Art, Philosophy and Literature
The Netherlands has had many famous painters. The 17th century, when the Dutch Republic flourished, was the time of the “Dutch masters”, such as Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, Jan Steen, Jacob van Ruisdael and many others. The most famous Dutch painters of the 19th and 20th centuries were Vincent van Gogh and Piet Mondriaan. M. C. Escher is a well-known graphic artist. Willem de Kooning was born and trained in Rotterdam, although he is considered a well-known American artist.
The Netherlands is the country of the philosophers Erasmus of Rotterdam and Spinoza. All of Descartes’ important work was done in the Netherlands. The Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695) discovered Saturn’s moon Titan, claimed that light travels in the form of waves, invented the pendulum clock and was the first physicist to use mathematical formulae. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek was the first to observe and describe single-celled organisms under the microscope.
Literature also flourished in the Dutch Golden Age, with Joost van den Vondel and P. C. Hooft as the two most famous writers. In the nineteenth century, Multatuli wrote about the mistreatment of the natives in the Dutch colony, now Indonesia. Important writers of the twentieth century are Godfried Bomans, Harry Mulisch, Jan Wolkers, Simon Vestdijk, Hella S. Haasse, Cees Nooteboom, Gerard (van het) Reve and Willem Frederik Hermans. Anne Frank’s “Diary of a Girl” was published after her death in the Holocaust and translated from Dutch into all major languages.
Traditional Dutch architecture is particularly popular in Amsterdam, Delft and Leiden, with 17th and 18th century buildings along the canals. The architecture of small villages with their wooden houses can be found in Zaandam and Marken. Replicas of Dutch buildings can be found at Huis Ten Bosch in Nagasaki, Japan. A similar Dutch village is under construction in Shenyang, China. Windmills, tulips, clogs, cheese, Delft ceramics and cannabis are among the things that tourists associate with the Netherlands.
The Netherlands has a long history of social tolerance and is now considered a liberal country due to its drug policy and legalisation of euthanasia. On 1 April 2001, the Netherlands became the first nation to legalise same-sex marriage.
Dutch value system and etiquette
The Dutch have a code of etiquette that regulates social behaviour and is considered important. Due to the international position of the Netherlands, many books have been written on the subject. Some customs do not apply in all regions and are never absolute. In addition to customs specific to the Netherlands, many general points of European etiquette also apply to the Dutch.
Dutch society is egalitarian, individualistic and modern. People tend to see themselves as humble, independent and self-reliant. They value abilities more than dependencies. Dutch people have an aversion to anything that is not essential.
Conspicuous behaviour should be avoided. Accumulating money is all well and good, but spending large amounts of money is considered a vice and is associated with showing off. A high lifestyle is considered wasteful and is suspect to most people. The Dutch are proud of their cultural heritage, their rich art history and their involvement in international affairs.
Dutch manners are open and direct, with a straightforward attitude; informality combined with adherence to basic behaviour. According to a humorous source on Dutch culture, their openness gives many people the impression that they are rude and uncouth – attributes they prefer to call “frankness”.
A more serious source known about the Dutch is Jacob Vossestein’s Dealing with the Dutch: Dutch egalitarianism is the idea that all people are equal, especially morally, and is therefore the origin of the somewhat ambivalent attitude of the Dutch towards hierarchy and status. As always, the ways differ from group to group. Asking questions about ground rules is not considered rude. What may seem to you to be overtly crude topics and comments are no more embarrassing or unusual to the Dutch than a discussion about the weather.
The majority of Dutch people are irreligious and religion is generally considered a very personal matter in the Netherlands, not to be propagated in public.
The Dutch and ecology
The Netherlands has a reputation as a leader in environmental and population management. In 2015, Amsterdam and Rotterdam ranked 4th and 5th on the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index.
