The Netherlands is a small country with a long history. The Dutch are proud of their nation, and rightly so. With its history of maritime domination and engineering marvels, such as how they handle the water surrounding them, this tiny but impressive land is responsible for remarkable achievements and world-firsts. Moreover, its high standard of living makes it a desirable location to make a home for so many from all around the globe.
Although famous for its iconic clogs, colorful tulips displays, and rather liberal attitudes, there is a lot more lurking beneath the surface of this country. Here are eight surprisingly fun facts about the Netherlands.
No stray dogs
Have you ever noticed the number of stray dogs on the streets? No, me neither. The Netherlands doesn’t have any, that’s why. In the 19th century, dogs were viewed as status symbols for their proud owners eager to show off their wealth and status. However, this changed when an outbreak of rabies occurred, and many were abandoned to the streets, leading to masses of strays. In 1864, The Dutch Society for the Protection of Animals was formed, and an attitude toward animal welfare was firmly implanted in the Dutch psyche. As a result, a nationwide, government-funded sterilization program called CNVR (Collect, Neuter, Vaccinate, and Return) was implemented in 2016. Many municipalities also tax store-bought dogs to encourage people to adopt homeless dogs from shelters instead of buying them from stores. The result? A country with no stray dogs.
They had the world’s first stock exchange
Did you know the first stock exchange was established in Amsterdam in 1602? It was established by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) to trade its shares and bonds. The country was one of the richest in Europe, and Amsterdam was a booming trade center. The VOC needed additional funds to expand, and the stock exchange provided this opportunity. It became the epicenter of the world’s markets, and soon other firms joined in on the action. Fast forward to today, and it’s still in operation for trading equities and bonds. You can even go inside and see it.
The biggest exporter of beer in Europe
Beer is important in Dutch culture and is the most popular alcoholic drink. The Netherlands exports well over two billion Euros worth of beer annually, narrowly beating its southern neighbor and rival beer producer, Belgium. Globally, it is second only to Mexico. But where does it all go, you may wonder? The United States purchases 37% of the beer exported from the Netherlands, making them the largest customer for Dutch beer by far (have you tried American beer?). Other big buyers are the UK, Canada, and France. The Dutch love affair with beer goes back to the middle ages when monks and even children drank it.
It is home to one of the modern wonders of the world
Considered one of the seven civil engineering wonders of the world (there is such a category), the Delta and Zuiderzee works are an incredible feat of engineering. Designed to prevent flooding from the sea began in 1920 and was completed in 1997. It involved closing off a large part of the Northern Sea and creating polders to reclaim the land. The project involved the construction of more than 2000 kilometers of dikes and other structures and using more than 10 million cubic meters of sand, clay, and other materials. It also involved redirecting rivers! No mean feat, I am sure. Not only did it prevent flooding, but the reclaimed land could also be used for farming and other businesses. Double genius. The Delta and Zuiderzee Works are genuinely remarkable achievements.
More sheep than people
Another fun fact about the Netherlands is that the island of Texel is home to more sheep than people. Imagine. Situated in the Wadden Sea, the tiny island is home to about 13,000 people but 14,000 sheep. The island has reared sheep for hundreds of years, and the sheep there are carefully managed, with farmers taking great pride in their flock. The Texel sheep are known for the quality of their wool, lean meat, and their dense size.
They helped create wifi
That thing we all can’t live without initially came from a Dutch mind. You may remember the number of wires needed to achieve an internet connection (‘tell me you were born in the 80s without telling me’…). What you may not know, however, is that the technology behind it came from Dutch electrical engineer Vic Hayes. The origins of wireless can be traced back to Vic Hayes – known as the “Father of wifi” – and Amsterdam-born entrepreneur Cees Links during the early 1990s. He was responsible for bringing Apple on board to develop products with wireless technology, and his wife came up with the name “Wifi,” which stands for “Wireless Fidelity.” Using a set of standards known as IEE 802.11, Hayes created widespread, affordable internet connectivity, earning him the nickname “Father of wifi.” So there you have it.
It has the tallest people in the world
It’s official. The Netherlands has the tallest people in the world. With an average height of six feet or higher for men and five feet eight inches for women, the people of the Netherlands are officially the tallest in the universe (Latvia is a close second). This is even more interesting when you consider that the average height for a man worldwide is 5’9 and 5’3 for a woman.
In the mid-1800s, the average Dutchman was about five feet four inches tall – three inches shorter than the average American today. One out of every four Dutch men who applied to join the military at this time was rejected for being too short. After 150-odd years of eating milk and cheese, the Dutch soon soared past everyone else in the world. By the late twentieth century, the average Dutchman was over six feet tall, and the average Dutch woman had reached five feet seven. The Dutch had gone from among Europe’s shortest people to the world’s tallest.
So why are the people so tall? Researchers have suggested that genetics, nutrition, and healthcare access may play a role in determining height. The Dutch, for example, have a genetic predisposition to taller heights while having access to a well-balanced diet and quality healthcare.
The biggest religion is Catholicism
When you think Dutch and religion, you may think of Calvinism (and giant windows). Once a predominantly Protestant country, Catholicism surpassed Protestantism after WWI, and by 2012 the Netherlands was only 10% Dutch Protestant (down from a whopping 60% in the early 1900s).
The Catholic traditions of the Netherlands are deeply rooted in the history and culture of the country. While most of the Dutch population identifies as non-religious, Catholicism is the single largest religion in the country. In particular, the south of the Netherlands has a strong Catholic presence. This is primarily because the region was historically part of the Spanish Netherlands, which was more Catholic. Today, the southern provinces of Limburg and North Brabant are home to the largest concentration of Catholics in the country.
Special thanks to inburgeringOnline for all these facts. If you wish to learn Dutch via self-study, be sure to check them out.