General Misconceptions


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The Netherlands in figgers, details and measures


Did you hear about this (true or false):

Copenhagen is the capital city of Holland
Holland is well below sea level
Everybody lives in wind mills and are walking on wooden shoes (cloags, cloggs or cloggies)
A boy saved the land by putting his thumb in a hole in a dike (Hans Brinkers)
Everybody in Holland speaks English
Everybody is multilinguistic
Amsterdam is a sess-pool
Hookers are legal in the Netherlands
Everybody must be smoking pot and hash over there
Holland and the Netherlands are different names for the same country
Do you know our son Peter, he lives in Frankfurt?
Holland is one of the most liberal countries around
Just that spot on the map?
Such a small country does not have any Influence in the world
Big, not great achievements
What remains? (final remarks)

Before you read on: these remarks are not meant to accuse you, to offend you or to make fun of you or whatever. They where gathered by personal experience during travel to various countries and talks with lots of people. So please: just read and be amused or surprised. In both ways you will be prepared next time you meet someone from these areas.


Copenhagen is the capital city of Holland

Not true: the capital city of the Netherlands is Amsterdam (although the government is located in The Hague or Den Haag).
Copenhagen is the capital city of Denmark, located some 800 kilometers away from the Netherlands to the east north-east. For some strange reason especially Americans tend to think that it's the capital of Holland. The reason for this misconception I didn't find so far. Suggestions are welcome!.

Since 'Holland' is internationally the same designator for the Netherlands, this is not the case. Amsterdam it is, my dear!


Holland is well below sea level

This is partly true: about one third (33 percent) of the country is below sealevel: big dikes keep the seawater where it is supposed to be: outside. Also sluices and waterpumps get rid of the excess water coming in through rain and rivers. Since the sea water level during low tide is a bit below the water level at the coastline most water can just be spilled during some hours. During heavy rainfall periods big pumps have to assist these sluices. Before the electrical pumps were available man used windmills to get the water out. Also most of the reclaimed land was claimed by just pumping the water out for years. The current airport near Amsterdam called Schiphol Airport is in the middle of a former big lake. In general the altitude varies from minus seven meters to minus one meters from sea level. So imagine what happens if someone forgets to close the gates in time: wet feet at the least, drowning for millions.

Also large portions of the current country used to be sea: Flevoland (the 12th provence, since 1985?) is reclaimed from sea and mostly 8 metres below sealevel. Of the total country about 10-30 percent is reclaimed land, depending on the definitions. Two-third of the country would be wet every spring-tide if man hadn't been around here and put lengthy dikes in. 

Everybody lives in wind mills and is walking on wooden shoes (cloggs/cloggies)

Not true: although Holland is internationally famous as the country of wind mills and cloggies (wooden shoes), most windmills were teared down   in the 18th and 19th century. Only some 1000 were saved, mostly for economical reasons. From the 19th century onwards the belief in preserving history saved the remaining wind mills. One of those is located less than a mile away from my home. Mostly it's a beacon of history (tours are available), but also some grain is still beeing grinded here for making some bread, but just for old-times sake.
Some people do live in these windmills but it's not the general way to live in wind mills only.

And about the wooded shoes: in the old days lots of people walked on these cloggies, since they were cheaper than leather shoes, much warmer, safe to wear (keeping your toes from being flattened) and easy to clean. Nowadays just some people still use them, especially while working in gardens, roadwork etcetera etcetera. These cloggies are mostly black, blue or unpainted. The ones you normally buy in tourist shops are mostly lacquered and yellow. The small tourist versions are more expensive compared to the real ones. Real ones in the right shop you can buy for about 12 euros and up. 


