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Useful Notes: The Netherlands

Chandler: Hey Joey, where do Dutch people come from?
Joey: Uh... Well, the Pennsylvania Dutch come from Pennsylvania...
Chandler: And the other Dutch? They come from somewhere near the Netherlands, right?
Joey: Nice try. See, the Netherlands is this make-believe place where Peter Pan and Tinkerbell come from.
Friends, "The One With The Football"

The Netherlands (Dutch: Nederland) is a country in Western Europe. It's famous for not only being flat, but in large part below sea level. It's also the country of cheese (Gouda, Edam), Delftware, windmills, tulips, clogs, blow-up dolls and cannabis.

Although the country's name is plural in many languages, the Dutch name for it is simply "Nederland", which would translate to "Netherland". "The Kingdom of the Netherlands", plural, consists of Aruba, Curaçao, the Netherlands, and Sint Maarten. Holland is the name of two of its provinces (North Holland and South Holland), and is often used to denote the entire Netherlands — even by many Dutch people. (People who actually live in either Noord-Holland or Zuid-Holland have a good excuse.)

The country has engaged in a considerable amount of sea reclamation during the last few centuries (spawning the joke that "God made the world, but the Dutch made the Netherlands"), to the point that when QI asked "what is the largest man-made structure on Earth" serious consideration was given to accepting "the Netherlands" as the correct answer.

Let's just get it out of the way: most people's idea of the country is that it's a big giant Freestate Amsterdam, where everything is legal. This is far from true (the Netherlands in fact has its own "Bible Belt"), but the Netherlands is very liberal compared to most other countries. To sum up:

Things that are legal in the Netherlands:
  • Buying small quantities of marijuana from licensed stores, which are not allowed to sell or serve alcohol. Consuming marijuana is legal in private.
  • Abortion. Not a very controversial topic either, though more controversial than gay marriage (see below).
  • Euthanasia, kind of.
  • Gay marriage. In fact, it's the first country that legalized it, and there are no legal differences between gay and straight marriages. It should also be noted that this is not a politically controversial issue. Although some religious political parties are formally opposed to it, it's rarely if ever brought up in debate.
  • Sunbathing topless. Most beaches additionally have a nudist section.
  • Showing nudity on television, swearing in all media and mentioning sex in children's programming.
  • Alcohol is legal for persons of 18 years and over.
  • The age of consent is 16. Sex education usually starts in elementary school (it depends on the school), and is formally taught around age 13 in high school biology class.

Things that are prohibited in the Netherlands:
  • Growing or selling large quantities of marijuana. Please don't ask how the coffeeshops get their supply.
  • Creating or selling most other drugs. As of 2009, magic mushrooms are illegal, however truffles are not.
  • Consuming alcohol or drugs on the street, or even visibly holding an open can of beer. (This is, of course, fairly normal in most countries; any American who hasn't heard of someone getting a civil infraction or misdemeanor for "open intox" probably isn't paying attention.)
  • Carrying any kind of weapon (not just guns, but also knives, clubs and fake guns) in public.

There's also a gray zone: things which are officially not allowed but tolerated. The Dutch word is "gedogen". The marijuana sales technically fall under this. The government doesn't ask where the coffeeshops get their nugs either, in other words.

The claim that "Everybody in the Netherlands speaks English" is very accurate. This is mainly because the Dutch and English languages have similar grammatical and word structure (as both English and Dutch are from the Germanic language family) and the fact that early education requires children to learn English. German and French (and, depending on the school, several other languages) are also compulsory, which makes the Netherlands one of the most polyglot countries in Europe. Latin and classical Greek are included for students that are at the top tier of the Dutch school system. English serves as a de facto secondary language in the Netherlands, with Dutch people regularly using English words in otherwise Dutch sentences. Fluency is probably helped by the fact that on TV and in movies subtitling is generally preferred over dubbing, regardless of a work's original language. Dubbing a work into Dutch is usually reserved for kids' media, though as of late more Video Games are using dubbing as well.

History

The Low Countries, an area that's roughly the modern Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, were originally a bunch of counties, duchies and other statelets within the Holy Roman Empire. They were (more or less) united into a single polity by the dukes of Burgundy and emperor Charles V (who was born in Flanders and was a native Dutch speaker, no less). A few decades later, Charles abdicated and the Low Countries fell into the hands of his son Philip II, who succeeded his father as the king of Spain, making the Low Countries part of the Spanish kingdom.

Spanish rule wasn't overly popular in the Low Countries. The problems and political issues in the Low Countries were generally quite different from those in Spain (something which the Spanish king didn't always realize...) and the fiercely Catholic Spanish had little tolerance for Protestantism, which was quite popular in the Low Countries. The popularity of iconoclasm among said Protestants didn't really improve Philip's opinion of them either. And, in an attempt to finance the many wars they were fighting at the time against enemies like England, France and the Ottoman Empire, the Spanish decided that it would be a good idea to impose a few more taxes in the rich Low Countries.

