World Cultures | Netherlands

Culture Name

Dutch

Alternative Names

Netherlands culture, Hollandic culture. The Dutch use Nederlandse cultuur and Hollandse cultuur to describe their culture.

Orientation

Identification. The English word "Dutch" derives from the German deutsch ("German"). "Dutch" referred originally to both Germany and the Netherlands but came to be restricted to the people and language of the Netherlands when that country became independent in the seventeenth century. "Holland" and "the Netherlands" often are used as synonyms even though "Holland" refers only to the provinces North and South Holland.

The Dutch distinguish between two major cultural subdivisions in their nation. The most important distinction is between the Randstad (Rim City) and non-Randstad cultures. Randstad culture is distinctly urban, located in the provinces of North Holland, South Holland, and Utrecht. The non-Randstad culture corresponds to the historical divide between the predominantly Protestant north and the Catholic south, separated by the Rhine River.

Significant local variations of Dutch culture include the Friesian culture in the extreme north and the Brabant and Limburg cultures in the south. The southern culture was subject to discriminatory policies until the nineteenth century. The Friesians prize their language and descent from the ancient Friesian people, while the Limburgers and Brabantines emphasize their southern culture and Catholic heritage.

The Netherlands has for centuries provided a safe haven for ethnic minorities fleeing from discrimination and persecution, with each minority influencing Dutch culture in its own way. Many Jews from Spain and Portugal and Protestant merchants from the Spanish-ruled southern Netherlands sought refuge in the Dutch Republic in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The twentieth century was characterized by the influx of guest workers from the Mediterranean, migrants from the former Dutch colonies, and refugees from war-torn countries.

The Netherlands does not have a strong uniform national culture. Most Dutch people reject the notion and consider it to be tainted with an unacceptable form of nationalism. Instead, they emphasize the country's cultural diversity, tolerance of difference, and receptiveness to foreign influences. Nevertheless, the Randstad culture has been hegemonic in the Netherlands because of the concentration of political, economic, and cultural power in that densely populated region.

Location and Geography. The Netherlands is situated in northwestern Europe and borders on Germany to the east, Belgium to the south, and the North sea to the west and north. The name "Netherlands" means "Low Lands" in reference to the nation's topography as an alluvial plain. Differences in altitude are minimal. Almost one-quarter of the landmass is below sea level, protected from the encroaching sea by dikes and dunes. The Netherlands is also a relatively small country (13,297 square miles [34,425 square kilometers]) without surface water.

The Netherlands is divided in twelve provinces. Amsterdam (730,000 inhabitants) is the capital, but the government meets in The Hague (440,000 inhabitants). Utrecht (235,000 inhabitants) is the transportation hub, while the port city of Rotterdam (590,000 inhabitants) constitutes the economic heartland. These four cities together with a string of interconnected towns, form the Randstad, which has a population of 6,100,000.

 

The Netherlands

The Netherlands

 

Demography. The Netherlands had a population of 15,898,331 in 2000. It is the most densely populated country in Europe (1,196 inhabitants per square mile [462 per square kilometer] in 1996). There are 2,700,000 foreign residents. The majority, approximately 780,000, originate from the European Union, including 432,000 Germans. Other sizable groups are Surinamese (297,000), Turks (300,000), Moroccans (252,000), and Antilleans (99,000).

The average life expectancy in 1996 was 75.2 years for men and 80.7 years for women, while the infant mortality rate was 5.1 per 1,000.

Linguistic Affiliation. The official language of the Netherlands is Standard Dutch. This language is used in all official matters, by the media, and at schools and universities. Dutch closely resembles German in both syntax and spelling. It freely borrows words and technical terms from French and especially English.

Dutch is also the official language in Flandres, Belgium, where it is called Flemish. Creole languages are increasingly replacing Dutch in Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles as decolonization progresses. Afrikaans, which is widely spoken in South Africa, is related to Dutch. Friesian is the second official language of the Netherlands; it is spoken by a half million Friesians. In addition, there are about twenty-five major dialects of Dutch.

