Why the Dutch are different
A journey into the heart of The Netherlands
Stranded at Schiphol airport on his way home from Cuba, Ben Coates called up a friendly Dutch girl he had met there a few months earlier to hook up for dinner. He stayed over at her place. Actually, he stayed for good.
With the world’s tallest people and some of the world’s most successful companies including Shell and Unilever, this is a tiny country that punches above its weight. The Netherlands have a hold on our imagination. We British might
think we know all about our nearneighbour (windmills, bicycles and ‘lost weekends’ in Amsterdam. And it’s very flat. And they wear clogs. Oh, don’t they have prostitutes who are entitled to sick pay? - and other cliches). But there
is a lot we do not know too – that prisons are closing due to lack of demand, and that the Dutch are actually rather fond of rules. Clearly, there’s a good deal more to de Nederlanden than meets the oog (eye).
The Dutch ruled over an empire which stretched from the Caribbean to East Asia. They founded the city of New York, discovered Australia, played the world’s best football (transforming the global game in the 1970s) and produced some of the finest
art and architecture. They also have the world’s best Carnival outside Brazil.
In Why the Dutch are Different Ben Coates takes us to the heart of his adopted country to explore what it is that makes the Dutch
the Dutch, Holland not The Netherlands and why the colour orange is so important.
He dresses as a tiger for Easter, gets drunk in a world-famous art gallery, finds Noah’s Ark near the North Sea and makes
new friends in Amsterdam’s famous Red Light District. He uncovers stories from Dutch history: a bloody war against Spain, a devastating famine in 1944/5, the country’s religious divide, meaning that Catholics and Protestants attended different
schools and even had separate football leagues; and the poisonous politics of the Dutch far right. He describes the ongoing battle over Zwarte Piet. A racist tradition? Or a Dutch tradition?
Netherlands is literally a self-made country. Decades of struggle and ingenuity wrested the land from the water using windmills, dykes and canals, and made it safe to live in. As recently as 1953, the country suffered the worst natural disaster in its history,
a devastating flood, when high spring tides, strong winds and a major storm meant that the country’s sea defenses collapsed and two thousand people died. The ongoing battle to keep the water out has shaped the national character – the famous love
of dairy and beer (because these were safe to drink) their height (all that milk and cheese) and also the famous Dutch tolerance; if everybody had to help out so their houses didn’t vanish underwater, individual differences are suddenly unimportant.
But The Netherlands is a country full of contrasts, where drug use and prostitution are legal, but being rude about the king could land you in jail. Ben Coates also finds that the Dutch are not quite as liberal as they seem, with worries over the economic
crisis, crime and immigration leading them to abandon many of the tolerant policies which made their country famous.
Part history, part travel, part personal account of a changing country: in Why the Dutch
are Different Ben Coates tells the tale of an Englishman who went Dutch. And loved it.
Ben Coates was born in the UK in 1982. After completing a Master’s
degree in Economics, he has worked at various times as a political adviser, corporate speechwriter, lobbyist and aid worker. He’s written several high-profile speeches and ghostwritten articles for the Guardian, FT, and Huffington Post. He now lives
in Rotterdam with his Dutch wife and works as an adviser to an international charity.
Why the Dutch are different. A journey
into the heart of The Netherlands by Ben Coates.
ISBN 9781857886337, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, Paperback, 304 pag., Price €14,99.