Isn't that the capital of Kopenhagen?
December 22, 2005 3:31 PM   Subscribe

Do non-European people know where the Netherlands are?

I often engage in conversation with people from America/Australia and other countries who ask where I live. If I say I live in the Netherlands, will they have a general idea of where the country is (West of Germany, north of France/Belgium etc.)?

I know it depends on the person, but I am looking for an answer like: Most dutch people will know where the US are. They can approximately find New York and Washington on a map, they may know Texas and California, but they cannot find Iowa and Wisconsin (and, well, probably every other state).
posted by davar to Education (61 answers total)
Many non-european people don't even know where Canada is, let alone that people from the Netherlands are even called "Dutch". It all depends on how educated they are, just like most other questions of this nature.
posted by booknerd at 3:33 PM on December 22, 2005

There's a huge variance in how good americans are at geography, but I'd say most educated people here can approximate the location, but not that many could point to it on a map without some amount of guessing.
posted by aubilenon at 3:36 PM on December 22, 2005

Try saying "Holland". They might know Holland.
posted by Ken McE at 3:36 PM on December 22, 2005

I think a lot of people will be confused by "it's the Netherlands, no wait it's Holland, wait, but they speak Dutch." Once they get past the naming problem, yeah, I think most people would have a vague idea in the north-of-France way. I know I would.

I learned all the European countries in middle school (when we were 12 or so), and I wouldn't be surprised if other schools across the country had a similar unit around the same age. I don't know whether or not people will remember that. I don't know perfectly specifically, but I can definitely give west-of-Germany generalities.
posted by booksandlibretti at 3:36 PM on December 22, 2005

They know it's in Europe, and that it's not Spain, Italy, or the British Isles. They could not label it on an blank map of Europe.
posted by smackfu at 3:40 PM on December 22, 2005

I'd say pretty much all of my friends can locate the Netherlands, or at least the BeNeLux trio, on a map. But my friends are probably not a good representative sample. My (public) high school had a mandatory World Studies class where we had geography units on each continent and had to memorize all the countries and capitals. So, at least in theory, everyone in the state of California learns it at some point. Whether they retain that information is another question.
posted by TunnelArmr at 3:41 PM on December 22, 2005

Im Australian, and I probably couldnt find it on an unlabeled map. This is probably the case for a lot of European or African countries. I plan on doing a European holiday sometime in the future and Im sure ill know them all then, it just seems to stick more that way than with a label the countries test in school.
posted by phyle at 3:46 PM on December 22, 2005

I know where it is. But, I made it a New Years Resolution in 2001 to learn to locate all the countries in Western Europe [Eastern European ones I knew because I lived and travelled there] and I drilled with some online quizzes until I got it right. I think people will know enough about the location of the Netherlands to know what sort of climate it has, but maybe not enough to be able to locate it on a map.
posted by jessamyn at 3:48 PM on December 22, 2005

I'm lucky to find France on a map, let alone Holland.
posted by uncleozzy at 3:52 PM on December 22, 2005

Since I work with a Dane (who really hates it when I call him a Danish) I bet I can find it.

Holland works better than the Netherlands, which always makes me think someone's being polite when talking about their genitals. Sorry.
posted by fenriq at 3:53 PM on December 22, 2005

I (New Zealander) can find the Netherlands on the map, but I wouldn't trust many of my compatriots to get much closer than somewhere in Northern Europe. If we thought about it, we'd realise that there must be a significant coastline or there wouldn't be a need for dikes.

We would probably be as likely to use the name "Holland" as "the Netherlands" (yes I know Holland is merely a province but such is our local usage). Given that we're in Nieuw Zeeland I suppose that's a bit ironic.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:57 PM on December 22, 2005

It's really confusing because of the name "Netherlands, Holland, with Dutch people?"

Supposedly Stalin went his whole life without realizing that the Netherlands and Holland were different countries, nobody had the guts to correct him.

So your country ends up being one of the least likely for people to know much about.

That said, I feel like I know quite a bit about your country from reading Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle and being interested in your countries, erm, 'liberal' stand on drug use :P. There was also that whole Natalee Holloway/Aruba thing recently, so maybe now more Americans are at least aware that there is a European country called "the Netherlands".

