Bicycles because of the flat land is an obvious example. But also, windmills to pump water off the fields, clogs to keep farmers feet dry, and a high dairy consumption for when water was contaminated and unsafe to drink.
With particular reference to the lingering collective memory of the 1953 flood, which claimed 2,000 lives across the country, Ben Coates claims the Dutch have a tendency ‘to view the environment not as something to protect, but as something to protect from’. He knocks on the head any idea that the Dutch may be inherently more eco-friendly than any other nation, pointing out that per capita emissions in the Netherlands are 50 per cent higher than in neighbouring France.
Coates’ strength is in his descriptions and observations, which are vivid and informative, even on mundane subjects such as the banal Dutch landscape. As a Brit who has lived in the country for five years, he has plenty of personal experiences, however the book is also rich with in-depth historical story-telling. From the 16th century religious conflicts with England and Spain, to the highly-feared and yet strangely forgotten global Dutch empire, he intertwines the nation’s journey to its modern iteration with his own adaptation to the Dutch lifestyle, which has a pleasing symmetry. While at times a little self-indulgent and overly simplified, it is nevertheless an accomplished debut.
WHY THE DUTCH ARE DIFFERENT by Ben Coates; Nicholas Brealey Publishing; £10.99 (paperback)
This review was published in the December 2015 edition of Geographical magazine.