Harm Jagerman

Ten myths about The Netherlands

That small country near the sea, that is mostly occupied by weed smoking people, who walk on wooden shoes. This is a blog about The Netherlands and myths about this country. Why? Because The Diligent Father is based in The Netherlands.

Image Source: Pexels.

1.      Windmills everywhere

Forget Don Quixote and his windmills. There is only one country with windmills everywhere and that is The Netherlands. Also known as Holland (which actually is just a part of the country).

Windmills are everywhere and people even live in these windmills. As far as I remember, I live in a normal house, in a normal residential area. Yes, there are windmills in this country, but not everyone lives in a windmill.

The Dutch windmills are famous. In previous times, they were used to cut wood, grind grain and wheat and of course to win land from the water. Nowadays there are also windmills in our country that are there just for the wind energy.

2.      Amsterdam is The Netherlands

Many tourists visit our nation’s capital Amsterdam. This city is the largest city in the country, but there is more to The Netherlands than just Amsterdam. There are other major cities, probably not as big as the cities in other countries. Considering that this is a small country, these cities are still large cities for a small country.

When you visit the Keukenhof, you have definitely left Amsterdam. The Keukenhof is a flower exhibition that is opened in Spring. During the Summer months, it closed.

If you want to see how our country is ruled, you won’t find much about that in Amsterdam. Our nation’s government can be found in the city of The Hague (Den Haag).

So, Amsterdam isn’t The Netherlands. Even our nation’s most important airport isn’t even located in this city…

3.      Jansen isn’t the most common name

If you live in another country than The Netherlands and you have Jansen or Janssen as your family name, there is a chance that your relatives may have been from Dutch origin. According to many people, Jansen is the most commonly used name in The Netherlands. It is in the top 10 of most common names though. The most commonly used name isn’t De Vries (also in the top 10).

It’s the last name De Jong. More about the most common last names in our country can be found on this Wiki page.

Interesting fact: the longest Dutch family name is: Van den Heuvel tot Beichlingen, gezegd Bartolotti Rijnders. Try fitting that into your passport!

4.      Hans Brinker isn’t really Dutch

Sorry for spoiling the ending of a good book. Hans Brinker was the fictional character in a book written by the American author Mary Maple Dodge. She wrote this book in 1865. The Dutch translation wasn’t released until 1867.

The book tells the story of Hans Brinker, who skated on the ice of the Dutch rivers and lakes. It tells the story of this small country that’s mostly below sea level. Interesting detail: Dodge never visited the country when writing about it.

In the book written by Dodge, there is also the story of a different person, not Hans Brinker, known as The Hero of Haarlem. He used his finger to stop a flood. He put his finger in the river dyke and stayed there all night.

5.      Tulips aren’t Dutch

These flowers are one of our major export products. These Tulips from Holland aren’t really Dutch, to begin with! The Tulips made their way to our country via the Ottoman Empire (Turkey). In the seventeenth century, the flowers were first grown in the Hortus Botanicus in the city of Leiden. This is the oldest botanical garden that is part of a Dutch university.
Tulips are one of the most important export products nowadays. One problem, these flowers aren’t part of a list with export products. A top 10 with export products shows floriculture. Tulips are a part of this. The number one export product is in fact machinery and parts for machines. Probably a lot less interesting, right?

6.      Cannabis is legal

Yes, you can buy cannabis (weed) in The Netherlands. There are places that sell you cannabis and other intoxicating substances. They are referred to as coffee shops. Not the type of coffee shops most people know.

The funny thing: it’s legalized to buy cannabis, but it’s not legalized to grow the plants (Cannabis sativa) unless it’s not for the usage that most people know.

This myth is not entirely true, but it isn’t false. Confusing right? Just like the legalization of cannabis in The Netherlands…

7.      Gezellig

And now, number seven. Many have tried, but there isn’t a way to describe what the Dutch word “gezellig” really means. When translated people talk about a comfortable feeling. A feeling that brings some happiness. But the trouble is: the word is associated with tons of different things. Varying from the way a house is decorated to the atmosphere on a birthday. “Gezellig” is something that is considered Dutch. The feeling that goes with this has also a less positive side attached to it. People use this word to state something isn’t that wonderful.

8.      It’s a racist thing… or isn’t it?

Take one guy who is dressed as a sort-of-bishop and place them on a steamboat together with a lot of helpers. Hurray, it’s the Dutch version of Santa Claus and he’s named Sinterklaas. There is nothing Dutch to the origin of this man. He was born somewhere in Turkey and is known as Saint Nicholas or Saint Nicholas of Myra. From there on, things get really strange…

This Dutch version of Saint Nicholas lives in Madrid – no he doesn’t, we just want our children to believe this. He is accompanied by what we call “Pieten.” A reference to the name “Piet” (Pete). These are his helpers and they are black. Actually, they are painted black. In other countries, people call this blackface. That is a racist thing.

There is a lot of discussion in The Netherlands – throughout the year – if this tradition is based on racism and or discrimination. Some claim that these “Pieten” are the result of what they used to enter houses (to leave presents): chimneys. Others claim that these “Pieten” represent the slaves of past times and are therefore racist. This discussion starts long, long, long before it’s December 5th. That’s the day when Dutch people celebrate this holiday.

Update 10-09-2020: The controversy still continues to develop itself. More people find it difficult to use a black face for this ‘Sinterklaasfeest.’ I think it’s a good thing that more Dutch people begin to realise it is in fact a racist thing. 

Update 28-02-2023: More and more people are now convinced (fortunately) that this is indeed a racist tradition. Black face is just plain racist.

9.      Our royal family isn’t really Dutch, to begin with…

The founding father of our country is Willem van Oranje (William of Orange). He was born in Germany and lead the country during the uprise against the Spaniards, who once ruled our country. He was shot because of his support for the Dutch insurgents. So, this founding father isn’t really Dutch, to begin with. How about other Dutch royals?

More “bad” news here. Our current king is born from the marriage between the Queen and a prince. This prince was also born in Germany. Striking detail, that queen was also born from a marriage between a Dutch woman and a German man.

When our king will resign, he will be succeeded by his oldest daughter. She has a Dutch father and an Argentinian mother. So, completely Dutch? Not really.

10. Not everyone agrees with certain right-wing politicians

Not everyone in The Netherlands agrees with certain right-wing politicians. I will leave out the names of those politicians. It is these people that think there is no place for Muslims in The Netherlands. They believe that there is no space left in our country for those who fleeing poverty and war. They forget that during the war between what we now know as The Netherlands and Spain (Dutch Revolt / Tachtigjarige Oorlog, 1568 – 1648) many people settled in the country because the government was more open to other religions. They also forget what happened after World War II, when a lot of Dutch citizens moved to countries such as Australia, Canada and the US.

So, not everyone agrees with the beliefs of these Dutch right-wing politicians, although they claim most of the people in The Netherlands agree to their political views.

Update 28-02-2023:

Contrary to what you may have seen in certain television programs on Fox News, it is not the case that the Dutch population is massively behind certain groups. The people you see passing by in certain television programs via Fox News do not represent the voice of the Dutch people. This was evident from the most recent national elections, in which those parties in particular did not achieve the gains they thought they could. It is exciting what the parties will do in March 2023. Then new elections will follow.

Those are only elections for the parliaments of the provinces. They then elect the members of ‘De Eerste Kamer’ (the Senate).

Image top of this page: Unsplash.

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