Do people in the Netherlands know the difference between Britain, the UK, and England?
posted by delmoi at 3:58 PM on December 22, 2005

I always thought of the Netherlands should be in the nether-regions of europe (the bottom). But I guess Nether problems has something to do with north? I couldn't have pointed them out with surety before spending a couple of years living in europe. (I was raised in Canada).
posted by blue_beetle at 4:06 PM on December 22, 2005

I think you can safely assume the average American knows about as much about the Netherlands as the average Dutch person knows about Iowa. There are certainly lots of Americans who've been to the Netherlands and/or can locate it on a map and/or know something about the country -- so don't give up on us all -- but the vast majority can do none of these things.
posted by blue mustard at 4:06 PM on December 22, 2005

blue_beetle, I think -- and this is where I get into unusual stuff -- the "nether" part has to do with height above sea level. Or below sea level, in this case, which is why they have dikes, and why part(?) was called the Low Countries.
posted by booksandlibretti at 4:14 PM on December 22, 2005

I'm probably generalizing, but I think most Americans call the country "Holland" instead of the Netherlands. (Just like many Americans say "England" when refering to the UK as a whole. sorry guys.)

I think knowing about other countries is related more to a person's interest in travel or history (especially World War II history) rather than their level of education. I've known many university educated people who have only a hazy idea of geography.

If it makes you feel any better, I know where the Netherlands is located, can name all the provinces, and even speak some Dutch. But give me a blank map of the US and I couldn't tell you exactly which state is Iowa, (although I do know what part of the country it's in).
posted by luneray at 4:14 PM on December 22, 2005

It is usually said that the country is called "Netherlands" because it is so low and parts of the country are below sea level.
I think here is another explanation that has something to do with Germany but I'm not sure.
posted by snownoid at 4:18 PM on December 22, 2005

I am Canadian, and I can identify the Netherlands on a map. I can also locate Amsterdam, Nijmegen, Haarlem, The Hague, and, with a good enough resolution map, Marken and Vollendam.

Do I win a prize?
posted by Meatbomb at 4:23 PM on December 22, 2005

An essential bit of reassurance in the face of the paucity of geographic instruction in the American public school system is just this:

Should the Netherlands ever be invaded again, enough Americans will always know where Holland is to see to it that your invader is sent packing, and promptly. As a people we may be ignorant and uncultured, but what we lack in sophistication and charm, we make up in low cunning and effective weaponry. And we operate the GPS.
posted by paulsc at 4:26 PM on December 22, 2005

I and pretty much all of my friends could locate the Netherlands. We could all probably label the countries of Western Europe. So I imagine folks with a pretty good education would have a good chance of finding it on a map. But that's certainly not the "average American."

I would have trouble with the less-obvious bits of eastern Europe and the Balkans. I would be hopeless with certain parts of Africa.

Disclaimer: I am of Dutch descent, but from several centuries back, so I don't think it has any bearing on my knowledge of your geography.
posted by lackutrol at 4:27 PM on December 22, 2005

I could almost certainly label all the countries of Western Europe on a map, and at least a majority of the countries of Eastern Europe. Of course, when I was in college, people thought it was a neat party trick that I could label all of the U.S. states on a blank map. ("Who needs to tell Colorado and Wyoming apart?" my roommate once said. Given that I grew up in both states, I pointed out, I myself had found it handy to be able to distinguish between the two.)
posted by scody at 4:37 PM on December 22, 2005

Note that they would be able to identify the major icons (tulips, dikes, windmills, wooden shoes, pot), so you're better off than some European countries.
posted by smackfu at 4:39 PM on December 22, 2005

isn't this about equivalent to asking a european to identify a minor american state? i can't do that reliably.
posted by andrew cooke at 4:40 PM on December 22, 2005

According to National Geographic:
"About 11 percent of young citizens of the U.S. couldn’t even locate the U.S. on a map. The Pacific Ocean’s location was a mystery to 29 percent; Japan, to 58 percent; France, to 65 percent; and the United Kingdom, to 69 percent."
posted by ericb at 4:54 PM on December 22, 2005

My guess is that the geographic location of the Netherlands remains a mystery to most here in the States.
posted by ericb at 4:55 PM on December 22, 2005

I'm American (and well-educated, if I do say so myself), and the only real reason I could point out the Netherlands on a blank map is that I've traveled there by bus--through Belgium on the way in and through Germany on the way out. So I remember roughly where it is in relation to those two countries.
posted by lampoil at 5:01 PM on December 22, 2005

I (NewZealander) wouldn't be able to find it on an unlabelled map. I'd like to think I'd have made the dikes => significant coastline connection mentioned by i-am-joe's_spleen, but ....probably not.
posted by Pigpen at 5:02 PM on December 22, 2005

And apologies for mangling his name!
posted by Pigpen at 5:02 PM on December 22, 2005

Oh, that's where it is. I always thought it was up by Sweden and Norway, possibly because they look like a big ballsack. Embarrassingly, I have visited the UK, France, Belgium and Germany, pretty much boxing the poor little country in. I guess I'm just a dumb American. Oh well.