A boy saved the land by putting his thumb in a hole in a dike

There is an old story telling this: a boy by the name of Hans Brinkers drove on his bicycle and discovered a leak in the dike. By putting his thumb in the hole he saved the dike and the people behind this waterkeeper. Especially people from the States heard about this small boy who went alongside and discovered a small hole in the dike, leaking the water from the sea, theatening the sea-claimed lands. This boy saw the danger and saved, according to the story thousends of people by putting his thumb in the dike and this way stopping the leakage of the water.
You don't believe this? Well his statue is located in Harlingen (no no not in Texas, but in Holland!) on top of the big dike protecting the city of Harlingen against the evil seawater. Standing there and looking at the sea and right after this behind you at the city and it's houses you notice what failure of such a dike would mean. And that's more than wet feet. Located
near the ferry terminal, where ferries leave for Vlieland and Terschelling (two islands about 25 off the coast).


Everybody in Holland speaks English

Since English is taught at primary school starting at 10 years of age it is save to say that almost everybody has knowledge of the language. Most schoolchildren will get English classes upto the moment they leave school. And of course: if you don't use it, you'll loose it. But both English/American spoken movies and TV-series keep up the language for most people. And most regions get a lot of tourists, so English could be considered to be the third language of the country. Third? Yes, in the north people also speak a language, different from the Dutch language: Friesian (also written as 'Frisian'), called 'Fries' in Dutch and 'Frysk' in the Fri(e)sian language. More about Frisian.

Much more info about the Dutch language can be found at this interesting site:


Everybody is multilinguistic

True: besides English (starting nowadays around the age of 10) most people will get German and French classes. Although the ability is more like a basic skill in the case of French, about 60 percent of the people speak four languages. The people in the north even five (Frisian). Multi-language ability is a must for most tourist-related and sales-related work, so anyone working in a bank, restaurant or any kind of desk is bound to speak a language you may be able to speak. This is a major difference with a country like Germany, where more tourists are likely to speak German, so the need for foreign language is not so big over there. Also they dub all American series and movies with strange German noise, where Holland subtitles them and keeps the original sound. So picking some English up is easier for Dutch people. And the original sound of series and movies helps you when watching TV or going to a movie..... only remember since people are expected to read the subtitles Dutch people sometimes do not remain silent during series (you can read the text, can't you!).

The Frisian language by the way can also be found in parts of the north of Germany (Ost-Friesland and Nord-Friesland), altogether spoken by some 3 million people in totally 15 different dialects. The Frisian language is related to the Angel-Saksian language family like English:

Grine tsiis - Green cheese (pronunciation virtually the same), Dutch: 'groene kaas' is pronounced quite differently
Kai - Key (pronunciation quite close), Dutch: 'sleutel'
smoke - smoke (pronunciation almost 100 percent, Dutch: 'roken'

Because of the relations with the Angel-Saksian language family Frisian language is also closer to Scandinavian languages like Danish, but mostly only the written form.


Amsterdam is a sess-pool

Mostly true, although dependent on your definition of sess-pool. Since hookering and brothels are legal in the Netherlands, these activities can be found in most larger cities. And since this kind of tolerance always seems to concentrate in the capitol cities, Amsterdam is no exception: two large red-light districts offer all kinds of business: peep-shows, stage shows, window-shopping, streetsales etcetera etcetera.

And since use of softdrugs like weed, marihuana, stuff, joints are also legal in Holland you can switch from windowshopping to smoking pot in one of the smoke-cafes or just buy some in the shop and take it home. Only harddrugs (heroin, coke/cocaine) are illegal, but possession for just personal use is tolerated in most cases.

And smoking is legal, even for Americans, as long as you don't inhale! Taken from a presidential reply.

NEW: Heard this one lately? Drug trafficers spotted on Schiphol Airport (Amsterdam) with less than 2 kilos of cocaine were released the same day in the end of 2001. Not even their pasport were taken in. This was because at the airport there are not enough cells to hold them all. BUT: did you know they got a receipt from the Custom officers stating their drugs were seized, so they could prove to their bosses they were captured and did not steal the drugs themselves.

Hookers are legal in the Netherlands

Also true: most hookers pay taxes (although most try to pay as little as possible), the brothels are checked by the fire department and city authorities, doctors visit these places professionally (seen from who's side?) etc etc.

