Sunday, March 8, 2009

A-Z of Dutch Culture

A couple of years ago I tasked my students to come up with an A-Z of British cultural icons after I heard about the Icons of England project I've had a lot of time on my hands this month (read = I've not done much that's blogworthy!), I decided to set myself the same task...but for Dutch cultural icons. So, here goes...


Now part of Heineken, the Amstel brewery was named after the river which lends its name to both the beer and the city of Amsterdam itself. Which came first? The city or the beer?


Quite simply they're everywhere and no more more so than in my adopted town:

Percentage of journeys by bicycle in Dutch cities: 34%
Percentage of journeys by bicycle in Groningen: 45%

Canal Skating

The Dutch can get quite excited about life when the canals freeze! Much debate took place this year as to whether the 'elfstedentocht' might take place. This is a speed skating race which takes place on the waterways surrounding eleven cities in the northern province of Friesland. However, despite the big freeze, the ice did not meet the minimum 15cm thickness this year.

Drug Policy

The Netherlands is the only Western country where the purchase of small amounts of cannabis is de-criminalized. The stuff sold in the Dutch 'coffeeshops' is also stronger than found elsewhere. The average concentration of THC in the cannabis has increased from 9% 1998 to 18% 2005.


Loved by children - perhaps because you can make play-dough from the rind - this relatively tasteless Dutch cheese was once, due to its easy portability, the world's most popular cheese (between the 14th and 18th centuries).

Friesian cows

These cows don't 'moo', they 'moe'! The distinctive black and white cows, also known as Holsteins, are the world's biggest dairy producers.

Golden Age

The Golden Age was a period in Dutch history, around the 17th century, in which Dutch trade, science, and art were among the most acclaimed in the world. The country was seriously wealthy...mainly due to the efforts of the Dutch East India Company - possibly the world's first-ever multinational corporation.


Otherwise known as chocolate sprinkles, jimmies or hundreds-and-thousands, 'hagelslag' is often served on bread as a breakfast treat. Named after its resemblance to a weather phenomenon prominent in the Netherlands, hail (hagel). The Dutch apparently eat about 14 million kilos of 'hagelslag' per year on about 850 million slices of bread. Not bad going for a population of roughly 16.5 million.


This former Dutch colony still has strong ties with the Netherlands and continues to add spice, colour and flavour to the culinary offerings of it's former colonial power which became very rich as a result of Indonesia's spicy offerings. It's really amazing what a bit of nutmeg can do - from small seeds and all that!


Thought to be the original gin. This strong alcholic spirit (with around 42% alcohol) is made from juniper berries and was first sold as a medicine in the 16th Century.


The Dutch word for 'clogs'. Roughly three million clogs are made annually in the Netherlands. About half are produced for the tourist market and the rest are used as protective footwear by industrial workers - they pass all European safety standards apparently!


Known as 'drop' to the Dutch who are the world's number one munchers of these black sweets. The average Cloggie is said to consume four and a half pounds of the stuff each year.


A Yiddish nickname given to Amsterdam - a city which has piles! Amsterdam is entirely built on piles, huge stakes driven into the ground. The Centraal Station, for example, has 6000 piles holding it up.


The Dutch language. Officialy spoken by 22 million people as a native language and around 5 million people as a second language. It's also a parent language to other creole languages such as Afrikaans, spoken in South Africa and Namibia.


Ever wondered why the Dutch wear orange rather than the colours of their national flag (red, white and blue) at football matches? It all boils down to the fact their royal family are from the House of Orange. It is said that during World War II Dutch housewives often made sure that their laundry was hung out to dry in a particular order: something orange, something red, something white, and something blue…


There is (apparently!) a saying: God created the world, but the Dutch created Holland. The Dutch are experts in reclaiming and protecting land from water, particularly their own. They are so well-practiced in building polders that their skills have been employed in constructing the artificial palm-tree shaped islands in Dubai.

Queen's Day

For over 100 years, the Netherlands has had a queen on its throne. The incumbent queen is Queen Beatrix who has her official birthday on 30th April each year. The Dutch go a bit bonkers on this day and everyone and everything turns orange while selling their wares on street stalls as the country turns into one giant flea market.

Royal Delft

Royal Delft is the leading producer of Delftware, blue and white pottery made in and around the town of Delft. You can have your own Delftware plate decorated for a mere snip at 225 euros a pop.


A stroopwafel is a waffle-type biscuit made from two thin layers of baked batter with a caramel-like syrup filling in the middle. Originating from Gouda they are proof that the town is made of more than just cheese.


Not Dutch...but often claimed to be Turkish in origin. In the 17th Century Tulipomania reached fever pitch and three rare tulip bulbs changed hands for the equivalent of the price of a house.


The Dutch word for onion and the most difficult 'easy' word in Dutch to me!


Vla is basically custard and is a very popular pud in the Netherlands. It comes in a variety of flavors such as vanilla, chocolate, banana, raspberry, banana, and some with bits of fruit or chocolate chips mixed together with the vla. I'm particularly impressed by Dr Oetker's Paula variety, which is chocolate vla with small amounts of vanilla vla. The vla resembles the hide of a Freisian cow. All I can say is they must have very special cows working on Dr Oetker's farm.


Synonymous with the flatter than flat Dutch lanscape, windmills have to some extent built the country itself. As well as being used to mill grain, they were also used for land drainage as much of the Netherlands is below sea level. Schipol Airport, for example, is four metres below sea level. Nowadays, you are more likely to see modern energy-producing wind turbines in operation but there are still over 1000 operating traditional windmills turning their sails.


Yep...there's no holding back. Sex is everywhere. In the red light districts, in the newspapers, in the shop windows, and on the telly. The Dutch talk about it to the point where, quite frankly, it's almost unsexy! Still, they have the lowest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe so perhaps that's how they do it?


This letter doesn't really exist in Dutch. Instead, the letter 'j' tends to be pronounced in the same way as the English 'y'. My nerdy linguist friends will note the phoneme we use in English for the 'y' sound is /j/.


As I'm scaping the barrel on this one I've gone for the Dutch version of P.T.O...sadly this is a blog so you can' I better end there!