Symbolism. The display of the national flag and the singing of the national anthem are important expressions of identity for a decreasing number of citizens. The flag consists of three horizontal strips in the colors red, white, and blue. The national anthem is the Wilhelmus . It was a rebel song during the independence war against Spain and was adopted as the national anthem in 1932.

The complex relationship of the Dutch people with the sea is notable. The sea has historically been both adversary and ally. The Dutch used to repel foreign invaders by deliberately piercing river dikes. However, if not for the extensive waterworks, 65 percent of the Netherlands would be flooded permanently. The Dutch take great pride in their struggle against the sea and reclaiming of land, which they view as mastery over nature.

Another source of national pride that sets aside regional and religious differences is sports, especially soccer and speed skating. Whenever the national team engages in international competitions, orangemania reigns. People dress in orange (in reference to the name of the royal family), raise national and orange flags, and decorate houses and streets as a patriotic feeling of athletic superiority floods the nation. The Elfstedentocht ("Eleven-City Tour") also raises national awareness. This speed-skating event in Friesland occurs only occasionally as it takes a prolonged period of frost to harden the 125 miles of lakes and canals that connect the eleven Friesian towns.

The clearest example of national symbolism is the Dutch royal family. The queen is regarded as the embodiment of the Dutch (nation) and a symbol of hope and unity in times of war, adversity, and natural disaster. Her popularity is manifested annually at the celebration of Queensday on 30 April. The capital, Amsterdam, in particular, is transformed into a gigantic flea market and open-air festival.

The 1940–1945 occupation by Nazi Germany provides a continued source of national identity. There are more than eight hundred World War II monuments and memorials, and the Dutch people still use the war years as the most important historical point of reference. The conflation of Jewish and non-Jewish Dutch suffering is a striking characteristic of national remembrance. The Dutch pride themselves on their fierce resistance to the Nazi regime and their sheltering of 25,000 Jewish and 300,000 non-Jewish Dutch, but there also was extensive collaboration with the Nazis. More than a hundred thousand Jews were deported to concentration camps. Anne Frank symbolizes this deeply ambiguous self-perception of the Dutch as victims, resisters, collaborators, and passive bystanders. The Frank family was harbored for two years by Dutch resisters before finally being betrayed by Dutch collaborators.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Dutch national identity emerged during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, especially in the struggle for independence from Catholic Spain during the Eighty Year War (1568–1648). The Dutch people received independence from the House of Habsburg in the Treaty of Munster in 1648. The Netherlands was temporarily unified with Belgium after the Congress of Vienna. The Catholic Belgian elite sought its freedom from the Protestant Dutch, and Belgium became independent in 1839.

National Identity. Dutch national identity emerged from the struggle for political sovereignty and religious freedom from the Catholic Habsburgs (Philip II). The Dutch merchant class formed an alliance with the House of Orange; the merchants supplied the funds to wage war, while the House of Orange provided political stability and military protection. Politics became more dependent on consensus and negotiation than on authoritarian rule as power rested in the hands of provincial viceroys.

The rapid expansion of the Dutch merchant fleet enabled the establishment of a worldwide network of trade relations that created naval dominance and increasing wealth for the merchant class. Handicapped by a small population (670,000 inhabitants in 1622) and besieged by growing English and French might, the Dutch Republic began to decline. Paradoxically, at that time, the conspicuous consumption of the wealthy merchant class

A woman selling cheese at the market in Alkmaar. The Netherlands has an advanced free market economy.

resulted in the so-called Golden Age. Stately canal houses were constructed in Amsterdam, and great works of art were commissioned.

 

The Netherlands was one of the poorest nations in northwestern Europe by 1750. In 1813, at the end of the French occupation (1795–1813), William I of the House of Orange-Nassau accepted the throne and became the first Dutch king. The Dutch nobility never had a position of prominence and influence in Dutch society. Only after constitutional reforms in 1851 did the nation begin its ascent to industrialization.

