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

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  2,221 ratings  ·  248 reviews
The first book to offer an in depth look at hidden Holland and the fascinating people that live there, Why the Dutch are Different is an entertaining book about a country unlike any other. The Netherlands are a tiny nation that punch above their weight on the world stage, where prostitutes are entitled to sick pay and prisons are closing due to lack of demand. After a chan ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published September 24th 2015 by Nicholas Brealey Publishing
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Average rating 3.82  · 
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 ·  2,221 ratings  ·  248 reviews

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Nov 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fic
The Dutch are different.

One Christmas my mother gave my Dutch grandfather a gift pack of expensive soap. He opened his lovingly wrapped present, looked up at my mother and asked, in all sincerity - 'Do you think I smell?'.

This incident (brought up many times over the years since) didn't translate well into polite British-New Zealand culture, but if my mother had read Ben Coates' fascinating book Why the Dutch are Different she would have understood that Grandad was just being direct, open and bl
Apr 02, 2018 added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fogeys, young and old
Disappointingly crappy, to be distinguished from amusingly crappy and actually crappy.

I do not entirely curse the river of time since I read a good chunk of the book in a modified flamingo pose - standing on one leg, leaning forward (diet of shrimp optional(view spoiler)) and since the book was not in fact squeezed out of an animal's rear end, I didn't need to wash my hands, well just a bit.

The book has a nice cover though (in my opinion), full marks for th
An excellent, informative, enjoyable, entertaining, witty, positive read. After visiting The Netherlands in 2017, this was a choice read. The book is not really a travelogue, more of a informative publication about one person's experience of the Dutch culture and history, from ancient times until now.

One thing about the country that baffled me was that people's rights and choices were quite meticulously considered, from a depressed person's right to be euthanized, to prostitutes being recognize
Oct 07, 2016 rated it liked it
Some interesting bits and some witty observations but can't help feeling there is an underlying tone of condescension and some rather sexist remarks about women. ...more
Dec 20, 2015 rated it it was ok
While the historical parts were interesting the book would be better if the author had experienced more parts of the country. The book is not so much about the Netherlands' culture and society as it is about Rotterdam. ...more
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 quintessenti
I chose to read Ben Coates' Why the Dutch are Different: A Journey Into the Hidden Heart of the Netherlands as part of my Around the World in 80 Books challenge. I found out quite recently that I have Dutch ancestry, and was quite excited to read about the Netherlands. What I found was a book quite unlike what I was expecting, which offers quite a strange blend of travelogue and history. I found that the two do not really blend together very well in Coates' execution of them, and there is quite ...more
Dec 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Humorous and informative account of the Dutch and the Netherlands (Rotterdam in particular) and its history, geography and politics with some personal anecdotes thrown in. Some really interesting facts and details that went beyond the standard red light district and coffee shop chat; the chapters on politics and immigration were particularly insightful and even the sport chapter kept me entertained! Enjoyable, relaxing read.
Neil Coombs
May 16, 2020 rated it did not like it
Disappointing book written by an over-privileged young Tory who admits to helping get David Cameron elected and then leaving the country.

It consists of a series of brief contextual chapters about history, the Golden Age, football, drugs, politics etc. - all stuff that could easily be lifted from Wikipedia. This is interspersed with about a week of research - going on a boat/train journey, going to a football match etc. where the author reveals his own lack of knowledge about Europe and people wh
Aug 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I am not quite finished but I am done. The Netherlands is not what I thought. I saw the bikes and made assumptions.
I’ll just dump a few highlights now:

“Dutch people’s tendency to view the environment not as something to protect, but as something to be protected from, was reflected in the countries environmental record. The Netherlands’ enormous ports, acres of gas and chemical plants and seemingly endless sprawl of greenhouses meant that, per capita, its carbon emissions were almost double thos
Mar 08, 2016 rated it it was ok
Ok, neither good nor bad, although I am a little bit disappointed.
Randal White
Jan 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
Our next exchange student is coming from the Netherlands. This book gave us a lot of insights into the Dutch perspective and their history. Well written, easy to follow and understand.
This book nearly killed my love of reading and hung about my neck like the Ancient Mariner's albatross, taunting me with its sheer dullness for several weeks. I've worked in companies with a strong Dutch flavour for 25 years so I'm very familiar with Dutchness and the nation's idiosyncrasies. I was expecting something at least mildly amusing but I didn't get it. Instead, this is a long drag of a book that painfully tells of the Dutch wars with Spain - who knew, who cared, and would a book about ...more
Aug 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, politics, travel
As an occasional tourist of the Netherlands, with Dutch heritage and a fondness for the country, I was drawn to this book in the underground AKO bookstore in Amsterdam Centraal Station this summer.

I was pleasantly surprised by this little book. The author, a British expat, ends up marrying his Dutch girlfriend, and takes the reader on little side trips and experiences through his adopted country, interweaving interesting commentary on Dutch history and culture into his travelogue. His prose flow
Apr 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library_books, travel
About as fair and balanced as one could get. Coates integrates historical background, travel narrative, and current socio-political climate well. Disclaimer that I skipped the chapter on football (Am: soccer) as it may as well have been written in Dutch as far as I'm concerned, zero knowledge or interest.

