This past summer I visited the Netherlands. It was a great trip. I learned a lot about a country that was new to me.
Last week I described the top ten best practices from visiting the fascinating country of the Netherlands. This week I am going to take a slightly different approach and talk about Dutch culture.
I knew a little about the Netherlands before visiting, but you never really know about a country until you actually go there.
I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.
I watched several videos about Dutch culture before going
Youtube is helpful for many things. I leverage it often for conducting research, especially when it comes to travel.
Each summer before going on vacation I watch videos from several travel experts that I enjoy and trust.
I did the same thing for Holland…I mean the Netherlands.
I found an interesting mix of things that I already knew. You know these things as well.
The Netherlands means windmills, wooden shoes, dikes, canals, and cheese. Lots and lots of cheese.
Below is a sample video from Wolter’s world. His videos are generally accurate and usually entertaining. This one covers some things to know before you go.
I also learned many facts about the Netherlands that I didn’t know.
Videos like the one below include several things you probably do not know about the Netherlands. I know that I didn’t.
A few of them are somewhat obscure but interesting.
Several things were pretty much as expected
- Amsterdam has a lot of canals, cafes, and cannabis…and tons of bicycles.
Amsterdam lived up to my expectations. It is a wonderful city.
The canals are beautiful and the cafes (where they serve coffee, drinks, and food) are a lot of fun.
Is there pot? Yes, especially in the red light district. I am pretty convinced that most the pot is smoked by tourists, not the Dutch.
It is also worth mentioning that bikes are everywhere in Amsterdam. Two thoughts that were in my head while walking around — head on a swivel and red is dead (the bike lanes are painted red in most parts of Amsterdam).
2. The people are tall, frugal, and opinionated. Dutch people are the tallest in the world. Many of them are over six feet tall, to include the women.
The Dutch are also frugal. When we went shopping you could tell that they like getting a good deal. Also, most Dutch houses are tall but not large. They don’t have room for all the crap that we buy as Americans.
I heard that the Dutch are even more direct and opinionated than Germans which was hard to believe. Germans are not shy to offer an “honest” opinion.
I found this also to be true. For example, when I asked a waiter if something on the menu was good, he said no. It was horrible and would never order it. You never get that kind of candor in America or Germany.
Some people are put off by this bluntness — I found it somewhat refreshing.
3. The country is small but well organized — I knew that the Netherlands is a small country, especially when compared to others I have visited like France and Germany.
It also has the highest population density in Europe. Therefore, the Dutch must be well organized. They are.
The cities we visited were well designed. If you look at how Amsterdam looks on the map you can see how they designed it to be fan-shaped.
Their public transportation systems are excellent. Going from city to city via the train was easy.
I wish more places in Europe put this much thought into how they are organized. It would make travel easier for visitors.
I gained new insights into Dutch culture
- Simple problems may require sophisticated solutions — the Netherlands has a big problem. Most of the country is below sea level.
In order to maintain their current land footprint, the Dutch must actively manage the water level across the country. The problem is simple, but the solution is quite sophisticated.
They use a complex system of dikes, canals, bridges, and pumps for the water. You see this system everywhere you go. Each city we visited talked about this challenge and how they deal with it.
We learned that the city of New Orleans called for help from Holland after the Hurricane Katrina disaster. After all, who knows more about controlling water and flood levels.
The Dutch provided me with a great life lesson. Sometimes you may face what seems like a simple problem, but it requires a sophisticated solution.
The windmill is another great Dutch example. Their purpose is simple, but you should see all the thought that went into how they are constructed.
We took a tour of one and it is an amazing piece of engineering.
It made me think about what are the windmills in my life that I need to build.
You should consider the same question.
2. Borrow from others and make it your own — the Netherlands is known for selling several products such as cheese, tulips, and porcelain. The cheese comes from many Dutch cities such as Gouda and is sold everywhere.
We learned how tulips came to be so popular in the Netherlands. Someone brought some tulips back from China. The Dutch figured out a way to grow them and then sell them. Lots and lots of tulips.
They sell an amazing amount of flowers to the rest of Europe and the world. Visiting the tulip fields in the spring is a major tourist attraction.
The famous blue and white porcelain the Dutch sell in Delft is a similar story. Someone brought home some porcelain from China. His friends wanted some so they figured out a way to make it.
To this day they make and sell Delft porcelain for a lot of money.
Notice the trend. The Dutch will tell you they borrow ideas from others and then make it their own. In this case — marketing and selling.
Want another example. Look no further than Heineken.
It is not a great beer, but they sell a ton of it all over the world due to great marketing and efficient distribution channels.
I like the idea of borrowing ideas from others and making them my own.
I plan on paying more attention to what others are doing that works and figuring out a way to do something similar.
I recommend you do the same.
3. Design the way you want it — Rotterdam was different than the others cities we visited. It is modern. During World War II the Nazis fire-bombed this city. Most of it was destroyed.
The Dutch surrendered to avoid the rest of their cities being destroyed.
Like many European cities, the citizens of Rotterdam had a decision to make after the war. What style would they use when reconstructing the city?
Rather than rebuild how it used to look, they chose to go modern.
The results are striking. It is a funky city full of many modern architectural wonders to include the cube houses that are shown below.
Yes- people actually live in these cube houses. We toured one of them and they are as weird as they look.
The thing I took away from visiting Rotterdam is that you can design your home the way you want it.
They certainly have which makes it rather unique versus just another cute Dutch city.
The Netherlands is a special place. Like all countries in Europe, their culture is unique. It was great to spend time there and learn more about how the Dutch live. I recommend you visit if you get a chance. I hope to return soon.
I write a blog for my sons called Doug Keating Letter to Sons. I am sharing content from my blog here. I hope you enjoyed it. All feedback is welcome. Thanks for reading it.
Originally published at www.lettertosons.com on September 4, 2018.