Why the Dutch are Different

Why the Dutch are Different

At the risk of sounding like an uneducated pleb, I confess that being asked to review yet another book dealing with the history and culture of the Netherlands did not fill me with unabated excitement. A quick flip through the pages revealed the inclusion of the obligatory topics found in every book about the Netherlands – the Golden Age, water, windmills, land reclamation, bikes, drugs, Anne Frank and prostitution. Yet by the time I reached the last page of the book’s introduction, my hesitation had disappeared, and I eagerly sat up late into the night reading Why the Dutch are Different, laughing often and enjoying the  ride into the history of my adopted homeland. The Audacity to Go Searching Why the Dutch are Different provides the answers to all the questions I had but didn’t dare ask in my quest to understand what was going on around me in the Netherlands. New author, Ben Coates, is the Englishman brave enough to venture into the midst of the Dutch people, ask the questions, do the research, drink the cheap cocktails and wear the tiger outfit to Carnival. He unearths what the natives think about issues like immigrants, social security, Geert Wilders and Zwarte Piet. By connecting the dots of major historical events - up to and including present day events - the reader is presented with a clear explanation of what it means to be Dutch. The contents of the book are far reaching, albeit manageably sorted into seven chapters. In each chapter the author travels to various Dutch cities, attending local events. Each event is supported by historical background information with a modern day commentary.  An analysis of Dutch tolerance of prostitution, drugs, religious and political beliefs, is both interesting and accessible. A day spent researching and celebrating carnival in the southern cities of Maastricht, Eindhoven and Breda includes a discussion on the impact of religious divides on the Dutch people and country.  Attending Amsterdam’s museum night leads to a discussion about the Golden Age. Taking a picnic in Drenthe incorporates a discussion about the Nazi occupation during WWII and the Dutch response to protecting its Jewish citizens. So – Why are the Dutch Different? The answer seems to be hidden in how Dutch history has shaped the country's present position. There are many obvious factors like water management; windmills; an addiction to dairy products; biking; and the over-popularity of business meetings. A deeper understanding of the country and its people is a prerequisite to truly feel at home in the Netherlands. I can thoroughly recommend this book. Ana McGinley Why the Dutch are Different: A Journey into the Hidden Heart of the Netherlands by Ben Coates. Published by Nicholas Brealey Publishing  More >





Kristen in Clogland

Kristen in Clogland

'Kristen in Clogland' is a blog about an Aussie discovering the Netherlands and adjusting to life in another country More >


Amsterdamian

Amsterdamian

I try to create a relationship with this mysterious city. I love it and can’t get enough of it. More >



Amsterdamming

Amsterdamming

Three years in Amsterdam and counting! Daily journeys through the streets of this cosy and beautiful city. More >


24 Oranges

24 Oranges

Dutch things pressed for your pleasure: oddball Dutch news and photographs. More >





Holland Cycling

Holland Cycling

Explore the Netherlands the Dutch way - by bicycle. Includes where to go, planning your trip, tips and info. More >


Neamhspleachas

Neamhspleachas

Molly Quell is an American journalist who blogs about everything she finds shiny. More >


Dutch Ditz – Manners in the Netherlands

If you're planning a move to the Netherlands or you've recently arrived then this compact little Dutch Ditz is just for you. A swift and entertaining read, it cuts straight to the chase with everything you need to know about the Dutch family living next door and their weird and wonderful language, habits and customs. If you think they can't be that different to your old neighbours at home, then think again. Who is Sinterklaas? What is a frikandel (just don't ask what' in it)? Does everyone really have supper at 6pm? And why the national obsession with orange? These are just some of the questions you will ask yourself as you become acquainted with Dutch life. Everything from basic etiquette (or lack of it), to the Dutch approach to fashion, pets, food, birthdays and children is explained and will make your introduction to this quirky little country a little less baffling. Without some kind of experienced commentary on the Dutch psyche and rituals, you'll spend a stressful first few weeks wondering if your new friends and colleagues are astonishingly blunt or just plain rude and why on earth is a 'Coffeeshop' not a coffee shop? More critical issues like healthcare and doing business in the Netherlands are also touched upon and will provide you with a basic understanding of how the systems work. Reinildis van Ditzhuyzen, also known as the 'Queen of Manners', consulted and surveyed expats of all different nationalities to compile this comprehensive and sometimes tongue-in-cheek guide to living in the Netherlands. Buy this book Shelley Antscherl shelleyantscherl@me.com  More >


