Ben Coates hadn’t meant to go to the Netherlands, a flight was diverted and he ended up in Schiphol Airport with no hope of a flight out for a few days. Somewhere at the back of his mind he recalled having a contact in the country, so he gave her a ring to see if she could put him up for a couple of nights.
He’s never left.
When people think of the Netherlands, several national stereotypes would spring to mind; windmills, bicycles, tulips and Edam and that it was called Holland. These quintessential Dutch icons are all still there, but Holland is a district of the Netherlands. This small country is only twice the area of Wales (the default geographical unit of country size), but in all manner of ways its influence and success has always had a larger global presence than belies its size. One of the lowest nations on the planet has somehow managed to produce the tallest people, they are liberally minded and gregarious, up for parties and having a lot of fun whilst on the flip side taking a stern view on minor transgressions such as putting your bin out on the wrong day.
In this fascinating book about a fellow European country, Coates sets aside his English reserve and takes us beyond the classic tourist routes to see the other side to his adopted country. He is prepared to celebrate and share with us, the reader, what makes this a great country to live in, whilst also not being afraid to examine the darker sides of the Dutch history. We learn about the way that the Jewish population suffered greatly during the Second World War, with vast numbers of them sent to the camps in central Europe, why they seem to have a desire to eradicate the natural world, how they became so good at land reclamation, why they are so passionate about their football team and why they are so obsessed with the colour orange. Just how much Coates has gone native is evident when he returns to the UK to collect a new passport where he considers the common ground and the stark differences between the two countries. I have been to the Netherlands twice once to Delft and a second time to Amstelveen way back in the 1980’s, and I remember it being a special country, reading this book though makes me want to re-visit it again.