Monday , March 20 2023

Holland or the Netherlands? That is the question, writes Niels Mathijssen.

Ever since Máxima proclaimed, in 2007, that there is no such thing as a Dutch identity, politicians, scientists and opinion leaders have been pondering the Dutch identity conundrum. What does it entail?
The answer can be captured in one word: hollancination, or the use of the regional name ‘Holland’ as a synonym for the Netherlands, and the presentation of  ‘Hollandse’ culture as Dutch culture. It is a metaphor of sorts, a metonymy, which is widely accepted but incorrect. Holland is not the Netherlands. And although to many people the word Holland causes a flutter of national pride, it is literally a false sentiment.
Hollancination is singing ‘Hup Holland hup’ (Go Holland) when the Dutch national squad is playing, the HEMA selling strawberries from Brabant as ‘Hollandse aardbeien’ and the Dutch tourist bureau calling its website Hollancination is everywhere, but its main outlet is the media and television in particular.

The RTL programme Ik hou van Holland (I love Holland) is hollancination at its worst. It has even been decribed as the ‘resurrection of Dutch national pride’. Nowhere is Dutch culture presented as ‘Hollands’ as flagrantly and haphazardly as in this long-running programme.
The set, for instance. It is comprised of quintessential Holland symbols (apart from the Holstein cows which are an American breed): fat yellow cheeses from Gouda, tulips from the provinces of West Friesland and South Holland and polder windmills. There’s also a street organ which is mainly an Amsterdam – and so a ‘Hollands’ – phenomenon. The question is why, in this welter of Hollandness, the national flag has pride of place.
Team captains Jeroen van Koningsbrugge and Guus Meeuwis – they don’t come much more ‘Brabants’ than that – are perfectly at ease in Holland land. They are the intermediaries who make the non-Holland Dutch person identify with the programme. At the same time, their fame makes them acceptable to the Holland part of the audience.
The effect of this strategy is that viewers of this programme, no matter where they’re from, are increasingly confused about the difference between what is ‘Hollands’ and what is Dutch.

This programme is not the only example of hollancination. Heel Holland Bakt (The Holland Bake-Off) and Holland’s Got Talent also fit the bill. Television plays a special role in the hollancination process. It connects the private domain with the hollandised perspective of the Netherlands. It’s a subtle but effective kind of Holland framing.
The hollancination phenomenon is completely unique in Europe. No other country uses the name of a region to refer to the country as a whole.
So what does hollancination have to do with Dutch identity? It’s like this. Every society has a dominant culture and a number of regional subcultures. But the Netherlands is unique in that the dominant Holland culture is claiming to be the national culture. Many a Hollander thinks this is as it should be and the majority of people living in the non-Holland provinces don’t mind either.
The complete lack of any resistance against hollancination is in itself typically Dutch. The facile acceptance of a factually wrong self-image lies at the heart of the Dutch identity which is divers and complex but most of all, something it’s not.

Niels Mathijssen is a historian and media scientist. For more on the subject visit his website.
This artcle was published earlier in the Volkskrant.klompen

Opinion: “Ode to Saba”
Time for free movement throughout the Kingdom


  1. René Caderius van Veen

    In addition to this: using the English word “Dutch” for the language “Nederlands” makes things even more confusing from a historical point of view. “Dutch” comes from the original word “Diets” which has the same roots and meaning as “Deutsch” (=German). Originally this word did not mean anything else than “folk-language” in contrast to the Latin that was used by the Roman Catholic Church.
    Apart from this, it is definitely true that many people do identify themselves as Nederlander and certainly not as Hollander. The dialect spoken originally in the area of the town Hilversum (in the province Utrecht and not in the province Holland) became the standard for speaking “common civilized Nederlands”. Dialects in Holland and especially in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague were (and still often are) considered as a vulgar variation of it, while the dialects in the provinces Groningen, Drenthe, Gelderland, Brabant en Limburg are considered as simply regional. Frysian is even internationally recognised as a separate language. “Holland” is an easier and more attractive word than “Nederland” but using it is very often based on laziness. And by the way: the borders of provinces are not that important anymore.

