Why the Dutch are Different: A Journey into the Hidden Heart of the Netherlands by Ben Coates

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Why the Dutch are Different: A Journey into the Hidden Heart of the Netherlands by Ben Coates

Category: Travel
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Zoe Morris
Reviewed by Zoe Morris
Summary: Holland behind the clichés, this is an interesting look at a country that, though small, is also fierce.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: September 2015
Publisher: Nicholas Brealey Publishing
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1857886337

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If you want to know a little about the Dutch, start to google the title of this book. Type in a suggestive Why the Dutch are… and you'll get an insight into what the world thinks of them:

Why the Dutch are tall
Why the Dutch are awesome
Why the Dutch are different
Why the Dutch are great

So different, but in a great, awesome, tall kind of way. Helpful.

I know Holland in the way everyone does. Pancakes and windmills and Pot, oh my. But it's one of the few European countries I've never lived in for any period of time, and so I was intrigued to know more. My tour guide was Ben Coates, the author of this book. He is a Brit abroad but not passing through the Netherlands. Oh no, he married one of their kind and is now there to stay. With the sort of insights that you really need a foreigner to uncover, he takes us on a journey that goes beyond red lit windows and Anne Frank to the true depths of the country.

From slightly racist Christmas traditions to Noah's Ark and white bicycles, I found this book fascinating. His day to day life sits effortlessly alongside deeper dives into history and folklore, and I was left feeling I knew quite a bit more about the roots of the country, but also like I too could navigate the city streets (only crossing when the man was green, of course) as I made my way to work in a job where I'd get paid more for working less. It's highly tempting. While not quite as whimsical as the likes of Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson this is a friendly read that's not off-puttingly academic. Some of the historical reflections are deeper than the chapters more focussed on society, but I enjoyed the whole thing and found it struck the right balance between teaching and entertaining.

I felt like I could sense the author though the pages, and identify with him – we were born in the same year, have both been aid workers abroad and political advisors in this country, and we clearly both like to travel. His momentary return to the UK was quite charming because it mirrored how I often feel when returning from an extended stay overseas (though I prefer to binge buy Wotsits, not Twiglets). His (relative) youth definitely helps sell the subject matter as a history of Holland wasn't necessarily going to be exciting and interesting, but he made it so. I also felt his experience of other countries and cultures was a bonus, as the more you travel, the more you start to realise what is and isn't normal in other places. After all, how can you know whether or not you should be eating sprinkled chocolate vermicelli on bread for breakfast until you've broken your fast on a whole range of continents?

I'd like to thank the publishers for supplying this book. It's a little more serious than I had thought it might be, but by that I mean a little more thoroughly researched and well thought out. It's a proper look at the country, not just the superficial stuff, and I'm sure his Dutch wife will have liked it. Which is probably all that matters.

The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker offers up a fictional view of the country whereas if you're thinking of a trip, The Rough Guide to Amsterdam by Rough Guides might help with your planning.

Buy Why the Dutch are Different: A Journey into the Hidden Heart of the Netherlands by Ben Coates at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Why the Dutch are Different: A Journey into the Hidden Heart of the Netherlands by Ben Coates at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Why the Dutch are Different: A Journey into the Hidden Heart of the Netherlands by Ben Coates at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Why the Dutch are Different: A Journey into the Hidden Heart of the Netherlands by Ben Coates at Amazon.com.


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