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The Low Country High and Dry

Aggiornamento: 12 apr 2023

Heijenrade (photo by P. Sanguedolce)

Thinking of the Netherlands too often conjures the image of a flat land, full of canals, tulips, windmills and … coffee-shops. Is this idea based on fact or is it just fiction? Hans Venderbos - a teacher of English with a passion for intercultural dialogue - and his wife Marian - a professional translator - answered this and other questions during the latest meeting of the Berkeley on Friday, 17th February 2023.

To start with, they made us aware that Holland is not the Netherlands, but only two of its twelve provinces. Although North Holland and South Holland represent the dominant part of this small country, it’s strictly-speaking correct to call it the Netherlands.

Rotterdam (photo by P. Sanguedolce)

Is the Netherlands all flat and below sea level? If the Dutch had not built dams and dikes to keep the sea out, half of the country (the north-western part) would be under water. That’s why they say that if God created the Earth, the Dutch made the Netherlands. Nowadays, with climate change and the consequent rise of sea levels, the government will have to take new measures to prevent most of the country from being submerged by the sea.

At the same time, it’s also true that the southern provinces, Limburg, for instance, have a hilly landscape where windmills and tulips are scarce. So the typical Dutch postcard comes mainly from the western provinces!

Gulpen (photo by P. Sanguedolce)

What is indeed widespread throughout the country, without exception, is the use of the bicycle: from the Prime Minister down to students, the bike is everybody’s favourite means of transport. In a country of 18 million people, there are 22 million bicycles!

Sophianum, Gulpen (photo by P. Sanguedolce)

As for soft drugs, it is true that they can be bought in coffee-shops. But membership is often required and it can take some time before an application is accepted.

Maastricht (photo by P. Sanguedolce)

Although it is difficult to generalise about a nation’s character without stereotyping, it could be said that the Dutch are rather individualistic, tolerant, pragmatic, and direct, with a preference for living beside each other rather than together. As they belong to a nation of traders, they tend to give value to money and are sometimes considered a tad stingy… This is probably why the English say “let’s go Dutch” when they want to share the bill. What we know for sure is that our guest speakers are generous, broad-minded people, ready to give their time to others. Many thanks to them for the enjoyable evening we spent together!

Maastricht (photo by P. Sanguedolce)

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