Book Review: Why The Dutch Are Different by Ben Coates

Title: Why The Dutch Are Different: A Journey Into the Hidden Heart of the Netherlands

Author: Ben Coates

Genre: Nonfiction, Travel, History, Cultural, Netherlands

Publisher: Nicholas Brealey Publishing

Published: September 24, 2015

Page Amount: 304 pages

Goodreads Summary: The first book to offer an in depth look at hidden Holland and the fascinating people that live there, Why the Dutch are Different is an entertaining book about a country unlike any other. The Netherlands are a tiny nation that punch above their weight on the world stage, where prostitutes are entitled to sick pay and prisons are closing due to lack of demand. After a chance encounter, Ben Coates left behind life in London to move to the Netherlands, where he learned the language, worked for Dutch company and married a Dutch wife. He 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 Dutch, Holland not the Netherlands and the colour orange so important. A travelogue, a history and a personal account of a changing country – Ben Coates tells the tale of an Englishman who went Dutch and liked it.

Why I Read:  It’s no secret to anyone that I am moving to the Netherlands rather soon, and that I am a voracious reader of travel books. I absolutely adore everything about reading something personal paired with historically engaging content. I was browsing the shelves in Kulturhaus Dussman in Berlin, looking for something fun (given I haven’t read paperback in awhile) – and I came across it. It’s honestly so much rarer now to find books on the fly when everyone has a TBR and long list of absolute “must-reads” – but I couldn’t be happier I found this book, especially in the moment that I did.

Review:  When I think about the Netherlands, my first thoughts are Amsterdam and floating cities. I don’t think about the Nazi occupation, the fight against nature that has been the crux of Dutch environmental policy for decades, or what it means to be one of the most open countries to immigration and to be suddenly faced with immigrants who won’t [or don’t want to] assimilate. None of those things entered my mind. After finishing ‘Why the Dutch are Different,’ however, I have a much different perspective. Ben Coates has this intriguing way of switching between detailing historical context and his drinking misadventures throughout the country that makes you laugh and learn things simultaneously.

Honestly – I don’t think the Dutch are so much different from every other European country. Each one has had it’s time as the “main continental power.” So what if the Dutch’s prime power play was the in the 1600s? Granted, environmentally – it’s actually really enlightening to realise that the Netherlands will always be playing a game against the ocean and has to always be on their toes in figuring out ways to fight the rising tide (get it – so clever). Every country is unique, regardless of its easy way of slipping into the “euro” fold. Even if I disagree with the thesis, I still loved the book.

The chapters were short and I never felt as those Coates rushed or shortened sections because he wasn’t full of knowledge. On the contrary, there was so much little tidbits of information – that I felt so incredibly overwhelmed at times with the sheer amount of “stuff” I learned. Not say that isn’t a great feeling… because it absolutely is. The style is funny, and it’s actually quite hilarious at times – and then there’s a section on Nazism (and the moment is dead). Other things that I really enjoyed learning about where Conservative candidates (out of nowhere) – like Fortuyn and terrorist attacks I’d never heard of. In other news: the creation of the welfare state post Second World War (so interesting).

 Without mincing words, I like the Dutch. I find them really interesting, and when concerning the history of the country – I know nothing about it. This book really opened my eyes up about what immigration has done in the Dutch society, and how Euroscepticism might actually have a role to play in this country that has fought against nature for as long as its history. So my recommendation? Read it. It’s a quick study and if you’re visiting or planning on living in the Netherlands like I am – you can’t go wrong.

Favourite Quote: “To understand the Netherlands, then, one had to understand the war” 

Rating: 4.6/5 Stars

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