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The Difference Between ‘Holland’ and ‘The Netherlands:’ The Provinces are More Beautiful

Date: Friday, July 11, 2014
Category: News

Holland and The Netherlands are very different titles, but – oddly – they’re used interchangeably abroad. If you fly KLM to the Netherlands, you’re greeted by The Holland Herald. The website of the Netherlands Foreign Ministry says ‘Visit Holland.’ And what’s the viral ad campaign by the Netherlands Board of Tourism? ‘Holland, the Original Cool.’

Imagine my surprise when I arrived in the Netherlands and discovered that Holland only refers to 2 of the 12 provinces. Noord Holland and Zuid Holland seem to think they’re the only 2 provinces that matter. Meanwhile, the other 10 provinces seem to think that Noord Holland and Zuid Holland are certainly the most arrogant.

I arrived in the Netherlands from Chicago, and – with Boom Chicago Comedy Theater – I’ve performed all across the country. By now, I’m married to a Dutch woman, and she admits I’ve seen more of the country than she has. One of the first things I discovered is the rivalry between ‘Holland’ and ‘The Netherlands.’ When I first got here, I’d be performing in Brabant or Utrecht, and – if I’d say ‘Hello, Holland’ – it would take about 1.5 seconds for someone to yell ‘Nee! You’re not in Holland!’ And it’s understandable that most Dutch provinces don’t want to be referred to as ‘Holland.’ Hol means hollow. As an American, I’ve been called shallow, but I think being it’s worse to be hollow.

And what about the World Cup? The uniforms say ‘Nederland,’ but the fans yell ‘Hol-land!’ What about the players from the other 10 provinces? What if the player from Rotterdam passes to the guy from Friesland? He must feel like, ‘They’re not cheering for me.’ Historically, I think that explains a lot.

Full disclosure: I live in Amsterdam. I love the city. But I also love visiting the rest of the Netherlands. I’ve been from Texel to Maastricht, from Vlissingen to Groningen, and all points in between. To me, the Non-Holland provinces are more beautiful. When visitors ask me where to go for a day trip, I send them to the Kröller Mueller Museum. The vastness of the Hoge Veluwe is breathtaking. And then to find so many classic masterpieces of impressionism in the middle of the forest is surreal. It’s worthy of a Magritte painting.

My wife and I are fans of Dutch agri-tourism. More and more Dutch farms are not only opening up their land for camping; they’re also letting families experience farm life first-hand. To be fair, it’s technically ‘glamping.’ The tents are already set up, and they’re actually more like cabins. We’ve been to a dairy farm in Friesland, where we shopped for provisions via canoe. We’ve been to a dairy farm / orchard in the Gelderlandse Betuwe, where we hiked along the river Waal. Both of these experiences were with Betere Boeren Bed, and we enjoyed both. We even tried agri-tourism in the US, outside of my hometown Chicago. To our surprise, the camping was also owned by Betere Boeren Bed! Indeed, the Dutch are everywhere.

Perhaps you’ve seen the online video’s for ‘Fascinating Friesland?’ I provided the voiceover. So of course I’ve made sure to get acquainted with Friesland – especially the Wadden Islands. Our favorite is Schiermonnikoog. It’s almost as if the island was designed by Efteling. In one day, you can visit a variety of themed areas: Beach; Dunes; Farm; Forest; Harbor; Small Town – and each is more charming than the last.

Are Noord Holland and Zuid Holland prepared to spend more time in The Netherlands? Perhaps I have some insight into the trends. I was recently performing at a green-themed event, where NRC revealed the results of their sustainability questionnaire. They went through the questions, comparing the NRC readers to the ‘average Dutch person.’ On everyday issues like recycling and energy efficiency, the NRC readers had a much smaller carbon footprint. But just when the audience was getting pleased with themselves, there came the question of vacation. Most NRC readers preferred somewhere exotic, like Indonesia, Sri Lanka, or South America. While Jan Modaal chose for good old Nederland. In the end, their carbon footprints were about the same.

So perhaps it’s good for Holland to remind itself the Netherlands is nice too.