Rural–urban migration and especially the establishment of male suffrage in 1887 undermined traditional ways of life in the eyes of some politicians. The Anti-Revolutionary Party was founded in 1878 to reverse that trend. That party advocated autonomy for different political and religious communities. Its initiative resulted in the early twentieth century in a process of vertical segmentation or pluralism known as pillarization. Pillarization meant that each substantial subsection of the Dutch population was able to participate in social institutions and organizations (labor unions, schools, universities, political parties, social clubs, churches, newspapers, and radio stations) that catered to its specific needs. The four main pillars where Catholic, Protestant, socialist, and conservative. Intensive cooperation and negotiation between the pillars took place among national politicians. Secularization and emancipation in the late 1960s resulted in depillarization because of a greater vertical social mobility, growing intermarriage, and a declining identification with each of the four pillars.

A strong self-conscious national identity did not develop in the Netherlands because of these centrifugal historical processes, and this denial of a national identity became a hallmark of Dutch culture. Religious, cultural, and ethnic diversity are considered the essence of Dutch culture. The persistence of sizable religious and regional minorities and the decentralization of administrative power have allowed cultural diversity to survive. In the absence of a countrywide shared identity, the hegemonic Randstad culture has provided most of the markers of national identity.

Ethnic Relations. There is not much debate about racism or ethnic discrimination among the Dutch people, probably because of their self-ascribed tolerance. Nevertheless, the socioeconomic position of most non-European minorities is far worse than that of the indigenous population. The status of immigrant groups after World War II depended mainly on the moment and condition of their entry. Dutch-speaking Indonesians arrived at the height of the postwar economic upswing after Indonesia's independence in 1950. The Indonesians had ample time to secure a stable position in Dutch society. By contrast, the Mediterranean guest workers who arrived in the late 1960s and early 1970s regarded themselves and were viewed by the Dutch authorities as temporary residents and therefore did not familiarize themselves with Dutch culture. Guest workers were recruited principally from Spain and Italy and later from Turkey and Morocco. Those workers performed unskilled labor in the industry and service sectors. Many Dutch-speaking Surinamese arrived after Suriname became independent in 1975. Those immigrants and the poorly educated Turkish and Moroccan labor migrants were among the first to suffer from the economic decline of the 1970s. The position of the Surinamese improved during the 1980s and 1990s, but the Turks and Moroccans remained the most disadvantaged ethnic groups in Dutch society. Local residents of the Netherlands Antilles have been migrating to the Netherlands since the mid-1970s in search of work and schooling. The 1990s was marked by the immigration of substantial groups of refugees from west Africa, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and the Balkans.

Urbanism,Architecture, and the Use of Space

Dutch cities are extremely compact and densely populated. Government intervention ensures that intercity areas are well kept and that ethnic ghettos and industrial wastelands do not emerge. The major cities are constantly subject to urban renewal projects. Much attention is given to fostering a sense of community by creating public places, such as parks and squares with benches and playgrounds. The country has an intricate network of railroads and an even denser web of bicycle paths.

Early Dutch architecture was influenced by a Calvinist ethos of uniformity and sobriety. This distinct style emerged after the Netherlands separated from Spain in 1581. Unlike their contemporaries in France and Great Britain, wealthy Dutch merchants built fairly modest yet stately canal houses in Amsterdam. Dutch cities lack the grandeur and flamboyance of Paris and London because the government meets in inconspicuous buildings.

Contemporary Dutch architecture is more cosmopolitan. The expressionist Amsterdam School and the cubist Stijl architects of the 1920s were inspired by international art movements. Modernism became the principal style of the post-World War II housing boom. The city center of Rotterdam is a typical example. Largely destroyed in World War II, the heart of this port city was rebuilt in an American style with steel and glass skyscrapers. At the end of the twentieth century, the Randstad cities began developing postmodern suburban business parks and indoor shopping malls.

The Dutch have a desire for spatial organization that is informed by Calvinist assumptions about order as a synonym for cleanliness and sinlessness. The Calvinist sense of space can be seen clearly from the air. The land is carefully divided in Mondrian-like squares and rectangles. In part, this is related to surface water management with its need for canals and dikes, but it also reflects the Dutch desire for order and uniformity. This can be seen most clearly in the undistinguished suburban housing development projects.

