Greg Shapiro: The Dutch Service Debate

The term ‘Dutch service’ can be an oxymoron. But is the trend changing? asks Greg Shapiro.

Dutch customer service has a reputation for being underwhelming. But there are signs of improvement.

A glass of tap water will be provided free of charge at the café these days. Not long ago, tap water was inexplicably off-limits. A new generation of Dutch retail staff seem to care a bit more about their work. And I’ve personally given ‘Customer Friendliness’ trainings to Schiphol Duty Free staff. (but I can’t vouch for any results, there.)

I’m collecting stories of personal encounters with Dutch service – good and bad. Here are a few bad ones to get the ball rolling.



My wife got a gift coupon to shop at a parfumerie. It was full of ‘handmade scents’ and little cards for spraying and testing the perfumes. After a few minutes, the shopkeeper came up and said ‘Can’t you spray that outside?! Do you have any idea what it’s like to work here all day?’

And it turns out the woman didn’t just work in the shop. She was the owner. Hopefully by now she’s found a new line of work.


Trying on boots in Den Haag. A friend of mine was window shopping, when she came across a pair of boots that were to die for. She popped in to ask if they had her size. ‘We’re almost closed,’ said the woman behind the counter. ‘But could you just check to see if they have my size?’

The woman returned with a pair of boots. My friend took off her shoes and tried on the left boot. Before she could put on the other boot, the shopkeeper turned off the lights: ‘We’re closed.’ My friend protested – couldn’t she just try on the other boot? ‘‘No. It’s closing time.’




My friend said ‘Fine. The one boot fits okay. I’ll just buy them both.’ The woman replied ‘Then you should have come earlier,’ and kicked her out of the shop. Sometimes making a sale is not as important as shaming the customer.


My father was staying at a bed & breakfast in the Jordaan. The owner was a former psychoanalyst. This is what my father found out in staying there. They had many interesting chats in the mornings.

The host would put out traditional Dutch breakfast and just observe my father as he ate. At the end of his stay, the owner asked my father what he thought of the Dutch breakfast and if he would like to come stay again at the B & B.

My father said ‘Well, I thought the Dutch breakfast was very authentic. And, sure, I think I might come back and stay here again.’ The owner looked him straight in the eye and said ‘You’re lying.’

Again – on the whole, I think standards of service are improving. But some of the stories are so juicy… Feel free to share yours – both good and bad.





Greg Shapiro is a comedian, with both Dutch and American nationality.

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