I've been working in a Dutch company for a few months now, and last Friday, a group of my colleagues invited me to hangout with them in a bar near the office. This time exceptionally, I accepted to go with them.

In the bar, I drank enough to get drunk, and things went out of hand.

I made two comments, one that could potentially assumed as racist and/or making them feel guilty (I told my colleagues that a Dutch person should not take the fact that they were born in a first world country for granted, and they should take every opportunity possible to make world better for themselves and those around them), and my second comment was that I indirectly suggested a male coworker to try to get laid, and he got embarrassed.

After my second comment, I immediately recognised what I did, and I kept quiet until we all decided to call it a night.

What I did was absolutely not right, and I feel terribly ashamed. What would be the most decent way to approach this?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Jun 15, 2022 at 19:56

6 Answers 6


Tell the attendees you are sorry in person. Next time have a 2 drink maximum when co-workers are involved.

You've just learned about Mandatory Fun. If co-workers invite you out for a drink, it's still "work". Don't get drunk or bring up controversial topics. In general, people are willing to forgive drunken stupidity one maybe two times. Don't do it again.

Consider ordering a soda and tipping like you ordered some drinks if you feel it'll be difficult to stick to the 2 drink max. There are plenty of other bars where you can go to drink that you co-workers don't frequent. If you plan on getting drunk again choose one of these.

EDIT - Bringing beer ABV comments into post

Several commenters pointed out sometimes a single beer can count as 2 or even 3 drinks. Look at the alcohol content. It'll either be in ABV (Alcohol By Volume) or ABW (Alcohol by Weight). I'm going to stick with ABV since I'm familiar with that system.

1 Beer = ~5% ABV

Beer bars write the ABV on the menu. In most countries, the manufacturer is required to write it on the bottle. "High-gravity" beers means its got 7-8%+ ABV. Some beers have 10% or more. An ABV of 10% = 2 beers.

Other bars likely don't have many (or any) high gravity beers. Any decent bartender will give you a heads up if you order one (but ask anyway).

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – DarkCygnus
    Commented Jun 15, 2022 at 16:13
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    -1 The question is tagged 'Netherlands', and this is mentioned explicitly in the OP. Tipping for drinks in a bar is highly unusual. The concept of ABV is not common, and is not written anywhere. Also, none of the mentioned topics are controversial in the Netherlands. Some parts of this answer might apply in case of a company full of expats.
    – user135407
    Commented Jun 16, 2022 at 2:57
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    @Thissitehasbecomeadump. Printing ABV is mandatory in the Netherlands on containers (cans and bottles). "Fancy"/hipster beer-focused venues may also print it on the menu, but this is indeed not common. In most placed, if you get beer from the tap, you'll never know the ABV unless you ask. Commented Jun 16, 2022 at 9:13
  • Takes me back to working in Holland in '98, when Grolsch were celbrating the centenary anniversay of their bootle cap. The had a different beer each 2 months. March, IIRC, was het Kanon. That very intersting, well worth reading, article reminds me that it is 11.6% ABV. Two of those ...
    – Mawg
    Commented Jun 16, 2022 at 12:18
  • Personally, I don't drink anything at work events - it's just asking for trouble. Commented Jun 16, 2022 at 16:39

You are most likely overreacting.

Has anybody mentioned anything? The odds are they don't even remember you doing anything wrong (I'm guessing they were all drinking as well?).

If that is the case, going about apologising to people could only make things worse.

My advice is to go into work, act normally, and next time drink a little less.

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    +1 - I don't know what the Dutch are like in general, but the ones I have met are pretty laid back. In the UK, this would be a typical after-work drink session for many people. Commented Jun 16, 2022 at 21:57
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    I would second this answer. Only thing one could think about is to apologize to the guy that was mentioned in the "second comment" when there is a chance and no one else is around. Depending on the context this could have been a hurtful comment.
    – asquared
    Commented Jun 19, 2022 at 15:58

Don't worry about it, your actions are at worst amusing.

Bear in mind that part of the feelings of "what have I done" is due to the physical nature of a hangover. The lack of sugar in the body helps produce this feeling. Eating something sweet before going to sleep or first thing in the morning helps.

If I was you I would ignore the prohibition-era/bible-thumper comments elsewhere. Your actions come nowhere near alcohol abuse, if you went to AA with your story you'd get laughed out the door. You aren't the first or even the 100 millionth and first to drink a bit too much and say things that are true but potentially inappropriate. In fact, thats kind of the point of drinking alcohol, as the Romans said "in vino veritas", in wine there is truth. Many of the best friendships are started by such comments. Of course, YMMV and cultures are different, and you might start a bar-fight, but from what I know of the Dutch, I don't think you need to worry. And, a bar-fight would at least be memorable.

I can see how your first comment could be taken as racist. Only you know if you meant it that way, or if you do dislike first-world people in general due to the disproporate power and wealth we hold. Racism need not be about skin-colour. Or, you could just dislike rich people in general, or those who are rich without earning it, which is a form of classism. Neither is good, but it's the "in general" that can lead to bitterness/chip-on-the-shoulder and get in the way of personal or work relationships. You might want to bring up the subject again and explain what you meant.

(It's not a simple subject. Making the world a better place is a laudable goal, but when the rich and powerful try to do so it often backfires. The first-world has the wealth to do so, but how to go about it? It's easy to fall into the trap of "the white mans burden"; that is, to look down on those being helped and end up telling them how to live. On the other hand, so much money has been wasted when those being helped decide how the money is spent, on corruption, on arms, etc. This though, can be seen as only an excuse to do nothing. There is no doubt that groups like Oxfam, Concern, Trocaire etc do a lot of good and they are always short of money. Equally some of the EU's trade rules are designed to keep the first-world wealthy, e.g. chocolate. But, when they are changed, it does mean people become unemployed.)