Dutch houses are relatively small and have prominent front doors and large windows. Homes are stacked with formidable amounts of furniture, indoor plants, and flowers. Dutch interiors are a reflection of the outside world, congested but orderly and clean.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. The Netherlands does not have a distinct culinary culture because of its Protestant ethnic and the absence of a strong culinary tradition at the court due to an emphasis on Calvinist soberness. Food is seen as a necessary part of life, with no need for luxury. Traditional foods include pea soup, kale stew, hotchpotch (a thick stew), white asparagus, French fries with mayonnaise, meat croquets, and raw herring. In the morning, the Dutch consume several sandwiches with cheese, peanut butter, or chocolate sprinkles. Lunch consists of sandwiches, often with cold cuts and perhaps a small salad on the side. Dinner, which generally is served between five and seven P.M. , is a twoor three-course meal that often begins with soup. The main dish usually contains a mixture of potatoes with vegetables and meat, fish, or poultry and is followed by dessert. Chinese–Indonesian, Surinamese, and Italian food have become part of the Dutch diet.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. The Dutch hardly ever invite people with whom they are not closely acquainted for dinner. Instead, coffee has a strong social significance. Neighbors often invite each other over for a cup of coffee with the invariable one cookie, and the morning coffee break at work is a sacred institution. Coffee-drinking

A drawbridge over a canal in Haarlem. Dutch cities are compact and densely populated.

rituals reveal the core meaning of the crucial Dutch word gezelligheid ("cozy," "sociable," or "pleasant").

 

Basic Economy. The Netherlands has an advanced free market economy. The Dutch pride themselves on having an economy that performs smoothly, known as the polder model, which hinges on periodic negotiations among labor unions, employers' associations, and the government to control wage scales and taxes. The labor force consisted of 7,097,000 persons in 1999; the unemployed numbered 292,000. The annual gross national product (GNP) amounted to 323 billion euros ($373 billion) in 1997. Imports totaled about 55 percent of GNP; and exports totaled 61 percent. The average income after taxes is 20,000 euros ($23,160). The Netherlands never had a major wave of industrialization but remained firmly oriented toward agriculture, trade, and service industries. Two percent of the Dutch population are employed in the highly mechanized agricultural sector (which includes the fishing industry), 24 percent are employed in the industrial sector, and 74 percent work in service industries.

Trade. Dutch exports can be divided into five main categories: agricultural products, 15 percent; natural or enriched fuels, 6 percent; chemical products, 17 percent; industrial products, 12 percent; and machinery, 24 percent. Germany is the principal trading partner. Two-thirds of Dutch exports go to five nations: Germany, Belgium, France, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Those five trading partners account for 61 percent of Dutch imports.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Differences in wealth are relatively small in comparison to many other countries because of progressive taxation and the redistribution of fiscal funds to the unemployed and occupationally inactive. This equality of income is clearly shown when Dutch households are subdivided into four separate income categories. The lowest quartile has an average income of 8,730 euros ($10,105) after taxes, whereas the highest quartile has an average income of 38,365 euros ($44,420). An open discussion of class, income, and status differences is more or less taboo in a society that strongly emphasizes equality. Although Dutch society in general is firmly middle class, an estimated 5 to 10 percent of the population lives at a subsistence level. This income polarization and the ensuing social segmentation began in the 1980s. Low-skilled workers, the unemployed, the disabled, the aged, and single-parent households have been

Two windmills in the Netherlands.

hit hardest. Low-income households are concentrated in the Randstad cities and the two most northern provinces, Friesland and Groningen.

 

Symbols of Social Stratification. Class differences entail few visible signs of cultural differentiation, but those minor differences have a great symbolic value in creating social distinction. The most obvious differences can be observed in housing, consumption patterns, and community participation. Lower-class homes are small and tend to hold a large amount of furniture and decorative articles. Higher-class homes are more spacious and tend to hold less and often more sober furniture. The social participation of Dutch people does not depend entirely on class background, but higher-income households tend to have less involvement in community life than do low-income households. Lower class people are in general more rooted in community life and less restrained in contacts with neighbors and relatives.

