Nicoletta says:

    Love this blog. And this is nr. 13 #2 ;)

  13. Paulien says:

    I never use my agenda… I hate it… I don’t agree with this article!!! :P

  14. Viv says:

    This is hilarious! but, there’s an exception to the rule. If your landlord is Dutch, s/he will spontaneously pop-by with any excuse and without even knocking your door. He has a key!

    Your landlord might also find it extremely rude if you ask him/her, to ask you first what time and date most suits you in case he needs to “swing-by” your place.

    Thanks for this! It made my day!

    • Eva says:

      A landlord is NOT allowed to do that. They MUST make an appointment. Your privete quarters are YOURs not his. Even the police must have permission to enter you house when p.e. Someone is hiding from them. If you say no they have to stay outside or get a warrant. So if he does this behaviour send him a written and signed notice, or better email, that he comes in your appartment again he is tresspassing, infringe and will lead to you changing the locks.
      If your landlord comes in without formal invite he is wrong. Even when your rent contract says diffrently. The law is in this case leading.

      The dutch legal term for his action is called ” huisvrede- breuk”

      Btw a lot of illigal isseus are stated in contracts. Feel free to sign them. These parts are considered unlawful in court.

  15. Coach Crowning says:

    Pulling our agenda’s and making the appointment right on the spot is more an act of following through than of lack of spontaneity, if you ask me. I’ve been living in the US for 16 years now and it still bugs me when ppl say: let’s get together for dinner (and it never happens if I don’t pull my calendar and say: let’s get it on the calendar then!). I love spontaneity, even before I left Holland.
    Great articles on this site though :-) Thanks so much. Have been sharing this with my kids (who grew up in the US but still feel Dutch) and friends.

  16. Totally disagree with this!!!! I find that it is the opposite. In Holland I would just get on my bike and visit friends without notice. If they weren’t home too bad. Here however I have to schedule everything!!! Call first!!! Not so spontaneous at all.

  17. Tom says:

    This article made me wonder how social events are scedualed in other countries.

    I mean, do people abroad really appreciate it when they’ve just come home from work, tired and still with left with a bunch of stuff to do, and a vague relative suddenly shows up for no particular reason?

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  19. Manja says:

    Haha, I am really dutch and i totally hate the whole agenda thing. But you really can not escape from it. Love to read your blog. It’s like a mirror. Thing we take for granted seen treu the eyes of a non-dutch person. I love it!

  20. Helene says:

    I’d love being able to not use a calendar for my life outside of work. But it’s just not an option. My social life is busy, and my boyfriend’s social life is even busier. In addition, we have a son (who also has social and other obligations). This means we can’t just go out and do whatever. We have to keep track of whether the other is home when we want to make an appointment outside of the home with someone else, whether the other is available when we want to meet up with people together, when we want to schedule an evening together, whether our son has to be somewhere, etc.
    I don’t think this is typically Dutch, but typical for people who work full time, have a relationship, have one or more children, and have a busy social life.

  21. Gabrielle says:

    It’s soooo true!!!
    but I miss the Koninginnendag! or Queensday!
    Thats such a fun day!

  22. Ayako says:

    I agree with Helene: my Dutch friends who still study just show up and ring the bell without telling me in advance. And organize everything last minute. While when I used to live in Italy every visit or event was planned in advance (no need for agenda but at least facebook or one round of SMS the day before).because of the longer distances inside one city.

  23. Lost in Nederland says:

    As someone who works fulltime and has kids, scheduling downtime in your week is not strange, it’s for sanity’s sake. Otherwise every evening would also fill up. People get frustrated with me when I won’t use that one free night they see in my agenda to schedule something with them, making them have to wait until the next week, but I have to look out for my mental health too.

  24. Anja says:

    I absolutely schedule downtime. If I do not, that opening is treated by my friends as fair game when planning dinners, movie trips etc. Weeks with every evening being a social commitment or a sports class were not unheard of, so I decided it’s time to start scheduling “time-off” as well.

    I find that spotaneity is possible, but only with those closest to me, whose standing commitments (evening classes, sports, etc) I know by heart :)

  25. Anouk says:

    Funny article, but partly true i think. I’m kinda in the middle. I definitely use an agenda, but just to remember important things like deadlines en meetings for my study, work times etc. Also i put some social plans in it, but I always have enough time left for spontaneous things. Some people around me have never time and I don’t even try to call them for a spontaneous cup of tea or something because ‘she’s probably busy anyway’. So yes for some this is definitely true. It can be very frustrating too to plan something with a group. I often have enough possibilities but some people have so little options, it’s annoying..
    I definitely wish some people were bit more spontaneous .