And since lots of people wonder about prices and so on, a small average price list (taken from documentation of course!). During rush hours prices increase a bit (evenings/nights), but during the slow hours a discount upto of 30% is possible. 

straight job: US$ 34 or Euro
blow job: US$22 or Euro
Greek: US$45 - 68  or Euro
French (full program): US$45 - 90 or Euro
streethooker: ranging from US$11 or Euro (if in great need of dope) to US$22 or Euro), plus room charge if desired

Prices in clubs etcetera bound to be higher, a common trick is also a high price for drinks and ladies try to get something to drink off your back. If succeeded they will order the very expensive house-champagne and zip your dollars away. They of course get commision. You have been warned, so don't complain afterwards when the champaign costs something like 10 or 20 bucks a glass.

Everybody must be smoking pot and hash over there

A true misconception: although smoking of dope, hash, pot or marihuana is allowed in Holland, the statistics point out the number of users of those softdrugs as percentage of the total population is lower in Holland when comparing these with the populations of countries with harsh & strict regulations and sentences on this (countries ;ike France, Germany, US). Of course the forbidden fruits are always sweeter, so that may be the cause...... since the stuff is readily available in cofeeshops the excitement of doing something you are forbidden to do, is no longer such a appealing thing to do. Someone I know has told her son he could smoke a joint in her home if he ever wanted one. She would even buy it for him, just tom let him experience it. After years he has never asked for it. Same thing applies for smoking cigarettes....

I do believe it is better to advice and inform than to forbid and only punish. 

Holland and the Netherlands are different names for the same country

Almost true: internationally Holland is used in lots of cases. Originally it is just one of the seven (nowadays twelve!) provinces that joint to become the Kingdom of the Netherlands (Netherlands means 'lowlands', since big parts reside below the average sea level). In the modern country the Netherlands there are two provinces with Holland in the name: Noord-Holland (north Holland) and Zuid-Holland (south Holland).
People from the north especially when called to be from Holland they will deny it and say they are from either Friesland/Frysl^an or just the Netherlands. They really make a big difference between Holland and the Netherlands.


Do you know our son Peter, he lives in Frankfurt?

When looking at the map of the world it is pretty hard to find the Netherlands. Even the map of Europe reserves only a few square millimeters for this country. Probably that's why people from other continents sometimes misjudge one aspect: they ask for instance whether you know their son in Frankfurt. Last time I checked Frankfurt was in Germany by the way (probably fed by the confusion of Dutch=language of the Netherlands and Deutsch=German for German) and located about 400 kilometers away.

Although the country the Netherlands is very small people tend to forget it's one of the highest populated countries of the world. Just imagine half of the population of Canada (1999: 30 million) living in a region of 100 by 300 kilometers (not even the size of the province of Ontario). The Netherlands is almost as as twice the state of New Jersey, with 16 million people living here. It is quite hard to find a place where you don't come across another town: driving on a road the nearest town is at most some 10 or 15 minutes away. Taking your car on a quiet Sunday morning you can drive in three to four hours from end to the other. From my village in the north it takes three hours driving to reach Belgium and only 1.5 hours to drive to Germany. In about five hours you will have reached the border between Denmark and Germany, of the border between Belgium and France. Seven hours of driving will bring you to Poland, sisteem hours to Spain or Italy to complete the picture.

And each country has it's own language (except for Belgium: Dutch/Flamand & French), currency, license plates and a need for a passport. So: NO I DON'T KNOW PETER FROM FRANKFURT!
In 2001 most nations of the EU joined the EURO currency, so nowadays money exchange is not needed anymore for most countries. 

Some population figures:

Country Population Size comparison
The Netherlands 16.2 million State of New Jersey=100%
Belgium 10 million 80% (so a bit smaller)
Denmark 5.5 million 130% (so a bit bigger)
Germany 80 million 1200% including former Eastern Germany
United Kingdom 60 million 900%
Canada 29 million 2500% ?
USA 220 million
(including 2 million in prisons)

And to compare: the whole of the EC (European Community) right now (2002): 320 million.

