When we think about the Netherlands, the first references that usually come to mind are tulips, windmills, wooden shoes, and cheese. But there’s so much more to the Netherlands than that. Here are some cool things you might not know about the northwestern European country.
7. What’s in a Name?
The country’s official name is Kingdom of the Netherlands (or Nederlands). The word “Netherlands” means lowlands. In fact, more than a quarter of the Netherlands is below sea level and half of its land is less than one meter above sea level. Over the years, windmills have helped drain water from the Netherlands, and the dikes have kept the land from being flooded.
The Netherlands is also very flat. The highest point is Vaalserberg, which is 322.7 meters high.
6. Giants Live in this Land
Okay, well maybe not giants. But, some really tall people. The Dutch are some of the tallest people in the world. The average height for men is 182.5 cm, or roughly 6 feet. Researchers analyzed results from more than 1,400 studies from over 200 countries over the course of a century to come to this conclusion. As for Dutch women, they’re pretty tall, too, coming in second to Latvian women, who are, on average, about 170 cm, or 5’6″.
According to scientists, tall statures are indicative of a healthy diet, access to quality healthcare, and minimal exposure to hazardous environmental factors. Genetics also plays a role.
5. Tulips Originated in Turkey
Although tulips have been associated with the Netherlands for years, they actually originated in Turkey. In fact, the tulip is Turkey’s national flower. Tulips were first introduced to Europe by Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, a gardener and ambassador of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I to the Ottoman Empire (Turkey).
According to the University of Vermont, here’s how the tulip industry developed in the Netherlands:
“Busbecq had used his influence to have Carolus Clusius [a doctor and botanist] appointed as head of the Imperial Gardens in Vienna in 1573. Born in France in 1526, Clusius had traveled widely and acquired medical and botanical training by the time of his appointment. He had produced several botanical works. It is to Vienna that Busbecq sent the first tulips and other bulbs to Europe… Although Busbecq introduced these bulbs to Europe, it is Clusius that popularized them. After 14 years at the Viennese Imperial Gardens, he moved to Leiden in the Netherlands. Here he founded the Hortus Academicus–the first botanic garden to focus on ornamental plants rather than medicinal ones. In his gardens Clusius developed a private tulip collection, from which he sold specimens for outrageous prices. Unwilling to pay these, yet desirous of the plants, local gardeners broke into his gardens stealing many of these specimen tulips. It is from these that the now famous Dutch bulb industry developed.”
4. Houses in Amsterdam are Built on Poles
Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, is situated on top of a bog, so the foundations of the homes there are usually built on wooden poles. The poles are drilled into the soil where much firmer layers of sand–typically a thick layer of marsh and clay–help keep the poles in place. The poles also have to be kept under water in an oxygen-free environment to keep them from rotting.
-The Royal Palace at Dam Square is built on over 13,000 wooden poles.
–Floating homes are being built in the IJburg district of Amsterdam in response to the city’s housing shortage and rising sea levels. As of last summer, about 120 floating homes had been built. The goal was to finish building IJburg (first inhabited in 2002) by 2012, but environmental concerns and a sluggish housing market put a dent in the plans.
3. Cycling is Popular in the Netherlands
Bike riding is very popular in the Netherlands. So popular, in fact, that there are more bikes than there are people–22.5 million and 18 million, respectively. Utrecht, the Netherlands’ fourth-largest and fastest-growing city, is the second-most bike-friendly city in the world. In 2017, city officials unveiled a portion of the world’s largest parking garage for bikes. The parking spots in these state-of-the-art garages fill up quickly. As a result of this ever-increasing demand for bike infrastructure, officials are creating thousands more spots and hundreds more miles of bike paths. Utrecht’s cycling network already includes close to 250 miles of bike lanes.
So, why is cycling so popular in the Netherlands? According to the BBC, a spike in automobile-related deaths (particularly children) in the 1970s and declining trust among the Dutch in the reliability and sustainability of automobiles inspired them to turn to safer modes of transportation.
Not only is cycling popular in the Netherlands, it has also helped the country economically. A recent study done at Utrecht University found that cycling could help save the country’s economy $23 billion annually. “Biking saves medical costs since biking contributes to people’s overall physical activity levels, and getting sufficient physical activity prevents against many noncommunicable diseases, including obesity, Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and some types of cancers,” Dr. Carlijn Kamphuis, the study’s lead author, told the New York Times in an email. Frans Jan van Rossem, the head of Utrecht’s bicycle programming, added, “Our revenue is healthy people, less traffic and beautiful living.”
2. Holland is NOT the Netherlands
Yes, Holland is in the Netherlands, but the two names should not be used interchangeably. As stated earlier, the official name of the country is the Kingdom of the Netherlands. However, it is sometimes referred to as “Holland” (usually by foreigners). The name “Holland” actually refers to the two provinces of Noord-Holland (North Holland) and Zuid-Holland (South Holland). The region includes the cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague.
1. The Dutch Speak the Best English in the World
At least that’s what some people say. There’s no actual proof of this, but it has been noted that the Dutch do speak particularly good English. Once considered a foreign language in the Netherlands, English is now a major part of Dutch life. In fact, more than half of all college courses are taught in English. But, teachers and students admit that most English is learned outside the classroom. According to Cornelis Kees de Bot, a professor at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, the reason why the Dutch speak particularly good English is because English is intertwined in mainstream culture. Most of the movies the kids watch and the music they listen to is in English. Interestingly, Kees de Bot found a connection between TV-watching and English fluency. According to his research, the countries where English proficiency is very high are the countries that subtitle English-language TV shows.
Now that you know a little bit more about the Netherlands, the next time someone asks you about this country, you can tell them about more than just tulips, wooden shoes, and windmills. Thanks for reading!