  26. Lau says:

    I am a student and at the moment I juggle four projects (= four different groups of fellow students) for which I have to make appointments twice a week, each. Add that to social life (voluntary work activities as well), housekeeping and selfstudy for exams…If anyone knows how to remember all this without an agenda, please let me know!
    I think only people who don’t care if they’re late for anything or forget about appointments don’t have a day planner. And when you call them they’re like ‘Oh, wait, what..? We had a meeting…?!’.
    Personally I don’t like waiting on other people, but maybe that’s just the control freak in me. I do know that my grades won’t get any better if I would be late for my deadlines as wel :)

    • kairo says:

      I’ve never kept an appointment book in my life, at least not in the way that Dutch people do. If people want to go out for drinks, just go out, if not, then don’t. I don’t feel like it’s necessary that everybody knows precisely who will show up and when they show up. Chill out, I promise it won’t be the end of the world. I use rainlendar to keep track of things like when my flight leaves or when my car is due for an APK keuring, but definitely not for things like going for coffee or to the movies or sit on the couch for that matter. About grades, I graduated from 1 of the top 10 universities in the world (timeshighereducation.co.uk), so I’m not convinced on that argument. In fact, I feel somewhat insulted when someone whips the agenda out whenever a plan needs to be made.

    • sarah says:

      As a non-Dutch person, and the idea of planners being totally foreign to me until I moved here, I can assure you that the rest of the world does just fine without them. We can indeed remember things without them. We’re not always late and missing appointments. Your comment did make me laugh out loud though!

  27. Martine says:

    I think ur a little off on this one, I do not know of any culture where u can walk in and sit down for dinner,however it is pretty ok to go to someone’s unannounced for coffee or tea! U sure ur Dutch?

  28. Bart says:

    Don’t forget us ganja folk here in the Netherlands, we never schedule anything, but truth be told, we never really do anything at all……

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  30. Stingo says:

    This is one of the main reasons why I moved away from the Netherlands after living there for two and a half years. The lack of spontaineity and the “I will see you again in three month’s time at 7:25 PM” just made me run away.

    I once called a friend with an urgent, life-or-death problem and I asked if I could see him and he told me (it was on a Tuesday), I kid you not, “Let me get my agenda… How’s Saturday morning for you?” Most Dutch people I talked to about this never understood my shock…

    • Bianca says:

      Well then you were just hanging around with the wrong type of friends, I’m sorry. I’m Dutch, and I really need an agenda, partly because I’m very absent minded, and partly because my friends and family live across the country and I have to drive a few hours to see them. Would be kind of inconvenient to find them not home after a three hour drive…But if one of my friends was in a dire situation, I would not give a crap what plans I had, and I would see them right away. Your story is not an example of typical Dutch behaviour, but an example of choosing the wrong friends. Most of us aren;t scumbags like that :)

  31. yvonn says:

    well thats a modern day problem i guess…. People are too busy nowadays with all kinds of nonsense. ”

    I dont mind people dropping by unexpected.
    however, i dont know of anyone that would apreciate if I did the same lol…
    even if I want to see my sister I need to makean appointment months ahead.

    i have always hated this.

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  33. Zwart says:

    I am the only Dutch who gets offended when people refer to the Netherlands by using the word ‘Holland’? I thought it was just ignorant tourists making this mistake but I see people that seem Dutch (by their name) doing exactly the same. Get a map and catch up on some history and stop setting a bad example!

    • Dropje-Kopje says:

      I don’t think they do it to be offensive. Holland is used for Netherlands so commonly in all kinds of literature, that the people who mix up “Holland” and “The Netherlands” have to be acting mostly in good faith.

      Of course, maybe some, at least among the English speakers, are reluctant to say “nether” because they’re afraid to trigger the adolescent humor reflex in their listeners: “Netherlands? Is that like “nether regions”? haw haw haw haw ….”

      When somebody “Holland”s you, all you need to do is turn it into a teaching opportunity. Offer a kindly, non-aggressive, and informative observation — such as: “Hey, it’s interesting how so much of the world thinks Holland is the same as The Netherlands, when Holland is really just a couple of provinces that are in the country of The Netherlands. It’s like calling the United States ‘Texas’, or calling Canada ‘Ontario’.”

      If the other person then persists in saying “Holland”, then you will have to measure your offendedness at hearing it against the potential offendedness you will give to the blockhead, er, to the other person if you hammer at your point.

