18 REASONS WHY I REALLY LOVE THE NETHERLANDS. PART III
This is the third and final (for now) part of the why I just LOVE the Netherlands series. I've already mentioned some Dutch essentials such as schedules, bikes, weird dietary habits, and all things gezellig in part I and part II, yet believe it or not, I've got more Dutchisms to rave about!
About flowers, it would seem, there is not much to be said. They are pretty and smell nice sometimes - is there more to it than this? But it's not so simple in the Dutch case, where people as pragmatic as they are aesthetic.
From the first tulip imported from the Ottoman Empire and planted in Dutch soil in the 16th century, the Netherlands has been particularly fond of this flower. At first, tulips denoted a luxury status symbol thanks to the European elite. As the popularity raised, the Dutch went into a complete frenzy around 1636. This period is also referred to as Tulipomania: by 1637, a single tulip bulb could cost as much as 10 times a year's worth of income of a skilled craftsman. Luckily for us, the painters of the time captured this phenomenon in their works - just take a look at A Satire of Tulip Mania by Jan Brueghel the Younger (c. 1640). Even painters themselves participated in the trade, as did the famous landscape artist Jan van Goyen who speculated in tulip bulbs and suffered severe losses when the market crashed.
The Dutch wouldn't be the Dutch if they didn't learn their lesson and turn the tables by inventing a entire horticultural industry, transforming their fields into a spread of blooms, and creating a functional trade system. Today, flower fields are important to the country's economy. Local tulip growers dominate the world tulip industry: they produce 4.32 billion tulip bulbs each year, 53% of which are grown into cut flowers. The Dutch contribution to the flower market makes up for around two-thirds of the world’s total flora sales. Remember the bouquet you bought in Toronto for your mother? Yeah, the flowers were probably freshly cut across the pond earlier that morning.
If you get a chance to visit the Netherlands, try to make it in the spring when the whole country turns into one big field of flowers. Some 800,000 visitors annually head to the 12,000-hectare Keukenhof gardens, where 7 billion bulbs put on the best show. Or you can take a train from Haarlem to Leiden (or vice versa) and enjoy the view: the rails go along the so-called Bollenstreek, or "Flower Route", a 40km (25mi) long scenic area where Keukenhof is located. Otherwise, just visit your nearest street market for some beautiful blooms!
14. NATIONAL CHARACTER
It never ceases to amaze me that a nation so small can have such a distinct national character. I mean, isn't this list really speaking for itself already? I reckon it is both despite and because of the Doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg (roughly translated as "just act normal") mentality that the Dutch have their own pronounced cultural identity. On one hand, it is necessary to conform to unspoken social norms in order to comfortably live in a tiny country in consensus with another 17 million people. If there is no social code that is agreed upon, how can such a densely populated society operate efficiently and in peace? A code of conduct, even if a bit rigid, is simply a sine-qua-non.
On the other hand, the Dutch are still an individualistic society. For example, they would thrive in a heated, asserted discussion, partly because directness and honesty are cherished values. And, of course, because sharing your view without filters (aka without beating about the bush) hits the goal sooner. This isn't just an observation - even the study I conducted for my Master's thesis provided evidence for this claim. Long live Dutch pragmatism!
Finally, the most important point as far the Dutch identity is concerned is, who else on Earth would voluntarily wear this much orange?
15. IT IS BEAUTIFUL
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then I find the Netherlands an incredibly beautiful place in its own, cozy kind of way. And I don't seem to ever get bored of it (as long as I can go to the mountains every once in a while).
Many ships and barges that were once used for freight have been converted into houseboats and moored in canals all over the country. As a visitor, you can easily rent a houseboat for your stay. As a resident, it is pretty common to live in one - I have friends who do (and they have a regular visitor - a friendly heron named Albert). Let me tell you - houseboats are fun. And quite romantic. Just imagine this: waking up in the morning, drinking a cup of freshly brewed coffee while sitting in the window frame or on the dock and watching swans, coots, and mallards go about their day. Perhaps waving at a tour boat or two in the meantime. The high price of maintaining the houseboat? Totally worth it.
Dutch diversity is of somewhat ambivalent nature. Like I have mentioned earlier, I believe there is such a thing as the Dutch national character and cultural identity. However, there is a lot of variation within the country itself. Religious, cultural, and ethnic diversity are fundamental to Dutch culture. The country is well-known for its verzuiling ("pillarisation") structure, the politico-denominational vertical segregation of a society that took place between late the 1800s and 1960s. The emancipation of religious groups during that time was the main driving force behind the development of verzuiling. Whereas the Netherlands was clearly disintegrated, it showcases how disparate communities found a civil way to neighbour each other.
Since the middle ages, the Dutch relative wealth and freedom have drawn a large number of immigrants. Between the late 16th - early 19th centuries the estimated foreign-born population in the Netherlands was never less than 5%. The number has significantly increased since the 1950s, when first groups of repatriates from the former colonies, the East Indies and New Guinea, arrived in the country. Shortly after, Turks and Moroccans came as guest workers to fill the labour shortage. In the following decades, they brought their families to the Netherlands, making it clear they were settling in for good. The next group were the Surinamese in 1975, followed by people from the Dutch Antilles as a consequence of decolonisation of that region. At this point, almost 20% of the Dutch population are immigrants or children of immigrant parents, and the number is likely to keep going up over the next years. What is interesting though, is that unlike in most countries, data on immigration in NL is based on ethnicity (rather than nationality or country of birth).
There are quite a few differences between provinces and cities as well. Take their language, for example: my supervisor's research has shown that there are about 50 different accents across the country. Do you remember how small the country is? Very small, so this is an impressive degree of linguistic variation. Regions also vary in terms of lifestyle and traditions. For example, the two Hollands, Noord and Zuid, are the most industrialised urban parts of the country, as opposed to rural and farming-oriented areas in Flevoland and Drenthe. Surrounded by Germany and Belgium, Limburg seems to forget what country it is actually in unless the Dutch football team wins a game or it's Koningsdag ("King's Day"): from speaking a different dialect called Limburgs (don't forget the zachte G!) to celebrating Carnival in February, these folks really resemble the rest of the Netherlands that much.
18. THEY KNOW HOW TO ENJOY LIFE
Dutchies live by the motto that deeply resonates with me (Americans, cover your ears right now): work to live, not the other way around. In fact, they even have the shortest work week in the world. It's not that they are lazy, they just know that there is more to life than sitting in the office: festivals run all year round, there are always borrels to be scheduled, and if you've got a friend with a boat (or you are that lucky friend), you are set for life. In 2014, Dutch residents made as many as 17,928,000 trips abroad - although it is not clear what their travel purposes were, there's no doubt that the Dutch are among the most travelling nations out there. These people make great advocates for a healthy work-life balance, which is possible because of their sense of security (see point #10) but also because it'd be a shame to miss out on all the wonderful things happening around you at any given point.
18+1. IT MAKES ME HAPPY
I love the Netherlands for a bunch of personal reasons too. I really enjoyed being a student in Leiden: the more time passes the more I cherish memories of those university shenanigans. I moved to Amsterdam as a fresh graduate and got a taste of the real life with all its ups and downs. I fell in love with the city all over again, now as a resident, and found "my" local spots. I met so many people from all corners of the world and had fascinating conversations with them. Some were just passers-by, some became good friends of mine, and some changed my life forever. No matter how good, bad or crazy my experiences of living in Netherlands have been, this is the only place I am always excited to return to.
And for that, I am grateful.