ALTERNATE NAMES: Dutch
LOCATION: The Netherlands
POPULATION: 15 million
RELIGION: Roman Catholicism; Protestantism (including the Dutch Reformed Church); small populations of Muslims, Hindus, and Jews
The Netherlands is a small, flat country located on the shores of the North Sea in western Europe. The whole country is often referred to as Holland, although this term is actually the name for certain provinces in the northwestern part of the country. Over many centuries, Netherlanders (also called "Dutch") literally built their nation by building dikes, dunes, and windmills to hold back the sea. Its coastal location has historically made it an important trading center. Through the efforts of the Dutch East India and Dutch West India trading companies in the seventeenth century, the Netherlands acquired colonial territories (people and land that they ruled) on every continent. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Netherlands was one of the world's most powerful nations.
Meanwhile, scientists report that the nation's lowlands are sinking at the rate of 1.5 feet (45 centimeters) per century, and the North Sea is rising at a steady rate. Netherlanders cannot rest in their ongoing struggle against the sea.
The name "Netherlands" means "lowlands." Much of the western part of the country is polders (low-lying lands) that have been reclaimed from the sea by dikes and dunes. In addition, windmills, called "polder mills," pump excess underground water to keep these areas dry and farmable.
Most of the 15 million Netherlanders belong to the same ethnic group, descended from western and northern European tribes. Some diversity has been added by immigrants from the former Dutch colonies of Indonesia and Suriname, and foreign workers from Turkey, Morocco, and southern Europe. Throughout history, Netherlanders have been known for tolerance of different ethnic and religious groups. They welcomed Jews and Huguenots (French Protestants) in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They played a role in helping Jews flee Nazi persecution in World War II (1939–45). The most famous of these Jewish refugees was Anne Frank. The famous Diary of a Young Girl , kept by Anne during the war years, bears witness to the courage of ordinary Netherlanders who risked their lives attempting to save this German Jewish family.
Dutch, a Germanic language, is the official language in all twelve provinces of the Netherlands. It is the language in everyday use everywhere but in Friesland, where ancient Frisian is spoken. Dutch dialects can vary enough to make it difficult for speakers from different regions to understand each other.
Netherlands mythology is strongly linked to the sea and characters associated with it, such as mermaids and pirates. There is also a tradition of tales about devils who tempt people with riches in order to gain their souls. One of the popular subjects of these tales is the Devil, Joost . Over time, many popular tales, riddles, and rituals were suppressed (discouraged or banned) by wealthy townsfolk, but some survived as part of the country's Christian traditions. The Dutch Father Christmas (named, like the American Santa Claus, for Saint Nicholas) is called Sinterklaas. He has a dark-faced assistant called Black Peter who is said to carry disobedient children to Spain in a sack.
An estimated 37 percent of Netherlanders are Roman Catholic. Thirty percent belong to six major Protestant groups, of which the largest is the Dutch Reformed Church. There are smaller populations of Muslims, Hindus, and Jews. Since the mid-nineteenth century, Netherlanders have practiced a kind of religious "apartheid," separating Protestant and Catholic schools, newspapers, political parties, radio stations, and other institutions. This system has weakened somewhat since the 1960s, but it still controls many facets of life in rural areas.
Legal holidays include New Year's Day (January 1), the Queen's birthday (April 30), Memorial Day (May 4), Liberation of the Netherlands (May 5), and Christmas (December 25–26). In addition, many Netherlanders observe the other standard holidays of the Christian calendar. Netherlanders are great celebrators of birthdays. On their birthdays, Netherlanders stay in bed late and family members come into the bedroom singing "Lang Zal Hij Leven" ("Long May He Live") for men and "Lang Zal Zij Leven" ("Long May She Live") for females. Gifts are presented, and the festivities continue at school or work, and, in the evening, with a party for family and friends. The Queen's birthday is considered an especially important occasion. It is marked by flag displays, parades, and girls wearing orange ribbons in their hair in honor of the royal family, the House of Orange. The Memorial Day holiday in the spring has two contrasting parts. At 8:00 PM on May 4, people throughout the country stop whatever they are doing to remember those who have died in war and to pray for peace. The next day, May 5, is a time of festivals and celebrations.