Sustainability is an important concept for the Dutch. The Dutch government’s goal is to have a sustainable, reliable and affordable energy system by 2050, in which CO2 emissions are halved and 40% of electricity comes from sustainable sources.
The government invests billions of euros in energy efficiency, sustainable energy and CO2 reduction. The Kingdom also encourages Dutch companies to set up sustainable businesses/projects/facilities, with financial support from the state for companies or individuals working to make the country more sustainable.
The Netherlands has many musical traditions. Traditional Dutch music is a genre known as “Levenslied”, which means “song of life“, comparable to the French Lied or the German Schlager. These songs usually have a simple melody and rhythm and a direct structure of verses and choruses. The themes may be light, but are often sentimental and include love, death and loneliness. Traditional musical instruments such as the accordion and barrel organ are a fundamental element of Levenslied’s music, although in recent years many artists have also used synthesizers and guitars. Artists in this genre include Jan Smit, Frans Bauer and André Hazes.
Contemporary Dutch rock and pop music (Nederpop) emerged in the 1960s, strongly influenced by popular music from the United States and Great Britain. In the 1960s and 1970s, the lyrics were mainly in English and some of the songs were instrumental. Groups like Shocking Blue, Golden Earring, Tee Set, George Baker Selection and Focus were internationally successful. From the 1980s onwards, more and more pop musicians started to work in Dutch, partly inspired by the huge success of the band Doe Maar. Today, Dutch rock and pop music flourishes in both languages, and some artists record in both.
Current symphonic metal bands Epica, Delain, ReVamp, The Gathering, Asrai, Autumn, Ayreon and Within Temptation as well as jazz/pop singer Caro Emerald are internationally successful. Metal bands like Legion of The Damned, Hail of Bullets, God Dethroned, Izegrim, Asphyx, The Charm the Fury, Textures, Present Danger, Heidevolk and Slechtvalk are also popular guests at Europe’s biggest metal festivals. Contemporary local heroes include pop singer Anouk, country-pop singer Ilse DeLange, folk band Rowwen Hèze, who sing in the South Gelder dialect, rock band BLØF and Dutch-speaking duo Nick & Simon.
In the early 1990s, Dutch and Belgian house music came together in the Eurodance 2 Unlimited project. With 18 million records sold, the two singers of the band are still the most successful Dutch music artists today. Tracks like “Get Ready for This” are still popular themes at American sporting events, such as the NHL. Dutch-language rap and hip-hop (Nederhop) also emerged in the mid-1990s and became popular in the Netherlands and Belgium. Artists with North African, Caribbean or Middle Eastern origins have strongly influenced this genre.
Since the 1990s, Dutch electronic dance music (EDM) has conquered the world in many forms, from trance to techno to chatter to hardstyle. Some of the best dance music DJs in the world come from the Netherlands, including Armin van Buuren, Tiësto, Hardwell, Martin Garrix, Oliver Heldens, Nicky Romero, Sander van Doorn and Afrojack; the first four were named the best in the world by DJ Mag Top 100 DJs. The Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE) is the world’s most important electronic music conference and the largest club festival for the many electronic subgenres on the planet. These DJs also contribute to the dominant pop music in the world, as they often collaborate with and produce for top international artists.
In classical music, Jan Sweelinck is the most famous Dutch composer. Louis Andriessen is one of the most famous living Dutch classical composers. Ton Koopman is a Dutch conductor, organist and harpsichordist. He is also a professor at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. The most famous violinists are Janine Jansen and André Rieu. The latter, with his Johann Strauss Orchestra, has taken classical music and the waltz on concert tours around the world, the scale and income of which can otherwise only be seen with the biggest rock and pop music groups. The most famous Dutch classical composition is the “Canto Ostinato” by Simeon ten Holt. It is a minimalist composition for several instruments. The celebrated harpist Lavinia Meijerin released an album of works by Philip Glass in 2012, which she transcribed for the harp, with the approval of Glass himself.
