What? We can’t share our pride in the best little country in the world? Well, we’re doing it anyway! Why? Because despite all our complaints, we really genuinely love the Netherlands.
We hope you’ll enjoy this article and specially made video and discover something new and interesting among the seven things the Dutch are great at!
7Happy children: it’s fun to be young in Holland!
The Netherlands persistently ranks as one of the highest countries for child happiness. The United Nations rated Dutch children the happiest in the world in their 2020 UNICEF child happiness index of the 41 wealthiest industrialised nations.
The researchers assessed the children’s mental health, physical health, and academic and social skills. They also spoke to children themselves to find out how they themselves feel about their lives, without just using scientific data. Guess what? 93% of kids said they were happy! What’s not to love about that?!
6The world’s second-biggest food exporter
Yep, a country so small you can drive through it from its northern to southern tip (the largest distance) in just about two hours if you don’t hit any heavy traffic. And somehow the Dutch still manage to crank out enough food to feed the world!
In comparison, the US is the largest food exporter, but is also 230(!) times bigger than Holland. Can you imagine that medal ceremony? On the highest block stands a buff American waving a massive flag, and next to them stands nothing but a tiny little Dutch flag, on a toothpick, that gently waves back and forth. That little flag is being held by a stubborn, but very happy, little ant – that’s Holland for you!
The Dutch have built their own little agricultural powerhouse, no bigger than Maryland, upon some of the most fertile soil in the world. It’s carefully divided into countless farm plots, all conspicuously irrigated by means of the typical Dutch polders.
Another great help for the Dutch is their high-tech greenhouses, some stretching endlessly along the horizon. These have allowed clever growers to still bring in (semi-)tropical fruits that would otherwise never grow in Holland’s temperate but turbulent climate.
For what it’s worth, the Dutch are also trying to improve upon the difficulties of growing so much food. For example, the authorities are trying to shrink the (massive) amounts of livestock in the country. At the same time, they want to make their presence cleaner for the environment and more enjoyable for the animals themselves. The Netherlands has so much livestock that the total Dutch population is outnumbered – sometimes many times over – by just about every category of livestock!
Regardless, the Dutch are proud of their achievement and agriculture is still an important part of the Dutch economy. Be sure to try delicious Dutch vegetables such as Asparagus!
5The lowest rate of teen pregnancies in the EU: abstinence is not key
You know how it goes, ‘If you don’t want babies, don’t have sex!’ Or, ‘If kids are exposed to sex ed, they’ll want to have sex and get pregnant!’ Well, if there’s one country proving these ideas wrong, it’s the Netherlands!
The Dutch don’t believe in forbidding things, or keeping things secret and hushed up. In little Holland it’s all out in the open. The Netherlands has been giving teens, even children, sex education for decades – giving them a heads up about what it’s all about and what the risks are. No, don’t worry – they’re not showing them porn!
But I do remember one of my elementary school teachers suspiciously having his back turned to class while he put something on the school board. When he stepped away, with a big grin on his face, it was a condom duck taped to the board! Hilarity and excitement ensued among our twelve-year-old selves. And we actually learned about the importance of being safe, being sure, and how to say ‘no.’ Most importantly, we learned what the risks were. And guess what? None of us felt ‘weird’ or awkward, we simply accepted the facts as they were given to us.
Coming home, your parents would laugh at your exciting story and tell you that if you ever had any questions, they’d be around! We had more sex-ed classes in high school and even a visit from the Rutgers Foundation (set up in the ’70s to spread awareness of anti-conception) which gave us a clear understanding of what was going on with us internally and externally. And though we had a good laugh or two, we became even more aware that even though sex was fun, it could come with a price tag. One that screams, cries, vomits, and poops…
The point is that the Dutch have proven that sex education and an open attitude help young men and women understand things ahead of ‘experimenting’ without any guidance – teens try things out because they can. If you give them a heads up about what matters, you’ll be surprised how many of them do listen! If it works for Holland, don’t you think it’d work elsewhere too?
4Growing tall: Dutchmen largest in the world
Do you like tall men? Welcome to Holland! Where men grow to astounding heights! Yours truly stands less than an inch shy of six feet tall which actually makes me just below average in the Netherlands. In fact, some of my college buddies were so tall, I only reached to their shoulder! Yes, really. And it’s not an uncommon sight in the streets of Dutch cities to meet men, and the occasional woman, of such height.
But why are they so tall?
The reason behind Dutch height isn’t just being genetically lucky, it’s all about food and good health. The Dutch have been able to provide themselves, and especially their youngsters, with a proper diet, a healthy environment and great access to medical care.
Other than a short, but harsh, Hunger Winter after WWII, the country has persistently become healthier and focused on trying to improve things for each successive generation. With success, the Dutch have gained 20 centimetres (8 inches) of the last century and a half!
The Dutch are known for drinking milk (which sucks for those of us who are lactose-intolerant). It’s helped spur those Dutch bones to grow and strengthen like few others in the world. Even if you are lactose-intolerant, if you have Dutch genes you’re still likely to be lucky enough to inherit some of that growth capacity from previous generations. Unless you want to be short of course, then no…
Truth be told, it’s not all milk and nutrition, of course. Like most people, the Dutch are easily attracted to tall counterparts. Tall (usually) means healthy, and healthy meant better fertility. As such, tall people reproduced far and wide and have taken over much of the Dutch population.
Likewise, Dutch healthcare is excellent and Holland has been at the forefront with vaccinations and other medical programs to banish such terrible diseases as Polio and Tuberculosis. All of this has helped grow a healthier, taller population.