Differences in clothing are relatively slight but important class markers. The Dutch dress with little eye for flamboyance. Even corporate dress codes are informal. Only the very rich and young urban professionals have a dress style that adheres to international clothing standards.

Speech patterns also may vary with class. Lower class people tend to speak in a local dialect, while the middle and upper classes speak Standard Dutch.

Political Life

Government. The Netherlands is a unitary state governed by a central body. The political system is a parliamentary democracy as well as a constitutional monarchy. The queen has little political influence; her role is largely symbolic. Political power lies in the hands of a cabinet of ministers headed by a prime minister. The cabinet is accountable to the parliament ( Staten-Generaal ), whose members are elected at four-year intervals. The Dutch Parliament consists of the First Chamber and the Second Chamber, which together constitute the legislative body. The Second Chamber initiates new legislation. Its members are directly elected by the people, who have had universal suffrage since 1919. The members of the Second Chamber are elected by proportional representation, which leads to a great number of political parties that together compete for 150 seats. The First Chamber either ratifies or rejects the new legislation proposed by the Second Chamber. Its members are elected by the members of the Provinciale Staten . Each of the twelve provinces has a local governing board ( Provinciale Staten ) whose chair is the commissioner to the queen, who is appointed by the government for a life term. Its members are elected by the inhabitants of the province. Each municipality has an elected council presided over by the mayor and elected aldermen. Commissioners and mayors are handpicked by the government for life terms.

Leadership and Political Officials. The main political parties are the PvdA (social democrats), VVD (conservatives), and CDA (Christian democrats). These parties are supplemented by a large number of smaller parties, ranging from socialist and nationalist to religious and green. Dutch cabinets are invariably coalitions of the major political parties. Open debate and negotiation toward consensus are part of Dutch political culture.

Most top level government positions are occupied by former members of the Second Chamber who have moved up in the party ranks. Most public functionaries at the ministries are career bureaucrats. Interactions between politicians and ordinary citizens are fairly limited, especially on the provincial and national levels. Only industrial associations, unions, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and political lobbies interact directly on political matters. These groups have a strong impact on political decision making.

Social Problems and Control. Traffic violations are the most common legal infraction. Violent crimes are low compared to other European countries and the United States; 273 murders were committed in 1996, amounting to 1.8 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. Dutch citizens worry mostly about muggings and burglaries. People hardly ever take the law into their own hands. There are very few neighborhood watches and no armed citizens' militias. The Netherlands has very strict gun control. Possession of small quantities of soft drugs (marijuana and hashish) is not prosecuted. The sale of soft drugs in so-called coffeeshops is not legal but is tolerated. The Netherlands has become a magnet for drug tourists because of its liberal stance toward drugs and its position as a major transport hub within Europe. The Netherlands has a great tolerance of prostitution. Randstad cities have red light districts in which women display themselves behind windows to potential customers.

Military Activity. The Dutch army was professionalized during the 1990s, when conscription was formally abolished. The defense budget declined substantially between 1989 and 1998 because of the end of the Cold War. In the absence of armed conflicts, the Dutch armed forces become only active during national disasters such as major floods and forest fires and in international peacekeeping operations under the auspices of the United Nations or NATO. Even though the Dutch hold the military in low esteem, their attitude toward peacekeeping missions is very positive.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

The modern Dutch welfare state, with its elaborate system of laws and regulations, came into existence after World War II. The current array of welfare laws is impossible to summarize, but the main assumption is that people are entitled to a sufficient income to satisfy their basic needs and should not be at the mercy of charity.

