I was one of those kids who grew up thinking that the Netherlands and Holland were two separate countries. I had no clue which country spoke Dutch. To me, it kind of made sense that the Danish would, you know, with the whole ‘D’ thing going on. And the Flemish? I figured they lived in their own little country, speaking their own language that had nothing to do with anyone else, and especially not the Dutch (whoever they were).
Now, I find myself flabbergasted when somebody asks me how Princess Mary is going.
‘I don’t know,’ I’d reply. ‘Maybe you should ask someone in Denmark.’
‘But I thought you said Paul was Dutch…?’
Every time, I would have to remind myself that not too long ago, I was just as naive to the whole -Dutch-Danish-Denmark-Holland-Netherlands thing. I couldn’t point any of them out on a map. In fact, if somebody showed me a map of Europe, I could confidently pick out Italy, Germany and France, but it would be a struggle to name where anything else was located.
(YES, I am admitting that. I remember trying to memorise where all the cities were when my Eurail map first arrived in the mail.)
Then, on our first South-East Asia trip, Paul was held up at Cambodian passport control. I had sauntered on by, but there was a problem with Paul’s visa form, and nobody seemed to understand what was going on. Eventually Paul was informed that he had written down the wrong nationality. He had written that he lived in ‘The Netherlands’ and his fatal error was that he had written down his nationality as ‘Dutch’. The Cambodian border guards were convinced that they were two different countries.
It was comical, really. After much hoo-ha, he changed his nationality to ‘Nederlandse’; Dutch in Dutch. He was let through.
Throughout that trip, Paul would be asked where he was from. ‘Amsterdam,’ he would lie. Apparently anything else just receives blank looks in return.
My explanation? Well, Holland is the name for the built-up part of the country, the bit where you find Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. The region is covered by two provinces; North Holland and South Holland, and -
Bugger it. It’s best summed up by this, an excellent video I found on YouTube.
The only thing that this video doesn’t explain is the fact that as a foreigner here, you will ALWAYS pick the wrong name to use for the country. If I call it the Netherlands, the Dutch will say ‘Ah, that sounds so wrong, with the ‘the’ bit. Just say Holland’. If I then agree and call it Holland, another will see it as their duty to inform me that I am quite clearly wrong. It will be as blunt as that.
So it is the Netherlands. I live in the Netherlands. However, I also live in Holland; the province of South Holland. The country’s football team is called Holland. The song ‘I’m from Holland’ is always stuck in my head. And even the country’s tourism website is holland.com. In fact, I thought it was visitholland.com and when I typed that in, it took me straight to its Amsterdam page. (Which is why Paul says he’s from Amsterdam; that’s the only place that gets any sort of visual recognition.)
No wonder everyone’s confused.