3More bikes per capita than any other European country
You like bikes? The ones with the pedals and the exercise? If the answer is yes, you came to the right place! The Netherlands has almost as many bikes as it has people. That’s no joke. In fact, many of us own multiple bikes. There’s one of them in the shed outside and two parked on the carport of my house. One for me, one for my mom, and one for a friend from Spain.
What’s so great about cycling?
The Dutch like to cycle (really like to cycle). Especially in urban areas, many of the locals prefer using their bike over their car because it gets them there faster. Especially compared to getting stuck in that gridlock on the A10 Ring Amsterdam or the A13 Rotterdam-The Hague.
In 2017, 68% of work and school traffic in Amsterdam was by bike! Cycling counts for 36% of all forms of traffic in the city. Of course, it helps that Amsterdam, and almost all cities and towns in the country, are extremely ‘bike-friendly.’ You have your own lanes, you often have right of passage, you can rent them, and you have parking accommodations. Plus, if something goes wrong with your bike, there’s a pretty good chance a fellow cyclist will show up and help you with that flat tire or broken light.
Another added benefit is that cycling is great exercise, which is one of the secrets to the Dutch being relatively slender and healthy. You will see Dutch toddlers ride bikes before they can even walk properly. The Dutch are, so to speak, born with a bike between their legs.
One warning though, please be careful in the big cities when cycling as a tourist. The Dutch are experts at cycling and the other traffic expects them to be. There are a lot of accidents involving inexperienced tourists on bikes. Please don’t get hurt!
2The world’s best water management systems.
You probably figured there’s some dark secret behind the Dutch keeping all that water out, didn’t you? Well, it’s not as dark as you might think, even though we forged a deal with the devil, but it has cost us some real effort.
The Dutch have fought, with success, against the rivers, lakes, and seas for centuries. They’ve used their iconic windmills as pumps to clear the area, and re-shaped entire rivers, and even part of the sea, to make space.
The Netherlands, largely, is below sea level. This is both because the Dutch directly build new lands from the sea but also because of digging out the many layers of peat from the soils, which was necessary for people to make it through the cold winters.
As a result, the country suffered many floodings and loss of lives. As recent as 1953, a major amount of dikes gave way during a superstorm in the province of Zeeland, taking 2000 lives with it.
The Delta Works
After this great catastrophe, the Dutch, stubborn and steadfast as always, decided to turn the tides once and for all (quite literally in this case). They began construction on the biggest, most advanced water management system known to mankind: the Delta Works.
The Delta Works are an almost endless collection of dikes, water locks, bridges and storm barriers that interconnect across the Zeeland/Zuid-Holland region. They are built to withstand storms and waves currently unseen in history. But with the rising seas because of climate change, the Dutch are already planning further improvements.
The Delta Works are considered one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Modern World’ by Quest magazine and the American Society of Civil Engineers.
There are also complex water management systems in the harbour of Rotterdam, and intricate canals and water locks around Amsterdam. Of course, the ‘Afsluitdijk‘ causeway closed off the ‘Zuiderzee’ (Southern Sea) from the North-Sea and turned it into one of Europe’s largest inland lakes, connecting the Noord-Holland province to Friesland for the first time.
Today, the Dutch export their water management knowledge around the globe. If you ever visit the site of major water management projects around the world you are more than likely to bump into Dutch engineers on the scene. You may also find companies working on these projects with Dutch names and histories. Currently, Dutch companies are involved in such projects in Miami, Florida; Jakarta, Indonesia; Dubai, UAE, and beautiful Venice, Italy, which is also hoping to protect its historic centre with the help of their European friends.
So, if you have trouble with water, call a Dutchman! Or just put your finger in the dyke. Just your finger though, nothing else – don’t be a pervert…
1The best non-native English speakers on the globe.
“Yes, but, also! Dat is also a ting I can do, also!” Okay, sure, it’s not always the easiest accent on the ears but overall the Dutch speak their English very well. They’re almost always capable of understanding what you are trying to get across. That is, if you speak it properly too.
The Dutch also enjoy speaking the language, which can be very frustrating to newcomers who are trying to learn the local language. When a Dutchman notices as much as a hint of an accent in your ‘finest Dutch’ many of them will automatically switch to English. Too much of a fuss…
It’s spoken (almost) everywhere
English is also spoken at most important places, such as higher education institutes, as well as in hospitals, police stations, city halls, and public transportation facilities. Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn Dutch. For advancing your career it’s vital. And of course, friendships grow tighter if you can converse in the native tongue.
Here’s some Dutch for you:
To be fair, the Dutch do have a bit of an edge regarding the language. The Dutch and British have dealt with each other, for better and worse, since forever. With only the tiniest sliver of water in between, no less. The two also share a common history.
It’s not so different from English
Dutch, English, and German all belong to the same branch of languages, West-Germanic. They all originate from Germanic roots. Dutch, being in between Germany and the British isles, is actually quite close to English.
In fact, Dutch is the closest popularly spoken language to English in the world. In other words, apart from actual English itself, Dutch is the closest thing to it. There is Frisian, however, which is even more closely related. It’s also spoken in the Netherlands, but only has a few hundred thousand speakers in limited regions. Dutch, however, is spoken by 18 million Dutchmen and millions of Flemish in Belgium.
So, despite the fact that people like Louis van Gaal occasionally embarrass Holland on a nationwide scale with their English ability (or lack thereof), you should do fine with it in Holland. Above all, the Dutch, curious and tolerant by nature, are almost always happy to figure out a way to communicate with you, whether your English is perfect or not.
What do you think are the best parts of living in the Netherlands? Let us know in the comments below!
Feature Image: djedj/Pixabay
Editor’s note: This article was originally written in December 2017 and was fully updated in September 2020 for your reading pleasure.