The welfare system was created to provide for the aged and as a temporary safety net for unemployed breadwinners. However, in the present post-industrial economic system, this system has become a permanent source of income for a large and stable group, and this has created increasing dependency on the state. High economic growth at the turn of the twentieth century, tax incentives, and government reeducation programs had rapidly reduced long-term unemployment to record lows. Unemployment benefits are sufficient to maintain the recipients at a minimum standard of living.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Nongovernmental organizations in the Netherlands consist mostly of charity funds and environmental and human rights organizations. Important organizations include Amnesty International, Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund, and Natuurmonumenten (an organization for the protection of the Dutch natural environment), which have a large middle and upper class following. They have a considerable impact on national politics. The Dutch contribute large sums to international disaster aid and consider themselves morally obliged to do so.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Women constitute only 38 percent of the labor force and often work part-time. This low rate of participation has ideological and historical reasons. There is a prevailing belief that maternity care has great developmental benefits for children. Furthermore, the Dutch involvement in both world wars contributed to the

A worker cultivates the perfect rows of tulips growing in the Bollenstreek bulb-region of the Netherlands.

late entry of women in the labor force. Unlike in Great Britain and Germany, where many men fought in the war, the Dutch did not enter World War I. The German occupation during World War II kept the male labor force largely intact in spite of the hundreds of thousands of forced laborers who were deported to Nazi Germany, and women thus were not needed to take the place of male workers. Dutch women only slowly started entering the labor force after the pillarization of society crumbled in the late 1960s. They still lag behind men in terms of income and job status. The average annual income of men was 26,410 euros ($30,580) before taxes in 1997 versus only 13,455 euros ($15,580) for women. Women are found mostly in low-paying service jobs such as nursing and cleaning.

 

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Although women and men are equal before the law and the trend toward gender equality has been noticeable, women and men still occupy distinct functions in Dutch society. The differences between men and women are especially noticeable within the nuclear family, where the woman continues to perform the role of homemaker, while the man is seen as the breadwinner or provider. This is especially true among working-class families. Women are underrepresented in leadership positions in politics and the economy.

Marriage,Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Dutch people are free to choose their spouses. The common basis for marriage is most often love. This does not mean that people marry independently of the constraints of class, ethnicity, and religion. The choice of a partner is often class-based. Monogamy is the only marriage form allowed. Many Dutch couples live in a consensual arrangement. Same-sex couples can marry and have the same rights as heterosexual couples.

The marriage ceremony may consist of two separate formal events: the municipal registration and a religious ceremony, with the latter being optional. The couple holds a wedding reception where friends and relatives gather to celebrate the nuptial engagement. Almost 45 percent of the Dutch population is married; about eighty thousand marriages are registered each year, while on average thirty thousand couples file for divorce.

Domestic Unit. The nuclear family is the most common household unit, although it is increasingly losing ground to single-parent families, couples without children, and single-person households. The principal authority in the household is generally the man, although there is a trend toward more equality of marriage partners. Extended family households are rare. Dutch couples have a neolocal postmarital residence pattern, as couples are free to choose where they live.

Kin Groups. The Dutch make a distinction between relatives by marriage and relatives by blood. Consanguineal relatives are considered more important than are affinal relatives. Solidarity and support (financial and emotional) are usually directed at the closest kin (parents, children, and siblings). This is also illustrated by prevailing inheritance patterns. Disinheritance is not permitted by law. Every child receives an equal share.

Socialization

Infant Care. The average nuclear family is relatively small, with only one or two children. Toddlers receive much parental attention. Many children are cared for primarily by their parents in the parental home. Infants usually are put in playpens, where parents can leave them without restraining their own movement around the house. Since in many families both parents are employed, children aged 6 weeks and up are often placed in a nursery when their parents are at work. Children often enter play groups at age 2 and at age 4 are officially required to attend primary school.

Child Rearing and Education. Dutch childrearing practices are permissive. Children are encouraged to discover their surroundings individually or with other children. Corporal punishment is disapproved of by most parents. Instead, parents reprimand misbehaving children verbally. Peer groups are important among Dutch adolescents. Teenagers have developed a wide array of subcultures in which to explore their identity such as punks, head-bangers, and in particular gabbers (Dutch slang for "mates") whose working-class members shave their heads, wear expensive training suits, and congregate at rave parties.