Hidden like Anne Frank

The story of Anne Frank and her diary is one of he most enduring of World War II. There can be few people who do not know about the Jewish girl who hid with her family in an Amsterdam building, before being betrayed and captured by German soldiers and transported to a concentration camp. Yet Anne is not the only child who was forced to go into hiding. Recently released by Arthur A. Levine Books, Hidden like Anne Frank is a collection of fourteen personal accounts from Jewish children who survived Hitler's ethnic cleansing during WWII. Like Anne Frank, the individual narrators were forced to abandon their freedom and become reliant on the kindness of non-Jewish people who helped to hide them in their homes. Unlike Anne Frank, all fourteen individuals survived the Holocaust and lived to tell their stories. The stories contain similar underlying themes: the separation of children from their parents and siblings loss of identity fear hunger dependance on strangers for survival and, anxiety about the future. Yet the individual voices also provide unique perceptions of life as a Jewish person in the Netherlands during the war years. Further, the narrators speak of the ramifications of this experience on their lives in the ensuing years after the war ended. Not surprisingly, problems with re-attaching to surviving biological family members for children who felt deserted by their parents are apparent in many of the stories. As stated by Jack Eljon: 'I couldn't forgive my parents for handling me over to strangers. I couldn't shake off the feeling that they'd abandoned me. There's no way a boy of four can understand the idea that he is being sent away for his own good.' (pg67-8) The stories also provide information about Dutch society during the German campaign to rid the country of Jewish people. Almost all narrators discuss the efforts of the Dutch Resistance Movement to protect Jewish people by concealing them in the homes of supporters. The stories also expose the collaboration between local NSB (Dutch Socialist Movement) and the Nazis, resulting in the betrayal of Dutch Jewish citizens to the German forces by Dutch people. Hidden Like Anne Frank is the collaborated work of two Dutch men - Marcel Prins and Peter Henk Steenhuis, respectively a filmmaker/cameraman and journalist. This book and its preceding website (www.hiddenlikeannefrank.com) are well-presented chronicles of survivors of the Holocaust that need to be incorporated in to existing Dutch historical records. Highly recommended. Buy this book Ana McGinley  More >


Whipped Cream Architecture

It might sound like an odd title, but once you read the first few paragraphs it makes perfect sense. Whipped cream is a book of photography with a few pages of information about the origins of the white painted stone 'wigs' that grace the gables of the grachtenpanden (canal houses) in Amsterdam. If the subject matter floats your boat and you are curious about, or interested in the history of Holland_Ž“s distinct architectural style then this is likely to appeal. Whipped cream is a nicely presented glossy picture book without being ostentatious, and a perfectly respectable addition to any Dutch coffee table collection. Buy this book Shelley Antscherl books@dutchnews.nl  More >