  2. I don’t share your opinion that the province borders are not that important anymore. The seperate provinces each still have their own identity and culture, which can differ enormously from each other. Where (North-/South-)Holland is clearly an urban area and even in the few rural areas within Holland, people live in a more urban lifestyle, Gelderland is much more out-of-the-rush and ‘quiet’. Where Frisians claim to live more to the matter of fact, Limburg is rather famous for their chauvinism (read: narrow minded lifestyle). In fact, Hollanders often get the urge to call Limburg “not actually Dutch”, while Limburgers themselves are often pro-NL nationalists. And I’m very sure the difference between Amsterdam and Saba is clear to everyone here. The province borders are by many people seen as a recognition of these identities. The only province border that has no significant value is the one between North- and South-Holland.

  3. In Canada I have lived and worked 21 years and 3 years in Zimbabwe. Before that 18 years in “Zuid Holland”, where I was born. . .It was Nederland in those days if you referred to the country:-).

    After leaving Zimbabwe I have started my 28th year in Holland, first in Zeeland for half a year and then since 1987 in the Province of Utrecht, in two different cities. . .and with this I have come to the focus of the Great Controversy that appears to be a heavy burned on the shoulders of The Dutch that have not “lived & worked” in foreign countries.

    As soon as I arrived in Canada in 1962 “The Dutch” were generally identified as having emigrated for Holland and we were called either Hollanders or The Dutch. In formal situations such as filling-in forms, in regards to language and country, instead of Holland we and the Canadians used Dutch or The Dutch and The Netherlands. This simply was so, and no one had a problem with that duality because that was the norm there. Some people were less informed in it and we simply explained the differences if they asked about it. . .and they accepted the explanations without finding it funny or wrong.

    In any language a thing or concept often has a number of different names that are used interchangeably, or a word has different meanings. From an International perspective, in the English Language, Holland and The Netherlands are truly synonymous because it is convenient as well as practical for all concerned, in writing and in casual conversations. . .even for Dutch people on foreign countries this s undeniably true. . .even though we know that sometimes we commit linguistic crimes. . . but that is quite OK.
    Look at it this way: If in Paris you meet a Tourist or someone at a Convention that lives in South Dakota and ask him were he hails from he might say “From The States” or “From America” or even “from the United States” but seldom “From the United Stated of America” even though the latter will be the correct one. . .In rare occasions, if the person would hear from the questioner’s voice that the person hails from Missouri he might answer “I am from South Dakota”. The context of the communication will determine what is being said . . .So also it is for the Dutch anywhere. . . and now in Holland too, because of the Englification of the Dutch Language! Pragmatism and convenience will rule!

    In a casual conversation in English I would say “I come from Holland”, “I speak Dutch when I use my native language and my country is called Nederland” . If I frequent have to refer to my country it is very awkward to say every time “The Netherlands”. . .it is far more relaxed to say “Holland” and it sounds absolutely stupid to say “I come from Netherlands” or “I come from Nederland”. Furthermore, in that context, it would be silly and ineffective yo say “I come from Utrecht”, just like in a similar context in Nederland a Canadian would not normally say “I come from Newfoundland” if the context of the discussion is the countries of origin that are being discussed, or simply implied. In that sense the name Holland instead of The Netherlands is perfectly acceptable and preferable to a stilted or awkward formulation.

    We often use factually incorrect words because they have become a concept that people learned as a kid and adults often do not know that what they say is really nonsense.
    An example:
    When a Dutch person is going to “de-ice” his Refrigerator he usually actually says . . . translated to English. . . “I am going to freeze the Refrigerator”. . .J
    In Dutch one typically says for that “[Ik ga de koelkast ontdooien]”. . . [I am going to “unthaw” the Refrigerator].
    It sounds very silly when we analyse it but everyone of us understand that we mean “thawing”. . . [Dooien] . . . instead of “unthawing”. . .We use the word [Ontdooien] because it has become to mean : de-icing and not freezing.

    The Dutch are a “Strange Bunch of People”.
    One day they resort to useless nitpicking and the next day they say the dumbest things and expect it makes sense to everyone. . .which it does of course! 🙂