I’m by no means an expert on Dutch geography and culture, but I’ve learned quite a bit about this fair country in the last year and a half. One thing I’m continually asked is, ‘What is the difference between Holland and the Netherlands?’ ‘Are they the same?’ ‘Are they different?’ ‘Are they related at all?’
These are reasonable questions, because it actually is quite confusing. It seems in school we are mostly taught to identify Holland as the country of tulips, windmills, bicycles, and wooden clogs. And if you’re really lucky in elementary school like I was, you’ll get to learn about Sinterklaas, Zwarte Piet, and wooden clogs filled with presents and goodies! But I think that was mostly because we had a little Dutch girl in our class who had recently moved to the US. Thanks, Annalisa!
I’m here to answer these burning questions. And more.
The Netherlands is a country – the country where I live. Indeed the country of tulips, windmills, bicycles and wooden clogs. It is a small country on the North Sea – less than twice the size of New Jersey – bordered by Belgium and Germany. The Dutch are the native people of the Netherlands. The Dutch are not natives of Denmark, as many of my friends have mistakenly assumed. That would be the Danish. The country has a temperate, maritime climate – mild summers and moderate winters. It typically doesn’t get hellishly hot or bone-chillingly cold. With mostly flat terrain, over one-fourth of the country is below sea level. Dikes are a very important part of the geographical make-up and a big reason the country exists today.
The country is made up of twelve provinces. These twelve provinces are the local municipalities that deal with regional matters. I suppose you can liken them to states as in the US, though they are not entirely similar. The twelve provinces in order of most populated to least are: South Holland, North Holland, North Brabant, Gelderland, Utrecht, Overijssel, Limburg, Fryslan, Groningen, Drenthe, Flevoland, and Zeeland.
South Holland and North Holland together comprise the ‘Holland’ that we’ve always thought of as a country. Being the most populous provinces and shining examples of Dutch landscape and culture, I believe, has led Holland to become synonymous with the Netherlands for many (but don’t quote me on that). While Holland is certainly not a country, the names are often used interchangeably. I always assumed this irked the Dutch, but really they don’t seem too put off by it at all. For the most part, they’re fine being identified as ‘Holland.’
And no, I don’t live in Holland. I live in the province of Utrecht. Even still, we have a tremendous amount of bicycles, tulips in springtime, wooden windmills, and plenty of Dutch charm.
I’m also often asked what the differences are between the Netherlands and the USA. There are lots. Lots and lots. But there are also a number of similarities. I’m working on that post, I promise.
I’ll leave you with this interesting, though somewhat random bit of information. I stumbled across this very neat website that compares your home country and life to what it would be like to live in other countries around the globe. As Americans we’re always taught to believe that we have it so very good and that other countries around the globe envy our lives. I’m not saying that’s not true in some places, because it most certainly is for many, but in my short time here I’ve found that there are plenty of countries that have it as good (if not better than) we do. I think this website is really eye-opening. Check out the comparison I did for the USA/Netherlands:
With all that said, I’d probably be willing to increase my chances of being murdered and/or going to prison at least a hair if we could get some Taco Bells and Targets up in this joint.