It's hard to tell about your second comment. Does your colleague play on the opposite team to you? If so, your comment may have been taken a clumsy pass. If you meant that, I wouldn't worry, millions of relationships have started that way. If not, then its hard to see your comment as anything other than a barbed critisism. Possibly you owe that person an apology, which should be done when they are alone and in person. On the other hand, he got embarassed, so perhaps your comment had merit, e.g. he is abnoxiously uptight, in which case I would leave well enough alone.

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    Good answer, I'm surprised it didn't get downvoted..
    – quant
    Commented Jun 15, 2022 at 2:00
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    I hope at AA you don't actually get laughed out the door. That would be pretty toxic, and it's a place that basically has no reason to exist if it's not a safe space.
    – Jasper
    Commented Jun 15, 2022 at 10:09
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    I would tend to go with this answer. You could check with your closest colleage (out of which were present) if the other people were actually offended, if you were really out of line, etc. I can happen that people took your comments as funny, provocative in a good way, etc.
    – m e
    Commented Jun 15, 2022 at 12:27
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    AA is a safe space for alcoholics. It's not for people who on one occasion realised they had too much to drink and stopped. Alcoholics, more-or-less by definition, can't do that. Any toxic-ness would be caused by the person who shouldn't be there, going. It would be the equivalent of a healthy person wasting a doctors time. Commented Jun 15, 2022 at 14:49
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    It is not for any member of AA to decide who should or should not be there. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking alcohol. Commented Jun 16, 2022 at 12:29

Being Dutch, I can confirm we tend to appreciate direct and forward communication, also about more sensitive topics. Admitting your mistake of drinking too much, and apologizing to the people your comments were addressed at will do a lot of good, and perhaps even take the wind out of a less-direct-and-more-passive-aggressive manager's sails (those Dutch exist as well).

While I, a white Dutch man, personally agree with your first comment, the Dutch do really have a problem embracing our own (colonial) history (second only to the UK in recent research), and while your comment was not aimed at any individual, this is why many a white Dutch person will be offended nonetheless. It may not be your responsibility to learn to understand this behavior, but it will likely make many an interaction less bumpy in the future.

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    I am also a white Dutch man and I endorse this answer.
    – Oliphaunt
    Commented Jun 14, 2022 at 19:33
  • How on earth would it be acceptable to be offended from saying that a country did unethical things? Of course it's better to not bring up controversial topics in work functions, but the party not wanting to admit the racism is objectively in the wrong. Finland was on Nazis side in the second world war and surrendered Finnish Jews to Nazis, and everyone agree this is horrendous, and anyone saying this should be hidden would be ostrazised.
    – Boat
    Commented Jun 15, 2022 at 11:23
  • @Boat: it depends on how this was framed. There is a fine line between saying a country did unethical things and implying that everyone who lives/lived in this country has a shared responsibility. I would e.g. not advice to bring up WWII in a informal discussion with germans. Unless you want to ruin the atmosphere immediately.
    – slingeraap
    Commented Jun 15, 2022 at 16:18
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    @Boat I am not saying it is acceptable to be offended by saying your ancestors or your country did bad things. I am saying that people do get offended by these facts being mentioned in their presence, and them choosing to be be offended can unfortunately negatively impact others, as unfair as it is. It's certainly not the OPs responsibility to cater to this behavior. but as goes for anyone moving to any other culture, knowledge about others helps avoid conflict where one does not want it, such as at work.
    – Xano
    Commented Jun 15, 2022 at 20:08
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    @slingeraap actually Germans will readily admit that the Nazi regime was horrible (of course Germans do exist that will deny or downplay the Nazi crimes, so you still have to exercise care). They don't feel much personal responsibility for that era anymore anyway. They will, however, be somewhat suspicious about why on Earth you are bringing up such an unsavory topic - lobby groups have been trying to induce guilt that way, and that has been geting old for quite a while now.
    – toolforger
    Commented Jun 16, 2022 at 11:36

What I did was absolutely not right, and I feel terribly ashamed. What would be the most decent way to approach this?

Apologize to all who were present. Let them know that what you said was wrong and that you will take the necessary measures to prevent it from happening again.

You will need to follow through with making sure it never happens again. If this means that you can't drink at the next after work gathering then that is what you need to do. If you have more serious issues with alcohol abuse, you should reach out to an addiction specialist to get the help that you need.


(I am dutch and I work in a large multi-national/cultural company.)

In general the dutch are direct in conversation and they are not shy to tell each other (and anyone else) straight what they think. Normally it would be more likely for a dutchman to offend you than for you to offend a dutchman.

The statement about first world privileges therefore to me would not come across as racist or offensive in any other way. I think most dutch would be interested to learn of a foreigner's perspective on their situation. At least if it was said as the TS describes. When framed as "first world people are responsible for misery in the rest of the world", then this could trigger negative responses with some.

About telling the colleague to get laid: it all depends on how this was said. Was it said tongue in cheek or meant seriously? Did the person feel personally attacked (maybe someone who has been involuntarily single)? If you are not certain that this was understood by this person as a joke, I would recommend apologizing to this person privately.

I would not recommend for a public apology: it might make this thing much bigger than it might have been perceived by the others.

If there was one person present that you are closest with or trust well, maybe ask them privately for advice. They were present and can probably make a better judgment of the situation than all of us on SO.

For next time, moderate your alcohol intake. As others have mentioned: a work drink is still work. Compared to some other nations, the dutch may drink much, but apart from subcultures (e.g. students) drinking for the purpose of getting drunk is frowned upon.

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