...which didn't exactly work out. The old stereotype of the inhumanly greedy Dutchman came from somewhere, and the particularly notorious ten percent income tax known as the "tiende penning" was every bit as much of a reason to rebel against the king as the persecution of Protestants. This all led to the "Eighty Years' War" (1568-1648), a complex series of conflicts, complete with a twelve year armistice, that's also known as the Dutch Revolt and Dutch War of Independence. The Dutch nobles and burghers ended up proclaiming their independence in 1581, resulting in the Republic of the United Provinces, a.k.a. the Dutch Republic. And in spite of the fact that over half of the provinces either remained loyal to the Spanish Crown (the members of the Union of Atrecht) or were reconquered by the Spanish (like the county of Flanders, and particularly the city of Antwerp), the Republic still managed to remain an economic powerhouse and develop into a naval power capable of threatening Spanish and Portuguese fleets and colonies as far away as South America and Indonesia.

The war ended in 1648, when Spain officially recognized the Republic's independence and renounced its claims on the northern provinces. At the same time, they also officially left the Holy Roman Empire. But by that time, the British had already become accustomed to call their inhabitants "Dutch". This word, from "diet" ("people"), originally applied to the inhabitants of the entire Holy Roman Empire north of the Alps. In modern Dutch, however, it's never used by the Dutch to describe themselves; the word "Duits" can only mean "German" (compare the German word for "German": "Deutsch".)

The Dutch Republic was an interesting beast. Nominally a loose confederation of quasi-independent states, it was in practice dominated by Holland. To further complicate matters, although each province was in theory free to appoint anyone "stadtholder" (commander of its armed forces), in practice every province gave the position to the head of the House of Orange-Nassau. As a result, the Princes of Orange (from French lineage) were generally accorded quasi-royal status by the monarchies of Europe, which is why William III of Orange was judged to be an acceptable husband (and co-ruler) for Mary II of England. The structure of the United Provinces also had an impact on later federalist political theory: the founders of The United States looked to the Dutch Republic as a model, basing the Articles of Confederation on it: the Confederation Congress (one state, one vote) was modeled on the Dutch States-General, as was the practice of having some lands administered directly by the federal legislature (in the Netherlands these were called Generality Lands; in the US, Territories). As it happened, the first part only really worked in the Netherlands because of Holland's domination over the other provinces, and was quickly dropped (albeit modified in the form of the Senate), but the territorial system worked out rather well and was retained. Both of these innovations, with modifications, later spread to other federal regimes (e.g. Canada, Australia, Mexico, and India).

As for the southern provinces, also known as the Southern Netherlands, they remained under Spanish control for a few decades more, after which they were inherited by the Austrian branch of the house of Habsburg. (To further complicate matters, in the 18th century it was very common to refer to the Spanish, later Austrian Netherlands as simply "the Netherlands", while the Republic of the United Provinces was often shortened to "Holland".) After about 80 years of Austrian rule, they were conquered by Revolutionary France in 1794, which also conquered the Dutch Republic a few months later. The Austrian Netherlands and the Bishopric of Liège were incorporated into the French Republic, while in the north the House of Orange was deposed and driven into exile and in 1795 the former Republic of the United Provinces became the Batavian Republic, so named after a Germanic tribe that had inhabited the area in the days of the Roman Empire.

Then Napoleon Bonaparte tried to set up a puppet state called the "Kingdom of Holland" (which was technically the first Dutch kingdom), but that didn't really work out the way he wanted (for one thing, his appointed stooge, brother Louis, took Dutch interests to heart over Napoleon's, also helped with his own money and hands at the gunpowder disaster in Leyden), so he eventually just put an end to the kingdom and made the Netherlands part of the French Empire.

After the final defeat of Napoleon and the end of the first French Empire, Great Britain and Prussia decided that there should be a strong, independent country on the northern border of France. Prussia wanted to incorporate the new Dutch state into the German Confederation, but the Dutch and the British didn't really like that idea, so they eventually agreed to unify the northern and southern Netherlands into the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, with only Luxembourg (which then consisted of the later grand duchy as well as the Belgian province of the same name) becoming part of the German Confederation.

This arrangement worked for about a decade, but it became painfully obvious that the northern and southern Netherlands had grown apart since the Eighty Years' War. A lot.

Mainly thanks to religious differences between the Protestant north and the Catholic south, king William I's authoritarian reign and stubborn unwillingness to accept criticism, and the fact that the primarily French-speaking citizenry of the south was underrepresented in the kingdom's government, a revolution broke out in the south - the Belgian Revolution, which resulted in the formation of the kingdom of Belgium and the grand duchy of Luxembourg.

Since the fall of Napoleon's empire, the Dutch royal house has been the house of Orange-Nassau, and the colour orange is strongly connected with the Netherlands. Dutch sports teams play in orange, and the Dutch flag was originally orange, white and blue. The orange was changed to red because that's what the orange turned to after a few years—or at sea, a few months. After seeing a stadium full of Dutch football fans wearing orange kit while they wave red, white and blue flags, your eyes may never be quite the same again.

