By Albert Both, Dutch Flow Now
Doing business in English is a bit easier than in Dutch in one specific sense. You can just call your customer you and that is it. But Dutch (like many other languages) is a bit more complex. In Dutch you can choose between two words, jij or u. Which one do you think is best to use?
Most books and language courses will tell you this: always use u, because then you show more respect. If you say u, then you create more distance and this is a very polite thing to do. Jij is something you say to people that are younger than you, your friends and children and why not, also your pets. When you say u, it means that you are a serious person now.
Yes, it is true that in many official situations people will call you u. All the banks do it and if you get a letter from the gemeente (municipality) or belastingdienst (tax office), then you’ll certainly see that they always call you u.
Sometimes u is less positive than you might expect
But here is the thing, although it looks very formal and official, not every company chooses to use the word u. Many companies such as Ikea or Hema would rather use the word jij. Somehow, they like to suggest that they are a good friend. They would certainly like to help you to make your life nicer and of course, they have a lot of suggestions (all the things that you could buy from them) and then, it feels that if they can speak to you with jij, then the relation gets more intimate. It feels more like friendship. Real friends trust each other, you would always listen to a friend, right? This is exactly why many companies deliberately choose to use jij instead of u.
Here is another thing, what do you notice if you get letters from the belastingdienst (tax office) or gemeente (municipality)? Sure, they politely call you u, but often there is something unpleasant attached to it. Often, there is something that you need to pay. Official institutions do things that normally would end a personal friendship!
One mistake that many Dutch entrepreneurs make
The decision whether you call people u or jij is an important decision. First of all, it has to match with your personality. If you see yourself as formal and official then u might be the right choice for you. But if you see yourself as dynamic, easily approachable, friendly and casual then jij can be a very wise choice.
Here is one important warning however, you have to be consistent! First of all, once you have started to call another person jij it is quite ‘insulting’ to call a person u again. It simply means that somehow you forgot about your friendship or you clearly show that you don’t remember this person any more! Yes, it could certainly lead to embarrassing situations. Therefore, if you call some people jij and other people u, then you must have a good memory! My memory is not so good, so for me it feels a lot saver to call everyone jij.
Here is another mistake that also many Dutch people make. Many Dutch people prefer to say jij, because it is more easy-going and certainly if you want to connect with new people it is a great way to connect a lot faster. But once they send invoices or other official stuff, then sometimes all of a sudden they switch over to u. One of my designers for example used to call me geachte heer Both when she sent invoices and somehow, it was confusing and distracting.
Therefore, if you call a person jij while doing business, then do not switch over to u if you send invoices for example. You do not want to come across as a schizophrenic person! Say: ik heb je betaling ontvangen, instead of ik heb uw betaling ontvangen if you’d like to mention that you received the payment. This is also very important if you have a webshop. If you share your tips and trips while using jij, then don’t all of a sudden switch over to u when people need to pull their credit card.
A very simple rule would be the tie rule. Would you wear a tie while doing business? (If you are a woman just imagine something else that looks neat and sophisticated.) Then u could be a wise choice. But if your outlook is more casual or creative, then jij could be the right thing to say.
Then of course, some companies people might be flexible. While they call each other jij all the time, all of a sudden, in very official meetings they may switch over to u, only during this meeting. But the good thing is that you’ll notice this quite easily. Just listen to what other people say.
Last but not least, for networking, just make your own choice. Jij might be the right thing to say for you, because it will make you more approachable. Saying jij to a person may certainly mean that you respect the person that you are talking with, because somehow you clearly show that it is okay to move closer.
So here is a question: what word have you been using so far? U or jij?
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