Following the US election craze I figured it would be fun to cover the Dutch elections which will be in a couple of months. I will write this with 2 audiences in mind: first the reactionary foreigner who has an interest in international politics yet his knowledge about Holland does not go much further than knowing that the weed in Amsterdam is pretty good. Second is my fellow Dutchman who know that weed in Amsterdam is overrated but who perhaps have not yet realised the clusterfuck that Dutch democracy is. Or perhaps they have realised exactly that it is a clusterfuck and are looking for a place to discuss. Let us dive right in.
First things first. The name. Domestically we call our country Nederland which translates to the Netherlands, but internationally the name of our richest province has stuck best – Holland. I will use this name when I refer to the country.
Now let’s take a look at geography.
Situated on the North-Western tip of continental Europe, Holland has always been an area of forests and soggy marshlands. That is until crafty Dutchmen discovered a way to drain the water using dykes and windmills and so amongst others created an entire new province (Flevoland) and turned a sea into a lake (the IJssellake, formerly known as the Southernsea).
Holland covers 34.000 flat square km and houses 17 million people of which 13 million white Dutch people and 4 million foreigners. Foreigners are a diverse mix of Turks, Moroccans, Indonesians, Asians, Africans and now Syrians. Many people on a small piece of land.
12 provinces make up Holland, represented by different colours on the map. North-Holland and South-Holland are the most relevant internationally. Here one finds the biggest cities: Rotterdam, through which the Rhine flows into the sea, the Hague, where politicians reside, and Amsterdam, cultural capital of Holland known for its weed and prostitutes.Together with Utrecht these cities and their surrounding areas make up a conglomerate or megalopolis that houses 7 million people including most of the elite. The Dutch call this area the Randstad or City’s edge.
Leaving the Randstad we find the more rural provinces; Zeeland, Noord-Brabant, Limburg, Gelderland, Overijssel, Drenthe, Groningen and Friesland. Generally speaking people below the Rhine are more social and fun to hang out with – carnaval is a big deal in Noord-Brabant and Limburg – although they are slightly less trustworthy. Dutch in the Eastern provinces near the German border are sober people: ‘just be normal then you are crazy enough’. Up North the people are more proud and especially Frysians in Friesland have a distinctive style which usually impresses me.
An easy way to think of Holland is to think of a country where every square meter has been designated a purpose. The Dutch like to keep busy and in keeping themselves busy they have built stuff wherever stuff can be built. Nature has been boxed in and designated ‘nature’, signs have been put up everywhere so no one ever gets lost and legislation is needed for every shed you want to build. We like to make sure everything is in its right place.