Holland Flowering

Holland Flowering – How the Dutch Flower Industry Conquered the World is a new book by Andrew Gebhardt and published by Amsterdam University Press (2014). As the title suggests, the book focuses on the Dutch flower industry, specifically FloraHolland, and the influence the industry has had both locally and internationally. Andrew Gebhardt is an American writer based in Amsterdam. With an obvious deep fascination for the flower industry, Gebhardt tackles the subject matter from all angles: including the anthropology of cut flowers, the early beginnings of the Dutch flower horticulture business and its growth into an international flower-selling business, and the effects on other countries and cultures resulting from the globalisation of the Dutch flower industry. FloraHolland Primarily, this book is centred on FloraHolland and its Aalsmeer-based auction house. Integral to this research are the author's interviews with numerous staff members at all levels of this organisation. While the facts and figures present a dry description of the organisation, quotes from these interviews permit an insider’s view into the working environment of FloraHolland. One interviewee describes the industry as: 'Not only white and male and all that: there are a lot of religious people, too. There’s a bedrijfsgebed, a company prayer, along with daily news items, that appears in people’s inboxes.' (p255) Nasty Weeds From a wider perspective, the book investigates flower plantations in Africa and South America which are also reliant on FloraHolland to sell their produce. These plantations are often Dutch-owned - and sometimes staffed by locals paid less than the daily minimum wage to work in harsh conditions. It reeks a little of former Dutch colonialism. Other unsavory topics involve market competition seemingly controlled by Dutch airlines increasing freight costs for growers outside the Netherlands, or Schiphol refusing landing rights to airlines offering cheaper freight to these growers. Tying together the ends Holland Flowering is a difficult book to categorise, being a mix of history, interviews and social commentary. The introduction is a long ramble covering 45 pages and giving little clue to what argument the author is going to follow in the ensuing pages. A lack of headings and paragraphs often results in the reader becoming lost in the text. Distracting, albeit extremely interesting subjects like sodomy on board VOC ships (p258), further detract the flow of the text and the reader's understanding of the central subject matter. Yet undoubtedly, flowers continue to bring beauty into the lives of many people. Birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and dinner invitations are marked with the giving of flowers, so guaranteeing the continued longevity of the flower industry. Reading Holland Flowering offers an insight into the industry that drives these flower-giving traditions. Buy this book  Ana McGinley  More >


Charlotte Brontë’s Secret Love

Dutch author, Jolien Janzing, is an expert in nineteenth century English literature, a fascination traceable to a time in her childhood when she first read English classics Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights by the Brontë sisters, Charlotte and Emily. And while it may seem an odd preoccupation for a woman who has lived most of her life in Belgium, Janzing’s erudition provides the foundation to her compelling literary work Charlotte Brontë’s Secret Love, recently published in English translation . Originally published as Meester in 2013, Charlotte Brontë’s Secret Love concentrates on the period (1840s) when Charlotte and Emily Brontë lived and worked at Pensionnat Heger, a boarding school for young ladies in Brussels. Charlotte falls in love with Constantin Heger, the husband of the school’s owner. This wretched experience of unrequited love is a crucial thread to the tale and later becomes the foundation for the character of Jane Eyre in Charlotte Brontë’s renowned novel of the same name. Factual fiction This book is constructed from available information about the Brontë sisters and is further embellished into an enjoyable narrative by adding fictional touches to fill gaps. Most of the characters and places are recognizable from historical texts. For example the letters between Charlotte and Constantin are written in a similar tone and style to the original letters yet are not the actual letters. Similarly, the supplementary storyline of King Leopold embarking on an extramarital affair with Brussels teenager, Arcadia Claret, incorporates a generous mix of fact and fiction. That ole devil called love Charlotte’s internal struggles are the source of tension apparent throughout the novel. Her struggle begins with the decision to follow her desire to escape from the confines and expectations of being the pastor’s daughter in impoverished Yorkshire - to study abroad in the cosmopolitan city of Brussels. Upon her arrival at the boarding school, her religion, clothes, language and sister are all constant reminders that she does not belong in this new world and that her survival depends on the strength of her own character. For Charlotte, being in love is the driving force that powers her through days of adversity. Many readers will find it difficult to identify what masculine wiles Constantin uses to seduce the young Charlotte. Yet her compulsive need to be acknowledged by him, even with full awareness that the situation is not conducive to a relationship, is familiar to many love stories. Setting scenes Janzings’ descriptions of culture, class and religion adeptly transport the reader between Brussels to the Yorkshire moors in the 1840s. The contrast between the teahouses and dressmaking businesses visited by Arcadia and her mother – and the Belgian wharves with men that smell to Charlotte of 'a strong odour of fish, sweat and cabbage soup' something she finds 'not totally repulsive' (pg45) are comprehensive yet seamlessly written. Jolien Janzing has been writing since she was a teenager. She continues to live in Belgium and works as a journalist and novelist. Charlotte Brontë’s Secret Love is her second novel. Beautifully translated into English by Paul Vincent, the novel has also been translated into German, French and Turkish. The book was selected for Books at the Berlinale, and film rights to the book have been sold to David P. Kelly Films. Buy this book Ana McGinley  More >