It stayed out of World War One, but was invaded by Germany in World War II (and its Indonesian colonies were invaded by the Japanese). Over 100,000 Jews were sent to the camps, Anne Frank among them.

The Netherlands today is a democratic constitutional monarchy. It used to be famous for a political system called "consociationalism", where the different religious and social groups of the country each had a veto over national policy, but this worked so well, the nation no longer needs it; this didn't keep the Dutch political scientist Arend Lijphart from advocating the implementation of similar systems in other conflict-torn countries (with varying degrees of success). Its former prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende resembled Harry Potter, except for completely lacking the ability to get out of scrapes (besides his bout with necrotizing fasciits, which he thankfully survived).

The Netherlands used to have a large colonial empire, with the largest and most notable colony being the Dutch East Indies, i.e. Indonesia. Another very important one, even though it was lost to the British in the Wars of the French Revolution, was the Cape Colony in South Africa. To this day more people speak Dutch-derived Afrikaans as their first or second language in the Republic of South Africa than any other of the eleven official languages of that country.

Large ethnic groups in the Netherlands from the former colonies are Indonesians (for a large part Ambonese), Chinese and Surinams (which consists of descendants of the people who were employed in the colony there).

The Ambonese sided with the Dutch government during the "Politionele Acties" (the euphemism for the Indonesian war of independence) in return for an independent state. The resulting treatment by the government resulted in protests by the Ambonese youth in the 60s and 70s, culminating in several hostage situations. This is still a lingering sore spot among the older generations, the younger people are quite happy to live here and only support the retaking of Ambon in spirit.

The Chinese are a mixed bag of descendants of people who got stuck here during the depression in the 1930s, former workers from the colonies, people who sought political asylum and people who came here seeking their fortune. They are the "great unknowns" despite being here for over 70 years now and having set up a lot of successful businesses. Their number is actually unknown due to their insular nature.

The Surinam people are mostly stereotyped as people from African descent, which is true for the most part, but there's also other ethnic groups. Hindus, Chinese workers and Javanese People were also a common sight in the colony and some of them came over when the colony gained its independence. There is additionally a large group of Indonesian people that has lived in the Netherlands for generations, most prominently in The Hague.

A strong Jewish subculture first appeared in Amsterdam in the 1600's, as Holland was one of the first European nations to openly welcome people of different religions, particularly Portuguese Jews and French Huguenots. The modern Dutch Jewish culture can mostly be found in Amsterdam, with Rotterdam as a close second.

The present-day Netherlands has a large Muslim population, though the majority of them are the descendants of Turkish and Moroccan guest workers rather than immigrants from the former colonies. Religious and social tensions are almost exclusively focused on Turkish and Moroccan labour immigrants, who were supposed to just stay a few years and help the ailing textile industry. It was originally felt that they didn't need to learn the language, since that would only encourage them to stay. Nowadays, the heavy industries are gone but the low-education labour immigrants are still there.

The Netherlands also has a "homegrown" linguistic minority in the Province of Frisia (also called West Frisia by foreignersnote  because East and North Frisia are in Germany). Frisian, which is spoken there and on the North Sea coast and islands of Schleswig-Holstein, is the West Germanic language most closely related to Old English.

A founding member of The European Union and NATO, it is also home to the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the latter also being the origin of the famous Hague Conventions.

Amsterdam is the largest city and capital. However, the Queen lives in The Hague, Parliament meets in The Hague, the courts and Embassies are also all in The Hague. Rotterdam houses the largest port of Europe and is therefore an important center of commerce in the Netherlands. These cities, together with Utrecht and smaller towns in between, form a large urban area called the Randstad. It has more than 7 million inhabitants.

As of April 30, 2013, The Netherlands' monarch is King Willem-Alexander.

Fiction set in the Netherlands (also see Dutch Media and Dutch Series):
The Dutch flag
The flag's red, white and blue colors have been used since the 16th century and was formalized in 1937. Originally the red stripe was to be orange, in honor of Prince William I "the Silent" of Orange, leader of the anti-Spanish La Résistance that triggered the Eighty Years' War. At the time, however, the orange dye often turned red, thus subsequent versions of the flag adopted red, though a recent tradition adds a small orange pennant above the flag, symbolizing the Dutch people's allegiance to the House of Orange, still the ruling family of the Netherlands.note 
——
Statler: Nederland. Wat vind je er nu van? note 
Waldorf: Het is koud, nat en druk. De mensen mopperen, zijn onbeschoft en stinken naar kaas. note 
Statler: Ja! Ik voel me er helemaal thuis! note 
Beiden: Do-ho-ho-ho-hoh!

NepalImageSource/MapsNew Jersey
LuxembourgUsefulNotes/EuropeAustria

alternative title(s): Holland
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