Inburgering with Dutch News: 10 myths about the Netherlands debunked

Windmills in Dutch bulb fields.
The classic view of the Netherlands. Photo:
Windmills in Dutch bulb fields.
Two cliches in one photo. Photo:

If you believe the tourist industry and tabloid newspapers, the Dutch like nothing better than to race around on bikes in clogs, eat cheese, smoke weed and kill off their old folk. So the next lesson in our inburgering course deals with some of the cliches.

Lesson 32: debunking the myths

Tulips come from Amsterdam
It’s spring again, I’ll bring again, tulips from Amsterdam, the song goes. But did tulips originate in Amsterdam, or even the Netherlands? No, they didn’t. The tulip (Tulipa) was originally a native of Turkey. The dainty, pointy-petalled little tulip was introduced to the West in the 16th century.

The Dutch immediately started to mix-and-match like nobody’s business which made them very rich and turned the Netherlands into the home of the tulip. Tulip mania broke out in the 17th century with bulb prices going through the roof, in one instance fetching a whopping 3,000 guilders, or the yearly income of a wealthy merchant. The bubble, or bulb, soon burst, of course.

The main tulip growing area is a good few kilometres south of Amsterdam as well. And as for the city’s famous floating flower market… nuff said.

Hans Brinker put his finger in the dyke to save the country from flooding
No. The story of the boy who put his finger in the dyke and saved the country from flooding is part of the book Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates by American author Mary Mapes Dodge.
However, there is a statue of the mythical boy in Spaarndam, and Amsterdam has a Hans Brinker hotel.

The Dutch all ride bikes all the time
No they don’t. There might be 1.3 bikes for every person in the Netherlands, but according to the Dutch cycling union just five million of us make a trip by two-wheeler on a daily basis. And the sale of electric bikes, which purists argue are not really bikes at all, now constitutes over 50% of all bike sales. And that’s cheating.

The Dutch are mean
We don’t know where this idea comes from. Rumour has it the Belgians had something to do with it. The Dutch are not mean – they just like value for money. And they invented the tikkie, which enables you go Dutch in the easiest way possible.

The Dutch kill off the old and sick at the drop of a hat
If you think you can get away with offing your wealthy gran in the Netherlands you will find yourself under arrest quicker than you can say ‘mercy killing’. Nor are elderly persons sporting wrist bands saying ‘Do not euthanise me, please’, as one-time US presidential candidate Rick Santorum had it.

The law on euthanasia, which dates from 2002, doesn’t allow euthanasia tourism and doctors who practice euthanasia have to abide by a number of strict rules. In particular, the patient must be suffering unbearably and the doctor must be sure they are making an informed choice.

According to the euthanasia watchdog, assisted suicide now accounts for 4.5% of all deaths in the Netherlands in 2021, or just a few thousand a year, and most of those who died had cancer.

The Netherlands is a ‘frog country’
When the Dutch are pleased with a national achievement of some sort – winning a gold medal or coming top in some poll – they always say it is ‘not bad’ for a klein or a koud kikkerlandje. Is the Netherlands a little or a cold frog country?

Cold? With the summer temperatures we have been having? Of course, compared to much of the world it is, although we would not say no to a decent winter and some skating.

As for the frogs: the Netherlands is home to six different types – the European tree frog, the common brown frog, the marsh frog, the pool frog, the common water (or edible) frog and the moor frog. There are over 4,500 different types of frog in the world, and we have just six.

The Netherlands is tiny and below sea level
Is the Netherlands small? According to UN statistics, the Netherlands is the 134th biggest country in the world – out of a total of 249 countries – so it is not that small at all. In terms of population density, it is in 24th place – so even if the Netherlands ain’t that big, it packs in a lot of people.

Is it all a swamp? Much of it might have been once, but drainage and land reclamation have put paid to that. Around 24% of the Netherlands’ current land mass is below sea level, and most at risk at flooding via its rivers.

The Dutch are tolerant
A sticky issue this one. The National History Museum says the Dutch reputation for tolerance harks back to the 16
th century Dutch Republic when different religions were allowed to exist peacefully side by side. Works by Descartes and Spinoza were printed without a murmur largely, the museum intimates, because money could be made from them. However, a year after Descartes died his books were banned, no matter how well they sold.

Yes, there is a distinct ‘live and let live’ to life in the Netherlands, and gedogen, or turning a blind eye, is a convenient way of dealing with all sorts of tricky issues which politicians can’t get to grips with.

It is, however, perhaps worth pointing out that tolerance, in English at least, does not mean the same as acceptance.

The Dutch all smoke weed all the time
You may be forgiven for thinking that a nation which tolerates or turns a blind eye to the purchase of cannabis (actually it’s only five grammes or less) must be walking around in a state of perpetual high spirits.

But here is the thing. According to the Trimbos Institute figures, just 8% of the Dutch used cannabis at least once in the previous year. Yep, all those coffee shops in Amsterdam are largely for tourists.

All Gouda and Edam cheese is made in the Netherlands
Well, yes and no. The names Gouda and Edam are not EU protected, so any old country can make them and does. Most Gouda and Edam cheese is produced in Poland and Germany. New Zealand and the United States also make lots.

A cheese sporting the name ‘Gouda Holland’ or ‘Edam Holland’ is, however, made in the Netherlands and was given protected status in 2010. It is not, however, made in Gouda or Edam. The name derives from the fact the cheese used to be sold there in the olden days.

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