How to Avoid the Other Tourists in Amsterdam

As anyone who has ever arrived in Amsterdam early on a Friday evening in the summer knows, the city is full of tourists. Some nights, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who lives in the city on the walk from your train to Dam Square. Nina van der Weiden, author of How to Avoid the Other Tourists in Amsterdam, wanted to highlight all of the places away from that crush of tourists and offer something with more local flavour. Her book takes you through five sections of Amsterdam: West, South, East, North and Centre. Each section gets its own chapter, subdivided into neighbourhoods. All of the chapters include a suggested walking route (or, in the case of North, cycling). The book highlights restaurants, bars, cafes, shops, museums and more which the author finds to be less touristy and more Dutch and are described on the book's website as 'the funniest, most beautiful, striking, exclusive or most ordinary' of the city’s restaurants, etc. They range from locations in every guide book (The EYE, Westerkerk) to the obscure (The Plague House in West and a soup restaurant in North.) There are also lots of bits about history and culture in the introductions to each chapter. As an off-the-beaten-path guidebook, it’s useful.If you have a lot of out-of-town guests, you might want to have a copy on hand. Even for locals, a number of the walks and relatively unknown restaurants are interesting. The material makes for some really great first date ideas. Unlike Lonely Planet or other travel books, its shape makes it difficult to carry as a guide book. It’s too wide to fit easily into your hands. Also, it spends a lot of text on walking directions, which, in the era of Google Maps, aren’t especially useful. It’s also clearly been written by a Dutch person and could have used a native English editor. Aside from its flaws, it is a curious and useful book. Grab a copy and when the weather is nice, follow the book’s Poets’ Walk which starts at the Cookie Bridge or have it on hand, along with a public transport smart card, for when your in-laws are visiting. Buy this book Molly Quell  More >


Living With the Dutch: An American Family in the Hague

Before going to The Hague, Sharpe and her American family actually planned to move to Paris, but her husband Peter was offered a position in the Netherlands. They find typical expatriate problems on their path, learn a lot about how to tackle them and in the mean time discover a completely new country. Buy this book Review this book. Contact books@dutchnews.nl  More >


Angel of Amsterdam

Finally, we have an English-language edition of prize-winning Dutch author Geert Mak's Angel of Amsterdam.  Mak is one of the finest of Dutch authors and the book provides unique glimpse into and better understanding of this fascinating city. First published in 1993,  The Angel of Amsterdam:  Seven City Stories introduces a large, varied cast of loyal Amsterdammers, dating from 1275 to approximately 1990, all boasting a unique attachment to the city. All seven stories are independent essays, connected only by being set in Amsterdam.  Readers familiar with the city will be able to identify neighbourhoods, buildings, and the names of historical figures. The first story, ‘A City in Blue’, is a modern-day description of Amsterdam from an aerial perspective. This is followed by, ‘Stone and Earth on the Burgwal’ which delves into the history of the city via the artifacts found in a house being renovated by the narrator.  The third story considers the mitigation of staunch religious standards as people from isolated rural areas move to the city seeking better opportunities. Rembrandt is the central figure in ‘The Forgotten Girl, the City and the Painter’ – with his changing fortunes reflecting the changing values of Amsterdam society in 1600s. The last three essays focus on population groups not generally photographed for Amsterdam tourist guides.  “Making Tracks around Central Station’ follows prostitutes, pimps, and homeless people with chronic substance abuse issues or mental health problems.  The narrator spends time with these individuals, learning how and where these people survive in the city. Similarly, ‘Three Afternoons with Henk Plenter’ sees the narrator accompanying a public health inspector responsible for investigating complaints regarding bad smells.  The cause of the stench often related to an individual, sometimes dead, but often suffering from an untreated psychiatric illness and abandoned by family, friends, neighbors or social services. Overall, this book of short essays provides an interesting insight into Amsterdam’s history, and the social fabric that make it the colorful city it is today. After 20 years, it is a little dated and may benefit from the addition of a present day story to add relevance for newer residents of the city.  Yet The Angel of Amsterdam remains a fascinating commentary on the city and its inhabitants. Buy this book Ana McGinley  More >


