Why Do Dutch People Kiss Three Times?

November 10, 2020

We've all heard about the Dutch and their tradition of kissing three times. It may come as a shock to some people. Especially those who live on the Indian subcontinent, but it is nonetheless a culture that the Dutch are proud of. And if you have never heard of it, let me give you some explanation, so that you know exactly how to respond when you are in the Netherlands.

Why Dutch kiss three times? The Netherlands, along with Belgium and Switzerland, have adopted this tradition for many years from the French. There is no specific reason behind the Dutch kiss. Till 1980 Dutch people used to kiss only twice, but slowly this changed to three times.

To learn more about the Dutch kiss, its history, and cultural norms, please keep reading till the end. I’m sure you'll find a lot of the information I’ve provided here that is interesting and useful on your next trip to the Netherlands.

History Behind The Dutch Three Kiss Tradition

Like most cultural norms it is actually very hard to almost impossible to pinpoint the exact reason or place of origin of the Dutch kiss. But some educated guesses provide some theories on this.

Like I mentioned before, there aren’t any significant historical records of why the Dutch kiss three times. Furthermore, the habit of kissing three times was nowhere to be found in the Netherlands before the 1980s. During that time, people would just normally shake hands or kiss once or twice.

Even though we have evidence which states that kissing three times was not prevalent in the Netherlands before the 1980s, some believe that the tradition was already there in the south of the Netherlands. It had originated from the French countryside and slowly spread out.

Keeping all these in mind, it is safe to say that no one knows for sure where this tradition came from and what impacted it to spread throughout the nation. What we do know now is that it is a social norm that is prevalent among all Dutch people.

What to do When You Meet a Dutch Person?

Now, what should you do if you bump into a stranger who happens to be Dutch? Don’t worry, you don’t have to kiss them three times. And if you think you should in order to respect the tradition, chances are that you’ll just end up in jail for public harassment.

But, the scenario is quite different if it's a friend you're meeting. If you happen to be friends with a Dutch person, you need to act quickly. You won't know when they will jump out of the bushes and give you their signature three kisses. And yes, that was a joke. But there is some truth to it.

Chances are, that the longer you're friends with this Dutch friend of yours, there will come a time when they will go ahead and try to kiss you three times on the cheek. But that's just a culturally friendly gesture from their end. No need for you to get scared or even excited.

Don't worry, this has nothing to do with them wanting to take the friendship to the next level but if you think it might turn into something like that, it's best for you to confront them about that. But all things remaining normal, if they end up kissing you three times, they're just exhibiting their famous Dutch three kiss rule.

Three Kisses can be a Cultural Shock

It’s normal to face a cultural shock when you move to a whole different country. Even more so when you're traveling from a country that's the complete opposite.

Now, speaking of the Dutch, it's quite normal for them to greet each other with three kisses and say goodbye by giving three kisses as well. While this may sit well with the Dutch and some of its surrounding neighbors, it might have the complete opposite reaction from say, someone from the United Kingdom.

The British are known to be a little too stiff and decent, which is why they are highly unlikely to see this whole other side of culture in a positive light at first glance. So this could come across as quite a cultural shock.

But once you get used to the different environment, you'll understand that it's just a couple of simple changes that you need to adapt with. Keep reading so that you can fully integrate into Dutch society.

Who Should You Kiss and When?

It’s not an easy decision. When should you start kissing someone? It can’t possibly be on the first day. That would just make things more awkward. So, it’s important to know how long to take before you can greet your friend with the Dutch three kisses.

But that doesn’t mean you can go around kissing everyone you’re familiar with. Let’s say you go to the nearby department store regularly. And you’re on good terms with the cashier. Does that mean you’ll just go ahead and kiss them three times on the cheek? No! So it’s important to know who to kiss.

This is important regarding everyone you meet on the regular. Just because you know someone doesn’t mean they’re close to you and you can go around Dutch kissing them on the go.

It is best to take into account that you should only be kissing those who are very close to you; particularly friends and families. This is very important and you should keep it in mind. Hopefully, you won't make mistakes on your initial weeks in the country and end up getting thrown out of your nearby department store.

Are the Kisses for Real Or Just Air Kisses?

When it comes to kisses, they can be real or air kisses. It honestly depends on how you want to proceed with the kissing. Just make sure you’re not being a slob and getting the other person’s cheeks wet. That would just be disgusting. Yeah, it’s best to stick to air kisses as you’re still inexperienced.

Just make sure you have the positions figured out and both of you know which way to turn if you don’t want to have an awkward blunder with your friend.

Do You Have to Kiss Three Times?

Now, the answer is both yes or no. Many Dutch young people nowadays choose to hug each other instead of three kisses. It's not like there's a rule that you have to kiss three times to greet another Dutch person. From your own experience, you will know soon enough when you give someone three kisses or just one hand.

Now, if you’re complete strangers, there isn’t a reason for you to kiss three times on the cheek. That could be uncomfortable and even rude in some cases. So strangers will stick to hand gestures or even awkward silence when needed.

The kiss goes like this: left-right-left if you were wondering. (from your own point of view)

How to Kiss During Dutch Birthdays

Now, there’s a special ritual that the Dutch perform while kissing someone on their birthday. They utter the word "Gefeliciteerd". And no, it’s not some wacky voodoo shenanigans that will land you in a cult. It’s just a simple word that translates to ‘’congratulations’’. Simple.

The next time you go in for a birthday kiss, just lean in and go: Ge...*kiss*...felic...*kiss*...iteerd...*kiss*


Beware of the Elderly

Just like most cultures of the world, the elderly in the Netherlands can be extra comfortable with invading your personal space. So, you may have to face a few smooch attacks on your stay there. Now, it might be awkward for you in a personal or cultural way.

If that’s the case, then just voice your discomfort. Any reasonable person, young or old should understand you. And if you are way too shy to do that, then suffer in silence. It’s just how Dutch people do these kinds of things. So, it’s better if you can suck it up. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”


So that’s it for the Dutch’s special three kisses. Now you know "why do the Dutch kiss three times". It can be a massive cultural shock but hopefully, the article was able to help you in overcoming it.

Hope you were enlightened and will be more ready than ever to take on that trip to the Netherlands or just spend more time with that Dutch friend of yours without getting intimidated.

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Written by

Leo van den Berg
As a Dutchman I am extremely proud of the beautiful country in which I live. My goal is to convey my passion and love for the Netherlands to as many people as possible.

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