Holland is one of the most liberal countries around

Well, though open for discussion (as everything seems to be in Holland) I think the remark is TRUE. A certain Steve O from the Jackass TV series came to Holland in March 2003 trying to fight censorship. He wanted to start off in Holland and went straight from the airport to one of the many coffeshops and made a selection of the grass offered there and smoked some. After this he went to the TVshow he was invited to (Kevin Masters) and appeared clearly stoned on screen (which is OK), to talk about their film (with stuff that could not be shown on MTV). 

He tried to get censored when he turned around and started dropping his pants to show his butt. The host encouraged him to do that, since it is allowed on Dutch TV. Steve was a bit disappointed and offered to use a stun-gun on his private parts, but was pursuaded to just staple his ballsack to his left leg. The TVshow was broadcasted without any censorship (it was not live) and no trouble. Finally Steve O admitted he might have started off in the wrong country in his crusade against censors.....

Some thirtyfive years ago the first completely naked lady appeared on Dutch public TV. Twentyfive years ago Sjef van Oekel appeared in his series about a peepshow, with all action filmed and brought to you by PBS. Visiting people from Canada, USA and UK have literally stated: this must something like pay-TV or the Playboy channel, while watching 'normal' commercials with naked ladies and sometimes males at seven nights...... Only Danish TV appears to do a bit more (not worse!), like one commercial where males and females in a sauna are pictured (no towels) and a guy is peeping to the female department, later on resting the newspaper that covers all on a bodily part.

Together with the liberal attitude towards softdrugs and easy policy towards harddrug users (NOT to harddrug industry), free drinking of alcohol on streets and in cars (although limited in some areas; though drink&drive is prosecuted), free speech of mind, free flag burning if you like (please use a non-toxic fabric), liberty seems to be one of the things people of Holland have plenty of. BUT we have a lot of laws, in some areas way to much, for almost every area of activity. Try opening a cafe and you will drown in all the rules you have to follow.....

Just that spot on the map?

No, the Kingdom of the Netherlands (Dutch Koninkrijk der Nederlanden) really consists of three parts:

the part in Europe most people think of (Nederland/Holland), to be found west of Germany and east of England: the odd curve of the coast with the tiny spots (islands).
a collection of five islands: Curaçao, St Eustachius, St. Maarten, Bonaire....... in the Carribean
the island of Aruba (separate status since about ten years), also in the Caribbean
more details and figgers about the Netherlands, click here

The Caribbean islands are the last part of former colonies. Most of those have become independent from the former colonizer the Netherlands:

Indonesia ('Nederlands Indië') 1948
Irian Jaya (New-Guinea) 1961, under pressure of Kennedy
Suriname 1975, under pressure of the Dutch political party PvdA
New Amsterdam = New York (founded by Dutchman Peter Stuyvesant) 18th century

The Netherlands were very active on the world seas during the 16th, 17th and 18th century: with a fleet of merchant ships, a big fleet of war ships the country went to war several times to 'protect' the economic interests. With England there have been several major battles. Also with the Portuguese and Spanish navy, mostly in the Far East for control over the different locations over there.

Decades the Dutch were the only ones allowed to trade with the Japanese. And trading they did: even slavery was picked up as a main trade during long periods and many Africans died or were captured, transported and sold as slaves all over the world.

Before 1841 the Netherlands also included the current Belgium territory. After a war of independance Belgium went it's own way.

Such a small country does not have any Influence in the world.....

Well, when we consider the population of the Netherlands is about half the size of Canada, at one time the Dutch empire was from South America through the Carribean, north to New-Amsterdam (now New York), down again to South Africa, followed by parts of Australia, back north to Indonesia one could be tempted to think this small country had it's influence in the world one day. 

Even nowadays some influence can still be seen: a lot of Russian nautical names are still Dutch words, a lot of countries have a flag nowadays that was derived from the Dutch flag. Around 1572 the Dutch 'Orangen' flag was the first bannered flag. This bannered flag was originally orange-white-blue. Later on the orange banner was converted to a red banner. 