My library doesn't have The Rhine: Following Europe's Greatest River from Amsterdam to the Alps, but this one held my interest quite well, so would consider purchasing that book.
Nov 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
As a Dutchman who has lived away from Holland for most of my life, this book explains a lot and has given me a much better insight into my genetic and cultural make up...
Feb 12, 2018 rated it liked it
An interesting book, I grabbed it on my way back from Amsterdam at Schiphol airport, and it’s an interesting take on all that is Dutch, especially one staring with a strange lens from Arabia.
Kathryn Bashaar
Feb 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Coates weaves his own experience as a British expat in the Netherlands with the country's history and culture, explaining how the Dutch are different from other Europeans and how they got that way.

Although the metaphors and similes are at times labored and jarring, the writing overall is excellent. I liked the way the book was structured. In each chapter the author addresses a specific aspect of Dutch history and culture - their battle to tame the sea, the German
Shawn Thrasher
Jan 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Ben Coates has a unique eye: an immigrant to the Netherlands, writing about his adopted country, a land he clearly loves but also fairly critiques. "The Netherlands, for all its faults," he writes. "Was happier than Britain, more efficient than France, more tolerant than America, more worldly than Norway, more modern than Belgium and more fun than Germany." And that the famously liberal country was making a key change: "Perhaps most strikingly of all, many former liberals now thought the whole D ...more
Apr 03, 2018 rated it it was ok
This was fine. There were definitely some interesting bits about the history and culture of the Netherlands. But this book has two problems. First, I don't think Ben Coates really knew what he wanted to write. Travelogue? History book? The result is that we skip about confusingly between time periods and nothing is very detailed, the history or the current affairs or the cultural descriptions. This makes the whole experience unsatisfactory. The second problem is that the author comes off as a bi ...more
Owen Rataj
Dec 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's a rare thing to find a book that can make you laugh out loud whilst reading it, yet this particular delight went above and beyond the norm.

This is the perfect book to get a British insight into the methods and madness of the Dutch. Coates has managed to make this a unique blend of interesting, informative, humorous, sceptical and down-right bizarre recounts of his travels and experiences, as well as a brief history of the Dutch and what has shaped their modern day culture.

Coates is a man
Martijn Vsho
Jul 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: want-to-buy
I loved this book!
I was born in the Netherlands but moved to Canada when I was still a child. Most of what I knew about the Netherlands was stereotypes and bits I learned from my parents. A lot of my friends would ask me about what the country was like but I was never able to answer their questions. This book finally changed that.
I found it so interesting to learn its history. As someone who loves history, especially the social aspect and seeing how the past has formed the present, I really enjo
Feb 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Reading this book has been a great help to me, to understand the difference between my immediate family's cultural values and that of my cousins/aunts/uncles, all of whom remained in The Netherlands. My parents emigrated in the very early 1950s, so I was raised with a strong sense of traditional Dutch life, including the difference between Catholic and Protestant (in spite of the fact that my mother converted from Dutch Reformed to Catholic when she married my father). For his entire life, altho ...more
May 09, 2017 rated it liked it
As a native Dutch person myself, i found it very interesting how someone from another country views our values, traditions and society. I recognized a lot and was sometimes shocked by the author's opinion about certain subjects in our society. It didn't occur to me that cultural values that are totally normal by me, were seen as abnormal or aberrant.

Maybe I am stubborn, but I didn't realize that there were so many "unique" cultural aspects to The Netherlands. It was definitely worth a read and m
Harry Alleva
Feb 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Having been to the Netherlands several times I was initially miffed by the constant disparaging remarks made about the country which I thought were undeserving. Once I reached chapters 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the book however I delighted in the subject matter and thoroughly enjoyed the way it was presented. In the end the author Ben Coates himself came to the conclusion that he was at home after all, in Rotterdam.
Putri Handayani
Aug 08, 2017 rated it liked it
Thank God I've just finished this book... 02.16 a.m. Fun and interesting to read.. cheers mate! ...more
Kriszta Portik
Oct 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I am probably saying this about all the books I am finishing, but this book really has been a treasure.
Reading it gave me so much joy, every time I opened it, I felt like I am (re)diving into emblematic moments of Dutch history or present day events. Ben Coates successfully mixed his own life experience of moving to the Netherlands, discovering and understanding this country with a detailed, fascinating exhibition of who the Dutch are as innovators, what cultural and ideological heritage they pr
Apr 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
[...] Names exported by the Dutch were still in use (often in bastardised form) in many other countries. Perhaps the most famous examples were in New York City: Harlem was named after the Dutch city of Haarlem, Brooklyn after the small town of Breukelen, and Flushing after the southern Dutch city of Vlissingen. Wall Street was originally De Waal Street and Broadway was once better known as Breede Weg. [...] Other Dutch words include American vocabulary: cookie, waffle, noodles, brandy, coleslaw. ...more
Oct 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A brilliant novel with snappy, sharp, and superb intro explaining how the author found himself in The Netherlands. For someone less than a decade in Holland he has a solid grasp on the Dutch mindset. Coates tours around modern Holland, attends events and relays history through his encounters. It is essentially a crash course in Dutch history and culture told through stories. He offers suggestions of how ancient events explain modern day Dutch norms and values. A great read for those familiar wit ...more
Feb 21, 2021 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this read. Part informal history book, part travelogue, Ben Coates touches on a handful of topics and issues intrinsic to understanding the Dutch - water, religion, football and outward-seeming tolerance to name a few.

The first half of the book was particularly successful I felt. The way Coates weaves history and his own personal experiences of the Netherlands gave me quite a full introductory glance at Dutch history and customs. However, in the final chapter - about sex work, drugs a
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