The Netherlands is a modern, industrialized, Christian country. Hence, many of the rites of passage that young people undergo are religious rituals, such as baptism, first communion, confirmation, and marriage. Religious minorities observe their own rituals. In addition, many families mark a student's progress through the education system with graduation parties.
On the whole, Netherlanders are reserved people who do not speak readily to strangers. Public interaction, usually marked by close eye contact, is direct but formal. (Close friends, however, greet each other with a kiss on the cheek.) Restraint and moderation can be seen in many aspects of Netherlander life, from cars (medium-sized and -priced) to clothing (casual and plain). The primary Netherlander focus is on the family and on being gezellig thuis or "cozy at home." Popular Dutch sayings include:
Je krijgt de wind van voren
You'll face the wind. (Comparable to the
American phrase "face the music.")
Ik roei met de riemen ik heb.
I'll row with the oars I have. (Similar to
"I'll make the best of the situation.")
Gods molens malen langzaam.
God's mills grind slowly.
Traditionally, the Dutch have tried to make their homes gezellig, which means "homey" or "cozy." They favor knick-knacks such as colorful tiles and blue-and-white Delft porcelain. Most homes have colorful flower gardens in front. The Dutch national flower, the tulip, is grown in almost every garden. Due to the nation's high population density (many people living close together), Dutch cities suffer from overcrowding and housing shortages. Many people have taken to living in houseboats, usually converted barges. In the mid-1980s there were over 2,000 such boats anchored on the canals in the center of Amsterdam, about half of them illegally.
The Dutch place great value on family life. A traditional Dutch saying is Eigen haard is goud waard (Your own hearth [home] is worth gold). The nuclear family—called the gezin —has traditionally been at the center of Dutch life, especially since the nineteenth century. Since 1945, there has been an increase in the incidence of unmarried people living together, and these arrangements are widely accepted as common law marriages. The divorce rate has risen as well. Netherlanders tend to have small families and to give a great deal of care and attention to their children. Home birth has always been popular in the Netherlands.
In everyday life, the Dutch wear typical, modern Western-style clothing for both formal and casual occasions. People who work outdoors often still wear the klompen (wooden shoes) popularly associated with the Dutch. Traditional folk costumes vary from region to region. Most feature baggy black pants and wide-brimmed hats for men. Women wear full black dresses with embroidered bodices and lace bonnets. The popular image of Netherlanders often includes a woman wearing wooden shoes and the white cap of the Volendam region with its high peak and wing-like folds at the sides. Traditional costumes may still be seen in Volendam and Marken, where they are a tourist attraction.
Netherlander food is wholesome and simply prepared, often with butter but not thick sauces or strong spices. Seafood is widely eaten, especially herring. Dairy products are a dietary staple, and the Dutch are known worldwide for their cheeses, such as gouda and edam. Many desserts come with whipped cream, and popular beverages include tea, coffee, beer, and Jenever , a gin made from juniper berries.
The Netherlander breakfast and lunch are generally cold meals of sliced bread, meat, and cheese. Dinner is a large meal typically including soup and a main dish consisting of meat and vegetables. Popular snacks include french fries— patat frites— often served with mayonnaise or ketchup, and waffles smothered in whipped cream or caramel sauce.
Netherlanders are great cookie bakers (and eaters). Spice cookies, Speculaas , are embossed with windmills or Sinterklaas on horseback. Children also enjoy using the dough to make letterbankets, number or letter shapes, with the cookie dough.
Makes about 28 thin cookies.
Note: Use all four, or any combination of at least two, spices.
Adapted from Rombauer, Irma S. and Marion Rombauer Becker. The Joy of Cooking. Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs/Merrill, 1972.
Netherlanders are a well-educated people with virtually no illiteracy. Schooling is compulsory (required) between the ages of six and sixteen. At the age of twelve, students take an exam that qualifies them to enter either general, pre-university, or vocational school. (It is generally possible to change schools at a later time.) At the age of sixteen, school certificate exams are taken in a variety of subjects. Students in the preuniversity (often called "gymnasium") track can advance automatically to a university at the age of eighteen. Others must take an exam. Higher education is offered at eight universities and five technical institutes.
