Located on the west side of Germany, and the north side of Belgium lays this little country of around 17 million inhabitants. The country is extremely flat, and about 25% of the country is below sea level. You won’t find real mountains here, but our highest point is 322,5 meters high, and this hill is called the Vaalserberg.
Did you know that an entire province is made from land reclaimed from the sea? Flevoland became a province in 1986 and is largely made of land reclaimed from the Zuiderzee in the 20th century!
Government and Politics
Our country is a constitutional monarchy with a bicameral parliament. All people aged 18 years or older have a right to vote directly in a system of proportional representation. In this system a large number of parties can win seats in parliament, which means that no single party will have an overall majority. For this reason, cabinets are always multiparty coalitions chaired by the prime minister, which at this moment in time is Mark Rutte.
The cabinet's duties include the day-to-day business of government, preparing legislation and putting it into practice, and maintaining international relations. The monarchy symbolizes national unity and therefore has a more ceremonial character.
There are three main moderate political tendencies: the social democrats, the Christian democrats and the liberal parties. The smaller parties are generally less moderate variations on one of the three main lines.
Even though the cabinet runs the day-to-day business of government, the official head of the country since 2013 is the king: Willem Alexander. Every year on the 27th of April the whole country celebrates his birthday with a big party.
Did you know that the Dutch government was the first to legalise same sex marriages in 2001? Or that even though the colours of the Dutch National flag are Red, White and Blue as per the royal decree by Queen Wilhelmina in 1937, an orange pennant is flown as a sign of allegiance of the Dutch people to the House of Orange to accompany the national flag?
The Netherlands, the seventh-largest economy in the European Union, plays an important role as a European transportation hub. Three quarters of the professional population work in the tertiary sector, one quarter in the industrial sector and only 4 percent in agriculture. Despite these figure, the Netherlands are a big exporter of agricultural and horticultural products. Some big Dutch companies are: Shell, Unilever, Akzo Nobel, Philips, Aegon, ING Group, Rabobank, Heineken, TNT and Randstad.
Next to these companies, our country has the biggest harbour of Europe (located in Rotterdam), and one of the busiest airports: Schiphol. In 2022 this airport transported 55.000.000 passengers, which is over 150.000 per day.
Did you know that the Netherlands is one of the world's biggest exporters? Despite its small size, it is competing against China, the US and Germany.
Although the total population consists only of 17 million inhabitants, the Dutch have a rich culture. The Netherlands is famous for its achievements in the arts and has brought forth many famous artists: Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Mondriaan, Appel (painters) and Berlage, Koolhaas and Rietveld (architects), to name a few. There are hundreds of outstanding museums, exhibitions and festivals to visit and promising artists from all over the world still come to the Netherlands to work or study.
Many museums offer virtual tours or the possibility to zoom in on the greatest works of art and learn more about the stories.
The most popular sports in the Netherlands are soccer, hockey, tennis, cycling, golf, volleyball, korfball, handball, swimming and ice-skating. Dutch soccer and speed skating especially enjoy a worldwide reputation.
Orange is related to the Dutch Royal Family and represents the national identity of the Netherlands. That’s why Dutch fans dress up in orange. During some sport events the whole country turns orange and people become infected with what we like to call the ‘orange fever’.
Did you know that the Netherlands is home to more bikes than people? There are around 22 million bikes in the country, including the clever (if not so elegant) 'bakfiets' which combine a bike and a wheelbarrow. Ideal for taking the kids to school. Dutch cycle an average distance of 2.9km per day and use bicycles for more than a quarter of all trips.
The Dutch are known to be direct, honest and open in their communication with others, although this might be considered rude by other cultures. The society as a whole is very independent and modern. Many believe in equality for all, yet focus on individuality more than community. They are considered a middle-class society.
The Dutch either shake hands upon greeting and departing (somewhat formal), or, if they have a close bond with the person, kiss the cheek three times, starting with the left cheek. A simple accompanying “hello” will suffice.
Don’t be surprised if a dinner with a Dutch friend is scheduled six weeks in advance. The Dutch live by schedules and are strict on adhering to them. There’s no such thing as stopping by someone’s home. It needs to first be agreed upon by the other party, and then properly placed into the schedule.
Did you know that the Dutch Wilhelmus is the oldest national anthem in the world? Both the words and music date from the 16th century, and in it the Dutch king speaks of his German blood and describes his loyalty to the Spanish crown.
Some say that Dutch food is bland and monotonous, but there is actually more to it than what meets the eye. Some of our popular Dutch dishes are:
- Poffertjes: small Dutch pancakes made with yeast and buckwheat flower. They are made in a special pan, and are usually served with some powdered sugar and/or butter;
- Bitterballen: Dutch people usually get these breadcrumb coated balls filled with a gooey mixture of beef, broth, herbs and more when they are in a bar drinking some beers;
- Herring: you should definitely try this traditional fish once. The raw herring is usually served with chopped onion, and if you are really trying to be like a local, you have to hold the fish by the tail and dunk it into your mouth while throwing your head back.
Did you know that the Dutch eat the most liquorice in the world? Some 32 million kilos of the black sweet are consumed each year. Or that the herring with chopped raw onions and pickles is a national dish? The Dutch consume 12 million kilograms every year, which translates to at least 5 fish per person.