Why The Dutch Are Different: A Journey into the Hidden Heart of the Netherlands is a book about a country unlike any other. The Netherlands is one of the smallest nations in Europe but also one of the most intriguing: a place where prostitutes are entitled to sick pay and prisons are closing due to lack of demand. It is also profoundly misunderstood. Tourists visiting the Netherlands rarely leave Amsterdam, and many expats manage to live in the country for years without speaking a single of word of Dutch.
Travelling the length and breadth of the country, Ben Coates takes readers into the heart of his adopted country, going beyond the usual tourist attractions and cliches to explore what it is that makes the Dutch the way they are. He dresses as a tiger for Easter, gets drunk in a world-famous art gallery, has a picnic in a former concentration camp, finds Noah’s Ark near the North Sea, watches small children dress in blackface and makes new friends in Amsterdam’s famous Red Light District. He also uncovers the hidden secrets of Dutch history: a bloody war against the Spanish, a devastating famine in the 1940s, an ongoing battle to keep the water out, and the poisonous politics of the Dutch far right. Along the way, finds a country full of contrasts, where euthanasia is legal for children but being rude about the King could land you in jail. He also finds that the Dutch are not quite as liberal as they seem, with worries over economic crisis, crime and immigration leading them to abandon many of the tolerant policies which made their country famous. Packed with little-known facts, Why The Dutch Are Different blends travelogue, history and memoir to explore the past and future of a country which is changing fast.
Copies are available in most bookshops in the UK and the Netherlands, and selected other bookstores worldwide, as well as on Amazon and as an e-book. The Dutch translation of the book – Going Dutch: Nederland door de ogen van een Engelsman – is available in most bookshops in the Netherlands and Belgium, or via Bol.com
Read reviews of the book here
15 thoughts on “Why The Dutch Are Different”
Hi Ben, just want to say that I enjoyed your book very much and was all very recognasible for me as a Dutch woman living in the UK. Others are reading the book at the mo and a nonstop “yeah that is you alright” and ” ahh, that’s why you are different” is escaping their lips.
But thanks for writing it, it was a joy to read and have introduced it to the Dutchies in ‘ I am Dutch and living in the U.K.’ Facebook group,as a bit of Dutchness will make them very happy.
Groetjes, Carola van Dyke ( originally van Dijk but turned out to be unpronounceable for the Brits, haha)
I returned to Nederland to explore a parallel life that I may have lived had my parents decided not to emigrate to Australia when I was very young. At the time, the decision to emigrate was very much touch and go.
“Why the Dutch are Different” really helped fill the gaps in my understanding of the history and the psyche. And I often found myself smiling as I identified with many of the national traits. For me the book was a fascinating and enjoyable read.
Now my British-born other half has hijacked it and I am annoyed because I want to reread it. Only good books are ever reread.
And with “echt” Dutch forthrightness I would only add that my only disappointment with the book is that you did not share with your readers more about “the skinny Dutch girl”.
Inge (de Jong) Close
My wife for Xmas got me your book. I really enjoyed reading your book!! I like the way you describe things with a sense of humor. Yes, indeed, the Dutch are different!
This is one book that one should have
to really understand The Netherlands. I have been living here for almost nine years and now have three beautifull children and yes my wife is Dutch. All for love!!
It has been really a long while since i last finished reading a book so quickly! This book is a real page turner!
Thank you for sharing your experiences and thoughts, and I was pleasantly surprised at the number of Dutch inventions, exploits and the borrowed words without realizing the Dutch connection behind it.
One thing for sure, I would want to read this book again. If there is a part two to this book I will definitely buy it! Thank you Ben!
Hi Ben, I just finished reading your book which I very much enjoyed. You wear your scholarship light, but I note that your pages are sprinkled with facts and figures that must have taken you time and effort to look up. The result is both pleasing and instructive to read; congratulations.
However, in comparing your impressions of Nederland with my own, I’m obliged to admit that yours is the keener eye. I’ve been here far longer than you, but you have seen so much more than I have. Raised in London, I moved to Nijmegen in 1971 when I was 26. Never intended to stay until I ran into a skinny boy that I’m still with.
The only part of your book I didn’t warm to was your chapter on football (which I therefore skipped). Like you in your earlier phase, I have no time for the game. Or for any other sport, come to that. I like to think that one of these days the world will awaken from its obsession with such exercises in self-aggrandizement and finally grow up.
Are you going to write any more books? I’ll be keeping a look out for your name.
All success and best wishes, Lee Sallows
I am Dutch with Canadian blood. Have lived all over the world and come back to what I call HOLLAND. I sincerely believe there are not that many youngsters knowing as much about our country as you have written down. Good book, lots of humour and in depth. Bought a few to hand out to friends in Canada and the US and everyone likes it. Well done, so thanks for a good job.