The seventeenth century was the golden age of Dutch painting. Especially famous are the work of such masters as Rembrandt van Rijn, Jan Vermeer, and Jacob van Ruisdael. These works depict everyday scenes of middle-class life. The great nineteenth-century painter Vincent van Gogh was born and lived most of his life in the Netherlands. (He moved to Arles, France, two years before his death in 1890.) The twentieth-century De Stijl movement, which advocated simplicity, is represented in the works of Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg. The Netherlands was home to two great philosophers, Desiderius Erasmus in the fifteenth century, and Baruch Spinoza in the seventeenth. The nineteenth-century novel Max Havelaar, by Edouard Douwes Dekker, caused a public outcry over Dutch treatment of the people in its colonies. The novel led to eventual government reforms.
The Netherlander economy expanded from 1945 until 1973, when economic growth slowed due to rising world oil prices. Over the next decade unemployment skyrocketed. Eight percent of the work force were unemployed in 1991. The main industry of the twentieth century has been the production of petrochemicals. Agriculture, which accounts for only 4 percent of workers, is still an important part of the national economy. Many Netherlanders specialize in dairy farming and flower-growing. It is common in the Netherlands to go into the family business and eventually take it over from the older generation. About 40 percent of the labor force is female. Foreign workers, who first entered the country in large numbers in the 1960s, perform low-paying, unskilled work.
At least 4 million people belong to sports clubs. The largest is the Royal Netherlands Football (soccer) Association, which claims about a million members. The Netherlands won the European soccer championship in 1988. Other popular sports are tennis (with some 500,000 enthusiasts), swimming, and hockey. In Friesland, the Frisians enjoy some unique pastimes around the canals.
Netherlanders enjoy many forms of outdoor recreation. Fishing is popular, as are boating, sailing, and camping. Throughout the country, bicycles are used for recreational outings and races, as well as transportation. Winter sports include skating, curling, ice boating, and many kinds of races and endurance tests. Netherlanders also enjoy wind-assisted skating, performed wearing a kite-like triangular sail on one's back. As many as 17,000 people compete in the 125-mile (200-kilometer) Elfstedentocht skating race over frozen canals connecting eleven towns in Friesland. (However, in many years temperatures do not drop low enough for this event to be held.) Another traditional sport popular in Friesland is fierljeppen , a form of pole-vaulting.
Traditional Dutch crafts include pottery, tile work, glassware, and silver. The famous blue-and-white Delft pottery has been produced in the city of that name since 1653. Plates, vases, pitchers, and many other decorative pieces are still made. Workers enter the trade at age sixteen or seventeen and receive eight years of training. The designs were originally copied from fine Chinese porcelain that entered Holland during the seventeenth century.
The generous Netherlands program of social benefits has been abused by people claiming sickness or disability. In the early 1990s, one-fourth of Amsterdam's population was living on welfare. There are often strict educational requirements for employment. As a result, the Dutch economy suffers both from high unemployment and a labor shortage. Absenteeism at work is also a problem. Overcrowding in cities has resulted in the illegal occupation of buildings by squatters (people who neither own nor pay rent for the place where they live). Amsterdam is one of Europe's main entry points for illegal drugs. As of the late 1990s, the government was addressing the resulting drug problem with strong antidrug laws.
Catling, Christopher. Amsterdam. Insight Guides. Singapore: APA Press, 1991.
Fradin, Dennis. The Netherlands. Enchantment of the World Series. Chicago: Children's Press, 1983.
Kristensen, Preben, and Fiona Cameron. We Live in the Netherlands. New York: Bookwright Press, 1986.
Moss, Joyce, and George Wilson. Peoples of the World: Western Europeans. Detroit: Gale Research, 1993.
Netherlands in Pictures. Minneapolis, Minn.: Lerner Publications Co., 1991.
van Stegeren, Theo. The Land and People of the Netherlands. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.
Embassy of the Netherlands, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available http://www.netherlandsembassy.org/ , 1998.
Netherlands Board of Tourism. [Online] Available http://www.goholland.com/ , 1998.
World Travel Guide. [Online] Available http://travelguide.attistel.co.uk/country/nl/gen.html , 1998.