The Anatomy Lesson

In 1632 serial thief, Adriaen Adriaenszoon (known as Aris Kindt), was sentenced to death by hanging in Amsterdam. The Anatomy Lesson is based on the events that take place on the day of his death and dissection as depicted in Rembrandt'Ž“s famous painting, Ž•The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes TulpŽ“, an artwork commissioned by the Amsterdam Surgeons' Guild. This second novel from American writer, Nina Siegal, is contrived from historical records and coloured by prose. The narrative chronicles Kindt_Ž“s life, the lives of the individuals laying claim to the dead man_Ž“s body: Dr Tulp (the anatomist) Flora (the woman pregnant with his child) Rembrandt (artist) Jan Fetchet (curio collector and acquirer of medical cadavers) and Kindt himself (both alive and dead). Siegal has obviously spent copious time researching the subject matter. This historic authenticity of The Anatomy Lesson makes it easy for the reader to conjure up the people, places and events described in the narrative. Her descriptions of the cold, greyness of the Dutch winter are commendable. The tale rumbles gently along. At times it reads more as a play than a novel. Characters enter the stage and present a short monologue before exiting. The audience enjoy the performance, while anticipating the moment when the denouement reels the characters and story together into a satisfying conclusion. Needless the say, no more can be added without giving away the end of the book. Some readers may feel that the author's concentration on detail is pedantic and slows the flow of the narrative and the pace is slowed by the adoption of numerous characters narrating the story. Chapter headings give no clue to the identity of the narrator, leaving it to the reader to deduce from whose perspective the story is being told. Adding to this, sometimes confusing, mix is the occasional interruption by a present-day conservator employed to restore the painting (notably easier to identify due to a change in font). This literary style demands full reader concentration. Despite these niggles, The Anatomy Lesson is an enjoyable read. It provides the reader with an historical insight into a specific time period in the Netherlands, and an interpretation of the background story behind one of the most renowned paintings of the Golden Age, which now hangs at Mauritshuis in The Hague. Buy this book Ana McGinley  More >


Amsterdam Slavery Heritage Guide

The Amsterdam Slavery Heritage Guide is a walking guide to Amsterdam that focuses on the history of slavery in the city. The guide, published in 2014, is part of the VU University 'Mapping Slavery Project' which also covers Utrecht and Haarlem. As it notes in the forward, little is taught in Dutch schools and known generally about the history of slavery and the slave trade in the Netherlands. The book opens with an overview of the history of slavery in the Netherlands, as well as the Dutch overseas holdings. It focuses on four overall themes: Trade and profit, black in the city, resistance and abolitionism, and museums and archives. The book starts with a fold out map, showing 115 different locations that it discusses in further detail in the rest of the book. Though it doesn’t highlight a specific walking route, most of the locations are in the city centre and it's fairly easy to create your own route. It’s a small book and easy to carry during your walking tour. Each number on the map gets a page or two, with images, to describe the location and its history. Popular Amsterdam locations are featured, from the palace on the Dam to the Nieuwe Kerk. But obscure locations are also included, like the two busts of Moors on a building on the Herengracht. Even without walking a route, the book is filled with lots of interesting tidbits about history. For example, the official residence of the city's mayor was once home to slave trader Paulus Godin. The entire book is published in both Dutch and English. This is useful, but occasionally it creates a confusing layout which makes it hard to find the texts in the language of your choice. The book also uses a number of photos which are without captions and thus leave the reader wondering who the people are and what they were doing to warrant inclusion. Overall, however, the book is immensely informative and easy to use. Buy this book  More >