The Concertgebouw (completed in 1888) in Amsterdam is home to the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, considered one of the finest orchestras in the world.
Film and television
A number of Dutch films – notably by director Paul Verhoeven – have received international distribution and recognition, such as Turkish Delight (“Türkenfrucht”) (1973), Soldat van Oranje (“Soldaat van Oranje”) (1975), Spetters (1980) and Der vierte Mann (“De Vierde Man”) (1983). Verhoeven went on to direct major Hollywood films such as RoboCop and Basic Instinct and returned in 2006 with the Dutch film Black Book.
Other well-known Dutch directors are Jan de Bont (Speed), Anton Corbijn (A Most Wanted Man), Dick Maas (De Lift), Fons Rademakers (The Assault), documentary filmmaker Bert Haanstra and Joris Ivens. Director Theo van Gogh gained international notoriety in 2004 when he was murdered on the streets of Amsterdam after making the short film Submission.
The internationally successful Dutch actors include Famke Janssen (X-Men films), Carice van Houten (Game of Thrones), Michiel Huisman (Game of Thrones), Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner), Jeroen Krabbé (The Living Daylights) and Derek de Lint.
The Netherlands has a well-developed television market with several commercial and non-commercial channels. Imported television programmes as well as interviews with foreign language responses are almost always broadcast with original sound and subtitles. Children’s programmes are the only exception.
Television exports from the Netherlands are mainly in the form of specific formats and franchises, especially through the internationally active television production conglomerate Endemol, founded by Dutch media moguls John de Mol and Joop van den Ende. Endemol is based in Amsterdam and has around 90 companies in more than 30 countries. Endemol and its subsidiaries create and manage reality, talent and game show franchises worldwide, including Big Brother and Deal or No Deal. John de Mol then founded his own company Talpa, which developed franchises for shows such as The Voice and Utopia.
About 4.5 million of the 16.8 million people in the Netherlands are registered in one of the country’s 35,000 sports clubs. About two-thirds of the population between the ages of 15 and 75 participate in sports every week. Football is the most popular participant sport in the Netherlands, ahead of hockey and volleyball, which are the second and third most popular team sports. Tennis, gymnastics and golf are the three most popular individual sports.
The organisation of sport began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Sports federations were founded (e.g. the speed skating federation in 1882), rules were standardised and sports clubs were established. A Dutch National Olympic Committee was founded in 1912. To date, the country has won 266 medals at the Summer Olympics and 110 medals at the Winter Olympics.
In international competitions, the Dutch national teams and athletes are dominant in several areas of the sport. The Dutch women’s hockey team is the most successful team in the World Cup. The Dutch baseball team has won the European Championship 20 times out of a total of 32 events. The Dutch K-1 kickboxers have won the K-1 World Grand Prix 15 times out of 19 tournaments.
The performance of the Dutch speed skaters at the 2014 Winter Olympics, where they won 8 out of 12 events and 23 out of 36 medals, including 4 outright victories, is the most dominant performance in a single sport in Olympic history.
Motorbike racing at the TT Assen circuit has a long history. Assen is the only venue that has hosted a round of the World Motorcycle Championship every year since its inception in 1949. The track was built specifically for the Dutch TT in 1954, the previous events were held on public roads.
Max Verstappen from Limburg is currently driving in Formula 1 and was the first Dutchman to win a Grand Prix. The seaside resort of Zandvoort hosted the Dutch Grand Prix from 1958 to 1985.
The men’s national volleyball team was also successful, winning the silver medal at the 1992 Summer Olympics and the gold medal four years later in Atlanta. The biggest successes of the women’s national team were winning the European Championship in 1995 and the World Grand Prix in 2007.
Originally, the country’s cuisine was characterised by fishing and agriculture, including cultivating the land for crops and raising domestic animals. Dutch cuisine is simple and straightforward and contains many dairy products. Breakfast and lunch usually consist of bread and toast, or alternatively breakfast cereals. Traditionally, dinner consists of potatoes, a portion of meat and (seasonal) vegetables.
