The openness and tolerance for which the Dutch are famous go back a long way. Under constant threat from the sea, people had to work together to prevent flooding and reclaim land. For the common good, it was better to overlook differences of politics or religion – literally “to live and let live”. In a small, flat, crowded country, consensus was always preferable to conflict.
The deep-seated Dutch commercial instinct also contributed to this national characteristic. When there was money to be made, what did it matter who you were doing business with? Once you had the money, though, it had to be spent well. In the past that meant wise investment, but also cultural patronage and philanthropy. The results can still be seen in historic cities like Utrecht, with their fine buildings, canals and monuments. In more recent times it has meant a readiness to accept relatively high taxes in return for modern infrastructure, good public services and social security. Only with the ordered society that they bring, goes the thinking, can the Dutch reap the full fruits of their entrepreneurial spirit.
The Netherlands has been absorbing immigrants and outside influences for centuries, and they have added much to the nation’s economic, cultural and social life. Historically, this was always a safe haven for those oppressed or persecuted elsewhere. Whilst there are sometimes tensions, that tradition continues to this day. It has fostered a culture of acceptance, justice and equality, regardless of race or nationality, beliefs or faith, gender or sexuality.
If you make an effort to fit in, then you will find the Dutch very welcoming. When you are here, you may well find yourself eating Indonesian food, dancing to Turkish music or enjoying a Caribbean festival. But you will also find a strong sense of national pride and tradition, especially if you experience King’s Day (27 April), St Nicholas’ Day (5 December) or any important match played by “Oranje”, the national football team.