Parcel Deliveries:

Dutch way vs. Japanese way

Cheng-Han Kuo/郭誠涵

When living in the Netherlands, I had to, occasionally, go pick up bags of parcels delivered to me when I wasn’t home. It can be a bit irritating. But when I am calm enough, I tend to observe and compare how things are different in the Netherlands and in Japan. Because of the cultural differences, the two societies have developed differently from one another. However, there is never a lack of heartwarming interactions.   

Today, I’d like to start by talking about the postal express systems of these two countries (Note 1):

The Dutch way: leave it with a neighbor – practical and direct

In the Netherlands, the deliverymen – whether from their national PostNL or from a third-party courier like FedEx or DHL – will usually leave your parcels with one of your neighbors when no one is home to sign for them. They will also confirm the details of the neighbor and leave you a note.

When they cannot find a neighbor to sign for your parcels, the deliverymen will then leave them with a nearby service spot, which is usually a supermarket or a bookshop. This is the least desirable result. On weekdays, some supermarkets, bookshops and post offices close at five or six in the afternoon. They even close at midday on Saturdays. And they are usually quite a distance away from home. So for both the recipients and the deliverymen, the most convenient way is to leave the parcels with a neighbor. Deliverymen usually won’t deliver twice. It fits well with my impression about the Netherlands – practical and direct.


At first, I could hardly imagine how this would work. I couldn’t help thinking about the evil side associated with it. I wondered how safe my parcels would be with my neighbors. What surprised me was how neighbors, especially next-door neighbors, were willing to sign for each other’s parcels and take very good care of them. That’s because deep down, everyone has accepted it by heart.


During the week, I am usually either at the school or in the office. I often have to go pick up my parcels from different houses on my street. Gradually, I got to know my neighbors better: the friendly pajama-wearing old man living around the corner always makes small talk; the lady around my mother’s age living across the street is always kind enough to bring my parcels to my door.


Once during a long holiday, everyone on my street seemed to be away. When I came back from holiday, there was a pile of notes left by the deliverymen. I picked them up and went to ring the doorbell of my next-door neighbor. The lovely couple answered with big smiles on their faces. At the door, I saw at least ten parcels belonging to other neighbors. The couple had even separated the parcels by names. They immediately passed me mine and even asked how my holiday was.  

The Japanese way: neighbors? no way!

Parcels are treated in a totally different way in Japan. Here, the highest principle is “to be gentle, and do not disturb other people”. It’s hard to imagine Japanese people doing what Dutch people would do – signing for your parcel, taking care of it and even bringing it to your door. In Tokyo, the only interaction neighbors have is to nod and smile in the elevator. 

Later, I noticed that some of the newer apartment buildings have storage boxes downstairs. When missing a delivery, one can access it from the box with the door access card. But more often, such a delivery will be marked “to be redelivered” in the system, especially when it’s a document that requires the signature of the actual recipient.  

The deliveryman will leave a “redelivery” note when no one is home. The recipient will then book the redelivery time via the Internet or a phone call. Redelivery is available from eight in the morning to ten in the evening, including weekends and holidays. Usually, there is a 2-hour or so window to choose. Sometimes, if you miss your delivery in the morning, you can even arrange it to be redelivered in the afternoon or evening on the same day. It’s wonderfully efficient and convenient.

When you are shopping online, some shop owners allow you to choose a specific “delivery time” so that it is convenient for you to receive the shopping. Every deliveryman is responsible for only one area. Over time, they get familiar with people in their areas. The deliverymen of my area finally don’t have to ask my name over and over again (Note 2). Occasionally, they would greet me with smiles. In Japan, delivery is centric around the recipients. Everything is determined for the convenience of them.

The intent of being “people-oriented”

In fact, it’s very hard to say which of the two systems is better.

Things are not always smooth in the Dutch way. Once I had my visa documents sent to me in a registered mail. But it was signed for by a neighbor, which was pretty odd. When I went to pick it up, they had all gone on holiday. In the end, I had to wait for four or five days before I got them. People who sent the documents couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able to use the documents when the delivery status showed “delivered”. 

Another time, the deliveryman had to leave my document in a nearby post office because they needed to see my identity card. Unfortunately, the post office only opened from nine till five. On Saturdays, it closed at twelve. It didn’t open at all on Sundays. I couldn’t find a time to go when they were open until two weeks later.

Whereas in Tokyo, it is much more convenient. For example, you can arrange for everything to be delivered on weekends. While it seems to be a brilliant idea, it always leaves me extremely nervous during the wait. One time, I was supposed to have my delivery between eight to twelve on a Saturday morning. I was worried that I would miss the deliveryman and wouldn’t even go for a shower.


Apart from the trouble having to make another appointment, how can I have the heart to let a deliveryman deliver three times? Last Monday, there was a heavy snow in Tokyo. They still had to deliver those parcels while holding an umbrella. Whenever I see them delivering from door to door, I cannot help thinking: just so that we can have our parcels delivered at a time convenient for us, are we asking for too much from them? Besides, how much manpower is wasted this way?

Dutch people prioritize delivery efficiency, while Japanese people prioritize customers’ experience. The objectives of the two systems are totally different. However, I think that what maintains the systems and pushes forward their development should always be the same core value – “being people-oriented”.

As a pragmatic person, I like Dutch directness, although sometimes, it can be a bit crude. I also appreciate Japan’s nature of being repetitive and overelaborate yet meticulous and flawless. In my opinion, all of us who live abroad will experience the same transition while understanding the culture of a different country: from simply feeling it to comparing it with that of our own; and then we find some things we look forward to, and some things we have reservations about; eventually, we simply understand and appreciate.


Note 1: the postal express system and the deliveryman mentioned in this article include the national post and other third-party couriers. A very interesting fact is that, even the same company goes through “localization”, and therefore operates differently in different countries.


Note 2: Deliverymen are always very frustrated with my name, Chinese or English. They have to confirm again and again whether I am who I say I am when they first deliver to my place. I have even received a “confirmation notice” from a post office before their actual parcel delivery.

* This article was originally published in Chinese on Crossing on this pagethatcontinent has been authorized to edit and republish this article.

* Photo by: Maarten van den Heuvel @ Unsplash.

Storyteller's Bio:  


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郭誠涵 / Cheng-Han Kuo

中國政法大學法學學士 荷蘭萊頓國際稅法碩士。 

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