Higher Education. Dutch children are praised for successful performance at school. It is firmly believed that a good education and fluency in English are a sure road to success. Many children thus seek additional education after finishing high school. Approximately 70 percent of the adult population receives formal education after high school, and 20 percent of the adult population has received higher vocational training (HBO) or attended a university.

Etiquette

Most traits of Dutch etiquette resemble those of the rest of the Western world, but there are several distinguishing national codes of behavior. The Dutch either shake hands when they meet and depart or, in the case of women and closely acquainted men and women, kiss each other three times on the cheek.

The Dutch have a strong desire to order their time in agendas and on calendars. Dutch children are given their first agenda at primary school to write down scheduled lessons and homework. A full agenda signifies a full life. The Dutch are very punctual, and showing up even five minutes late is considered inappropriate. As a result, everything has to be done at fixed times: There is a time to work, a time to clean the house, a time to drink coffee, and a time to visit friends.

The Dutch do not line up and show almost no consideration in public for a person's status, gender, or age. The use of the formal "you" ( U ) to address a person is becoming less common, whereas the growing importance of the informal "you" ( jij )is meant to illustrate a commitment to equality.

 

Brick row houses in Haarlem have prominent front doors and large windows.

 

Religion

Religious Beliefs. The largest religious congregation in the Netherlands is Catholic (30 percent of the population), followed by Reformed Protestant (14 percent), Dutch Reformed (7 percent) and Muslim (4 percent). More striking, however, is the fact that 40 percent of the population are not religious or connected to a denomination. The extremely rapid secularization of the Netherlands after the 1960s has meant that religion plays a decreasing role in ordering people's social and cultural lives, with the notable exception of the small rural communities in the Dutch Bible Belt, which runs along the towns Zierikzee, Dordrecht, Utrecht, Zwolle, and Assen. Among the 60 percent who profess to being religious, an ever-increasing group either does not actively participate in religious ceremonies or is involved in New Age religions.

Religious Practitioners. Religious practitioners (priests, ministers, and imams) belong to the major religions in the Netherlands. The Roman Catholic ecclesiastical authority is represented by bishops who try to influence national debates about the family, social welfare, abortion, and euthanasia.

Rituals and Holy Places. The Catholic south of the Netherlands is rich in annual religious processions, some of which date back to the Middle Ages, such as the blood processions in Boxtel and Boxmeer, both in the province of North-Brabant. Shrines include those of Saint Gerardus in Wittem and Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk in Masatricht.

Death and the Afterlife. Beliefs about death and the afterlife correspond to the doctrines of the major religions. The deceased is either buried at a cemetery or cremated at a cremation center. All burials and cremations are arranged by professional undertakers.

Medicine and Health Care

Health care is almost completely the responsibility of the state. The Dutch institutionalized, although they did not socialize, health care during the twentieth century to a much larger extent than did many other Western nations. Even care for the aged and the disabled takes place primarily in an institutionalized setting. Secularization and increasing wealth have compelled the government to take over care for the aged because traditional institutions such as church, community, and family are no longer able or willing to perform this task adequately. Almost everyone in the Netherlands carries medical insurance. The unemployed and low-income families are protected by public health insurance, while higher-income families have private insurance.

Secular Celebrations

Carnival celebrations the weekend before Ash Wednesday have become secular festivities that are spreading rapidly from the Catholic south to the Protestant north. The symbolic celebration of the Queen's birthday (Queen's Day) takes place on 30 April. Although Queen Beatrix was born on 31 January, the festivities are held on the former Queen Juliana's birthday. Remembrance of Dutch casualties in World War II is celebrated on Memorial Day, 4 May. The nation observes a minute of silence at eight P.M. to commemorate the dead. Liberation Day, the celebration of the end of the German occupation in 1945, occurs on 5 May. Most major cities stage elaborate festivities and music festivals. Family members and friends exchange gifts on the eve of Saint Nicolas Day (5 December), while children receive gifts on his birthday (6 December). On New Year's Eve, the Dutch reflect on the year that has passed and gather with friends rather than family members. The new year is welcomed with champaign and fireworks, and resolutions are made.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. Graduates of art academies receive a four-year stipend of about 455 euros ($525) a month to start a professional art career. In addition, several public and private foundations provide modest funding for artists. An important source of support are the artworks for public places commissioned by national, provincial, and local governments.

