I’ve been spending a lot of my time in the Netherlands lately so I thought I’d find out a bit more about this small, but very robust country. I promise not to write about bikes in Amsterdam or Gouda cheese. In no specific order, these are my top quirky facts:
1. If you know me a bit, food is always a solid starting point. There’s a few popular American dishes and desserts of Dutch heritage. Cookie (from koekje), waffle (wafel or wavel from an 18th century baked crisp cake) or coleslaw (koolsla, literally a cabbage salad). Booze oozes fun and it’s also an old dutch word describing heavy drinking. The Dutch are also famous for their Advocaat (a sweet mix of eggs, sugar and brandy) and gin (that’s short for Dutch juniper - genever - a berry which the alcohol was flavoured with).
2. Carrying on with a bit of linguistics, there’s a lot of sailing words that English took from the Dutch: buoy, deck, pump, bow, skipper, yacht. The Dutch were prolific with maritime expeditions in the 17th century and have since then shared their rich nautical dictionary with the rest of the world.
3. I started with a few popular American foods that are in fact Dutch, but there’s even more US-Dutch connections. It was the Dutch who founded New York and it was initially called New Amsterdam, only later on sold to the British and renamed. A lot of current NY streets and districts are loose translations of old colonial, Dutch names: Broadway (Brede weg meaning broad road), Wall Street (from the Wal that marked the northern border of New Amsterdam and the site of an actual wall), Brooklyn (Breukelen), Bronx (from the name of a…Swedish immigrant who lived in the Dutch colony at the time, Jonas Bronck) or Coney island from Konijneneiland (literally rabbits’ island). And many, many more. I could honestly write a separate post about it.
4. The word boss comes from the dutch bass, which referred to the captain of a ship in the 17thcentury. That sounded better than the English master, which implied slave subordinates and had bad connotations.
5.The first stock market in the world opened in 1602 in Amsterdam. It was to help trade the goods brought in by ships from Asia, Africa and the Americas and obtain financial support for future expeditions by allowing investors buy into shares of the produce that would arrive on return. Also worth mentioning the famous tulip market here (yes, people speculated on the tulip bulbs back in the days). Mind you, tulips love the Dutch wet soil, but were actually imported from Turkey
6. Since the 16th century, the Netherlands has had a large Jewish community, which was always heavily involved in business and trading. Amsterdam’s nickname Mokka is also from the Jewish word meaning a city.
7. The main street names along the canals in Amsterdam used to indicate who should live where, so Keizersgracht only for the Emperor (and his entourage I suppose), Prinsengracht fit for a Prince and his gang, Herengracht for the Lords.
8. Why so much orange? From the Dutch King William of Orange who…also supported protestants in Northern Ireland at the time (hence the popularity of the orange colour in both these places)
9. The Dutch like their houses clean and happily keep the windows curtain-free for you to shamelessly have a peak… The word for clean in Dutch is actually the same as beautiful: shoon
10. Schiphol, the name of the airport I am a frequent visitor to, means bed of ships. Story goes that after they dried out the area around there and made it into a polder, there were apparently lots of wrecked ships left at the bottom. More than a quarter of the Netherlands lies below sea level and Schiphol airprot is around 4m under
11. Scheveningen – the word they used to check in the WWII if you’re Dutch. I still can’t pronounce it, I’m not Dutch.
12. The Dutch did a lot of colonising during their 17thcentury trading ventures. To name a few places they conquered: Indonesia (hence a lot of Indonesian food joints around in Netherlands), Curacao, Suriname , Dutch Ceylon/Sri Lanka, Tobago, Brasil, South Africa, Ghana, they even went as far as Japan and Australia.
13. Dutch are the tallest people on the globe. Apparently, mix of DNA, nutrition and good welfare, plus milk & cheese….yes, that includes Gouda.
14. A large amount of buildings in the country are entirely constructed on poles as the soil is a mix of unstable clays and fen. They used to be wooden poles mostly, which were stuck roughly 12 meters underground. Amsterdam Central train station is set on such wooden poles, but buildings nowadays are usually constructed on concrete and steel ones.
15. Dutch inventions could be a long list: CD, DVD or blu ray to name a few (well, with a help of Sony:). The Netherlands is always at the forefront of implementing new technologies and among others I love the fact that at Schiphol airport I don’t have to take anything out from my hand luggage at security when my stuff goes through the machine (that includes liquids and laptops). London, please keep up!