The Dutch diet was relatively high in carbohydrates and fats, reflecting the dietary needs of the workers whose culture shaped the country. Without many refinements, it is best described as rustic, although many holidays are still celebrated with special foods. During the twentieth century, this diet changed and became much more cosmopolitan, with most of the world’s cuisines represented in the big cities.
The cuisine of the Southern Netherlands includes the cuisines of the Dutch provinces of North Brabant and Limburg and the Flemish region in Belgium. It is famous for its many rich pastries, soups, stews and vegetable dishes. It is often referred to as Burgundy, a Dutch phrase that recalls the rich Burgundian court that ruled the Netherlands in the Middle Ages and was known for its splendour and grand feasts. It is the only culinary region in the Netherlands that has developed haute cuisine.
In early 2014, Oxfam ranked the Netherlands as the country with the most nutritious, abundant and healthy diet in a comparison of 125 countries.
The colonial legacy
From the possessions of the Dutch East India Company in the 17th century to the colonisations of the 19th century, Dutch imperial possessions continued to expand, reaching their greatest extent with the establishment of a hegemony over the Dutch East Indies in the early 20th century. The Dutch East Indies, which later formed what is now Indonesia, was one of the most valuable European colonies in the world and the most important for the Netherlands. More than 350 years of common heritage have left a strong cultural mark on the Netherlands.
During the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century, there was a significant urbanisation of the Netherlands, financed mainly by corporate income from the Asian trading monopolies. Social status was based on the income of merchants, which reduced feudalism and significantly changed the dynamics of Dutch society. When the Dutch royal house was founded in 1815, much of the wealth came from colonial trade.
Universities like the Royal University of Leiden, founded in the 16th century, have become leading centres of knowledge for Southeast Asian and Indonesian studies. Leiden University has produced leading scholars such as Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje and still has scholars specialising in Indonesian languages and cultures. Leiden University, and KITLV in particular, are educational and scientific institutions that today have both an intellectual and a historical interest in Indonesian studies. Other academic institutions in the Netherlands include the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, an anthropological museum with important collections on Indonesian art, culture, ethnography and anthropology.
The traditions of the Royal Netherlands Army East Indies (KNIL) are maintained by the Van Heutsz Regiment of the modern Royal Netherlands Army. In Arnhem today, there is still a museum dedicated to the Bronbeek, a former home for retired KNIL soldiers.
A special segment of Dutch literature, the so-called Dutch-Indian literature, still exists and includes established authors such as Louis Couperus, the author of “The Hidden Power”, who used the colonial period as an important source of inspiration. One of the great masterpieces of Dutch literature is the book “Max Havelaar”, written by Multatuli in 1860.
The majority of Dutch repatriated to the Netherlands after and during the Indonesian Revolution were Indo(Eurasian) from the Dutch East Indies. This relatively large Eurasian population developed over a period of 400 years and was included in the European legal community under colonial law. In Dutch they are called Indische Nederlanders or Indo (abbreviation of Indo-European).
Together with their second-generation descendants, Indos are currently the largest group of foreign-born people in the Netherlands. In 2008, the Dutch Census Bureau of Statistics (CBS) registered 387,000 first and second generation Indos living in the Netherlands. Although considered fully assimilated into Dutch society, as the largest ethnic minority in the Netherlands, these ‘returnees’ have played a key role in introducing elements of Indonesian culture into mainstream Dutch culture.
Practically every city in the Netherlands has a “Toko” (Dutch-Indonesian shop) or Indonesian restaurant and many “Pasar Malam” (Malay/Indonesian night market) are held throughout the year. Many Indonesian dishes and foods have become commonplace in the Netherlands. Rijsttafel, a colonial culinary concept, and dishes like nasi goreng and satay are very popular in the Netherlands.