Literature. Dutch oral literature dates back to at least 500 B.C.E. The earliest Dutch written literature goes back to the mid-1200s with the songs of the troubadour Heynric van Veldeken. The works on world history and the lives of saints written in verse by Jacob van Maerlant (1230–1300) mark the beginning of a truly national literature. Dutch literature bloomed during the Renaissance with playwrights such as Hooft, Cats, Huygens, Bredero, and Joost van den Vondel (1587–1679).

Dutch literature entered a period of relative decline after the seventeenth century, only to arise to world stature in the mid-nineteenth century with the publication of Max Havelaar by Multatuli (a pseudonym for Eduard Douwes Dekker), which describes the colonial exploitation of the Netherlands Indies. The Movement of the Eighties (1880–1894), led by the poets Kloos and Gorter, marked a new era in Dutch literature. The novels of Louis Couperus were the fin-de-sicle apotheosis of the national literature.

The breadth of twentieth-century Dutch literature is great; Slauerhoff, Roland Holst, Bordewijk, and Vestdijk are the most important authors of the inter-war period. The principal post-World War II poets and writers are Lucebert, Kouwenaar, Vroman, Haasse, Mulisch, Hermans, Reve, Wolkers, Nooteboom, and Van der Heijden.

Graphic Arts. Contemporary Dutch graphic arts have been dominated by the legacy of the seventeenth century with its emphasis on painting, drawing, and etching. The masterpieces of Dutch painting are displayed at the Rijksmuseum (Rembrandt and Vermeer), the Van Gogh Museum, and the Stedelijk Museum (contemporary art) in Amsterdam. In addition, there are important collections at the Kröller-Muller Museum (impressionism, expressionism) in Otterloo and the Haags Gemeentemuseum (Mondrian) and the Mauritshuis (Rembrandt and Vermeer) in the Hague. Museums are visited principally by the middle and upper classes, with the exception of major retrospectives of popular painters such as Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Van Gogh, which attract a wide audience.

Performance Arts. Classical music (notably the Concertgebouw Orchestra) and ballet (the National Ballet and the Netherlands Dance Theater) are the principal performance arts with international appeal. Cabaret has a long-standing national tradition and is still popular. The Early Music Festival of Utrecht is known for its concerts featuring medieval and Renaissance music. The North Sea Jazz Festival in the Hague is world-renowned. The Pinkpop and Low Lands festivals are two major events for popular music. The Holland Festival in Amsterdam is the most important annual presentation of the new programming season of contemporary Dutch performance arts. The performance arts attract mainly the middle and upper classes.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

Most scientific research in the Netherlands is conducted at universities and corporate research laboratories. There are thirteen universities. Twenty-four lower, middle, and higher polytechnic schools train students exclusively in applied work. The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) is the principal funding agency for the physical and social sciences. This foundation is under the authority of Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OC&W) and finances seven areas of science (chemical sciences, earth and biological sciences, humanities, medical sciences, physical sciences, social and behavioral sciences, and technical sciences). The 1998 budget totaled 300 million euros ($345 million), of which 36 percent was allocated to the physical sciences and about 5.5 percent to the social and behavioral sciences. This amount is dwarfed by the 3.3 billion euros ($3.8 billion) spent in 1996 on research and development in corporate laboratories.

Bibliography

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Web Sites

Bureau for Long-Term Social and Cultural Prognosis: http://www.cpb.nl

Department of Justice: http://www.minjus.nl/

Dutch Census Bureau: http://www.cbs.nl/

Dutch newspapers: http://www.nrc.nl/

Dutch search engine: http://www.ilse.com/

University of Amsterdam: http://www.uva.nl/

Utrecht University: http://www.uu.nl/

—D ENNIS M ARES AND A NTONIUS C. G. M. R OBBEN

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