The current French flag was designed during the French Revolution (1789) from the Dutch design. The French probably were lying on their sides, since the have put the banners vertically. The Russian flag was assigned by Czar Peter the Great in 1697, after many visits to Holland, where he learned much about boatbuilding and sailing. The former Yugoslavic countries also adapted this style of flag. The South African flag was the same as the original Dutch flag until 1944, ever since 1652, with additions of the Orange-Freestate, Transvaal and Great Brittain in the white banner, representing the four areas united in the south African republic. And closer to our home: Luxembourg also uses the same style of flag, with the blue being a slight lighter color, as a memory to the time Luxembourg was also ruled by the Dutch kings. Only when no king was available, the Queen of Holland was not allowed to rules over Luxembourg, according to the Luxembourg laws. 

Nowadays the Netherlands are participating in different peace-keeping operations through-out the world and has done so for many years. Together with some other small countries this has been a contribution to the world community. Not always in success, like in Bosnia though. But still politicians are always on the look-out where a contribution is needed, either in back-fill operations or in operations in the operating theaters of the world. 

Big, not great achievements

A few of the big achievements of the Dutch in history and today's world:

The Dutch were probably the worst slave traders in the 1700 and 1800 hundreds. Traders by birth they bought African prisoners from African people (most were captured and sold off als slaves by fellow Africans) and shipped them to the new world. The Dutch were very rough on the slaves and made big prfits on them, not shy from some loss :(
The world XTC production is for more than 55 percent based in the Netherlands. Estimates from drug fighting agencies is that of all XTC found in the USA more than 70 percent has come from the Netherlands. Probable causes of this, is perhaps the lenient punishments for fabrication and sale of these harddrugs (XTC = HARDDRUG!), especially compared to other countries. Only nowadays the extradiction of suspects to countries like the USA seem to scare some production facilities away again.
Holland is, according to CIA reports: 'major European producer of illicit amphetamine and other synthetic drugs; important gateway for cocaine, heroin, and hashish entering Europe; major source of US-bound ecstasy; large financial sector vulnerable to money laundering'. Not to be proud of, but true 
The Dutch have brought you the city of New York, caled New Amsterdam at the time, founded by Peter Stuyvesant (nowadays mostly remembered as a cigarette brand). Later on the current NY was lost to England. Harlem is named after the Dutch city of HAARLEM, New Brunswick after BRUNSWIJK.
Cigarettes: besides being a large producer of XTC Holland is also a major exporter of tobacco products like cigarettes, although no tobacco-plant growing is present in NL....all material is imported for the proces and after production exported again.
Interference with all world politics........the Netherlands like to be involved in world politics, so our political leaders were at the birthing stage of the European Community, are offering troops and ships whenever the UN asks for them (preferably for non-combatting tasks I am ashamed to say), tries to be the leader of the biggest of the small countries of the EU (read that again ! :) 

What remains?

Not much one could say: the old conquered lands have almost all been given back (or were lost by activities of freedom fighters). The Dutch must have been very bad for Americans: nowadays most references to Dutch are quiet negative:

Dutch courage (being chicken, Dutch 'held op sokken')
Dutch treat (each pays his own part)

but sometimes positive (for health purpose, not for pleasure alone)

Double Dutch (use both condom & anticonception pil), 
    thanx go to Cindy for this one



Heard a good one lately, perhaps a general misconception or a nice joke about this subject. You can email it to the address posted on this page

Some reactions:

Your site is cool!!! If I get new jokes about the
Nederlands I will send them to you!
ciao!   Ilaria, Italy

I was reading your pagina and I thing is a very good one. You clarify very well certain ideas and details about your country. I write you from spain, I was some years ago up there and I´d like very much. Eva Hería


More information about Holland in the English language, for expats of soon-to-be expats can be found at:    

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Datum laatste aanpassing: 04 August 2003 18:43:56
Date last update: Monday, January 05, 2004 19:54:09

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