      • Eva says:

        @zwart, no you are not. In other topics people have mentioned this issue. And i feel it too be lack of interest when people, who should no better, use Holland, in stead of the Netherlands. I am not some stoned cold Hollander i am a friendly sober ” uit de klei getrokken” brabantse. Maybe because the border with holland less then 5 miles away, and my parents being from holland, i am stronger in my emotion about this :)

  34. There is indeed a big difference between the South and the North of the country. The South is much more relaxed than the North, just like if you compare the southern and the Northern European countries. I am not Dutch, but living in the Netherlands for already four years as a student, and I am from a culture where agendas are not even known among people. I mean, you don’t need an agenda there to see friends or to go to the movies, or even worse, to decide when you are going to stay home and relax a bit :) But now I do have an agenda myself. Guess it’s like ‘when Rome act like Romans do’, otherwise you won’t be able to catch up with the rest of the society. I am only wondering, will I give up my agenda when I am back home…? :)

  35. Paulina says:

    Hi there!
    OMG! I just can’t believe that I JUST discovered your blog. It’s like I’m reading my own life. I am a non Dutch studen living here for 2 years now. Every single word you write here is true- I just thought I was the only one who noticed these things… Good to know I’m not.
    Thanks for this blog. It saved my life…

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  37. Mya says:

    I disagree!! I actually started using an agenda, because all my expat friends were being busy and important! “you need to give me notice, how about dinner next week Thursday?”

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  39. Joris says:

    I know a guy that schedules sleep

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  41. rightie says:

    A family member of mine says”If I have to call first dan hoeft het al niet meer”. Nou ja.

  42. Suzan says:

    I don’t know if it’s just me (I’m Dutch), or a Northern Dutch thing, but I hate people showing up unannounced. But then I also hate surprise birthday parties, “spontaneous” holidays that are considered romantic by other people..etc.
    I think it’s partly because we’re what you call ‘nuchter’ and practical, and can see the annoying consequences of throwing caution to the wind.
    I agree that planning a social get together 4 months in advance is a bit ridiculous, but the need for advance notice does increase the larger the group of people you’re trying to get together.
    Also, I really despise it when you agree to meet at a bar/pub at 7pm, and then everyone shows up at 7.45pm instead. Punctuality is important, people! You don’t want to make that poor person who is actually on time feel awkward all by themselves.

  43. lisra says:

    This really got to me with regard to doctors. In Germany you can just show up during visiting hours if the doctor serves people with general insurance, wait (quite) a long while and see the doctor.

    NOT SO HERE!

    I once went in person to a doctor and THE FRONT DESK REFUSED TO GIVE ME AN APPOINTMENT. They insisted I go home, sick, and GIVE THEM A CALL.

    That was the first time I questioned my immigration.

  44. crystalclog says:

    This is the essence of my time planning. I want to know, for every hour, day, week and month what I can expect of it. I want things planned in advance, so I can see them coming. And I hate abberations from those plans. I’m autistic so that’s part of it, but the other part is definitely culture.

  45. Victoria says:

    I hate people showing up unannounced and always have. I’m a Brit. Receiving invites to things months ahead also seems weird to me. How do I know what I’m doing in 3 months time, call me the week before and ask. I understand if you live somewhere like the US and people have to book flights etc but this is NL for goodness sake, if someone calls you and says do you fancy meeting in the city for a beer then say yes or not, it’s not hard. You don’t have to start flipping thru schedules. Facebook reminds me about birthdays and I also have a calender on the wall where I write dentist/doctor appointments and holidays etc but who schedules in “an evening of watching a movie and washing my hair” – just seems a bit ridiculous.

  46. eurobelle says:

    Hey what’s wrong with a good planner? Or just planning your day or week or month? As a good Dutchie there is nothing more frustrating than trying to make things work here in California. If i call a friend here at noon to invite them for dinner later that evening, they can’t even tell me yes or no. It all depends if “something better” comes up. Or they cancel 10 minutes beforehand, or are 2 hours late. How polite is that? I think the planning thing has to do with the weather. In bad, cold and rainy weather, you don’t have your friends or colleagues travel all the way for nothing. Here you can always still go to the beach. But they no longer can be my trusted friend I

    plANYTHING with.

  47. Mark says:

    Although the agenda-setting may seem excessive, the efficiency might be the reason the Dutch work the least hours of the world?

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  50. joop speth says:

    I don’t recognize any of this, unanounced popping by was something I grew up with. With the risk that you went in vaine of course, but there was also a time that students didn’t have a telephone, so you lived your life without it and did whatever you felt like that moment.

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