Congratulations on your book. Born in Holland, I’m a 76-year-old codger who has lived in Canada for 65 years. It was refreshing reading about the current state of play in Holland, set in a historical context. Chapters Indigo Canadian website carries my review:
“As one born in Holland, and attending the first five years of primary school there, I was intrigued by the book’s title “Why the Dutch are Different – Into the Hidden Heart of the Netherlands” and wondered how Ben Coates, the English-born author, albeit living in Holland, would approach the subject. I am glad to report: with dedication. Dedication to revealing aspects of the country’s long and colourful history covering wars, water, religion, royalty, empire building, colonialism, industry, art, sports, politics and tolerance; all the while pulling no punches in drawing conclusions from the facts. The detailed chapter of wartime impact on the Dutch psyche makes for absorbing reading. The harrowing tale is made more palatable by interspersing current conditions with those that existed during World War II. Elements of postwar recovery are accurately recorded, except for the notable omission of recognizing the massive emigration of war-weary Dutchmen to several parts of the world, seeking better futures for their families. The author increased my understanding of the country I came from. Readers with varying degrees of connectivity to Holland will benefit from the presentation of numerous details explaining why Holland, and the Dutch, are uniquely different.”
Best wishes for the future,
Sounds like I need to read this book. I am fascinated by the Dutch! It is a unique and beautiful country.
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Thank you! I am married to a Dutch chap and we live in the UK. I came back kicking and screaming and hope to find myself back in The Netherlands one day soon.
I read your book, whilst holidaying in Friesland in the summer. it was a great read and has helped me understand the differences between my husbands family and my own, The Dutch are a complex breed, one that should be admired and giggled at…
I especially enjoy spouting some of your facts when my husband is being a twerp…I am now able to say ;darling I understand why you are as you are – I’ve read the bible.
More importantly, I now finally understand why my husband has not insisted on speaking to our children in his native tongue – I am disappointed they don’t speak the language as I hope they will live in The Netherlands one day – but I get it now
I just wanted to leave you a note to say how much I enjoyed your book. I feel a bit like your polar opposite, having lived in the UK as a Dutchman since 1997 (married a native girl too). With 20 years of UK experience under the belt I could identify with your English perspective on life in the Netherlands, but all the same I laughed with you at the Dutch eccentricities (the bottle licker stands out; we used to have one!). As a forthright Dutchman I could point out some of the inaccuracies in your book (haha) but I am by now British enough to let it pass.
Now, where did I leave my pen. I should start writing that ‘Why the Brits are different’ book I’ve been thinking about for years. Plenty of raw material: the elections have just finished and Brexit negotiations are about to start…
All the best,
Picked your book up at the Schipol airport the other week and couldn’t put it down. Fantastic! I was born in the US, grew up in Germany and recently spent time working and living in Utrecht. I could completely relate to so many things you wrote about. Really looking forward to your book on the Rhine. Is there an official release date yet?
Hi ben. Your book was fascinating. I lived in Den Haag as a teenager with my family during the late 60s and early 70s. Been fascinated by the Netherlands ever since and for the last decade I go back whenever I get the chance. Fantastic that my Dutch has slowly come back (was basically fluent as a kid). Last year I did the Ronde van Nederland on my bike – fascinating trip. Actually missed one section but coming back in june to correct that this summer.
I recognised so many things from your book.
I can always remember when I was about 16 or 17, I suddenly realised that people in the UK saw Nl as a free and liberal society where you could do anything…..I remember being absolutely amazed. The trouble I got into as a 13 year old boy fishing in the wrong canal was unbelievable.
There was no “no fishing” sign and so I thought meant there would be no problem. As a policeman patiently explained – the default position is that you can’t fish anywhere! When you buy your city permit (“Verguning” I seem to recall) it comes with a little booklet which goes through every waterway in the city explaining where you can fish. Very detailed….must have take some council official hours as the rules change every year. I basically stuffed it in my pocket and never gave it a thought….stupid I know but I thought that Den Haag city fishing permit would let you fish anywhere in Den Haag.
Even as young teenagers we recognised that the Netherlands was a very unusual and unique place – we used to calle it “Nether Netherland”.
My niece gave me this, telling me it explained a lot about her mother and uncles (born in NL but emigrated at young age to Australia and then Florida). In keeping with my inherited prejudices, I thought “a book on NL by an Englishman? This will end badly” But it didn’t – it was marvelous and I found myself intrigued, informed and, best of all, laughing uproariously at some of NL’s social peculiarities. My favorite was the “circle party” where we all sit around in a circle drinking coffee and trading stories – a tradition that is practiced by the Dutch no matter what country they live in and that, even though long departed from NL itself, I thoroughly enjoy when I get together with fellow NLs and their descendants.
Thanks for writing it and for caring about NL as you clearly do.
Goede dag Ben, Thanks so much for sharing your personal experiences and research in Dutch history. I live currently in Salem, Oregon, but I was born in Driebergen, and immigrated to the US when I was twelve. Your book brought back so many memories from when I lived there in the 1950’s. My dad was in the Dutch army when Germany invaded. He went underground and moved and hid Jewish people in the country, many of them on farms. My mother was one of the people who had to trade all their family silverware in that last year of the war. She can remember having to dive into ditches as American and British pilots strafed the roads that the German military were using. Thank you for keeping me up to date about the Dutch without prejudice.