Oh wow, Turkey is all the way down there?
posted by trevyn at 5:03 PM on December 22, 2005

Many Americans couldn't locate Iowa on a map. I can, but I live there. There's a joke about an Iowan telling a [New Yorker/Californian/whatever] that they live in Iowa. The non-Iowan replies "Oh, here we pronounce it 'Ohio.'" Years ago there were T shirts in the college town where I live proclaiming "The University of Iowa, Idaho City, Ohio."
posted by redheadeb at 5:03 PM on December 22, 2005

I do, but I've been there.

(Australian, not especially well educated).
posted by pompomtom at 5:05 PM on December 22, 2005

Another word for that area of the world is "The Low Countries", so that might be the source for the Netherlands name... since it's just about as low as they get. :)

I knew about where it was, but I couldn't have reliably differentiated it from Belgium. I think most educated Americans would probably do that well. Ask an uneducated American, however, and you'd be lucky if they knew what continent it was on.

Someone up there says that Holland and the Netherlands are separate countries. I was under the impression that they were different words for the same thing?

(I took that geography test linked above and got 77 out of 111.... Eastern Europe is tough!)
posted by Malor at 5:20 PM on December 22, 2005

While we're at it, maybe the States should be renamed - is it America, the US, the USA, North America.. what? And do they speak Americish? No? English? Wow, that's so...confusing.

Hey, let's just call it Dutchland to make it easy for the dumbasses out there, eh? Maybe the Germans in Deutschland would object though.

So what do you call it yourself? The Nederlands? Oh. I see...
posted by dash_slot- at 5:21 PM on December 22, 2005

You should just hang around with potheads in America. They all know where the Netherlands is.

(Is it "the Netherlands are" or "the Netherlands is"?)
posted by ScottMorris at 6:06 PM on December 22, 2005

Due to a more-than-passing-interest in Northern Renaissance art, I can probably find it on a map. Also due to a childhood obsession with World War II and Anne Frank.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:07 PM on December 22, 2005

I am American, and going by coastline/geographic features alone, I am likely to end up pointing my finger at Germany or Belgium or maybe even France. But if the map has lines on it (without names filled in), I can find the Netherlands.

However, I also spent over a year sending letters and stuff to a woman there I hoped to marry when she returned to the US, so I had a specific reason for focusing (even if didn't work out </bitter>).

I suspect many of my friends could probably find it too, but many of them have been to Europe, or taken European history, or otherwise payed attention to the subject for some reason or another.
posted by weston at 6:21 PM on December 22, 2005

See also the full results (pdf) of the National Geographic survey that ericb talks about.

Finding Netherlands on a map of Europe:
US 8%
Canada 11%
G. Britain 31%
Japan 27%
Mexico 8%
France & Germany 70%

They didn't ask about U.S. states. However, some of the Western Europen states were poor at finding some of the Eastern European states:

Finding Bulgaria:
France: 13%
Germany: 26%
Gr. Britain: 6%
Italy: 17%
Sweden: 34%

I guess that's roughly close.. Could you place Bulgaria on a map?

Me, I get the Netherlands and Denmark mixed up all the time.
posted by fleacircus at 6:49 PM on December 22, 2005

Someone up there says that Holland and the Netherlands are separate countries. I was under the impression that they were different words for the same thing?

Holland is a (large) part of the Netherlands.
posted by pompomtom at 6:53 PM on December 22, 2005

I could probably find it on a blank map, since I know what its coastline looks like (my grandfather's unit was one of the ones that liberated it during WW2, which led to him having a bunch of books detailing the Dutch coastline), but I don't know that I could place its inland boundaries with regard to Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, etc.

I can name and place about thirty-to-thirty-five of the US states, and make guesses at the rest (New England and the Mid-west are my trouble areas).

I'm Canadian. I've never been to continental Europe, just London, England, once, about twelve years ago.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 6:59 PM on December 22, 2005

"The Low Countries" encompasses the Netherlands and Belgium and maybe Luxembourg as well. They're low because they're flat and nearly at sea level thanks to the Rhine river. This is also why we distinguish Low German from High German (and from my perspective Dutch and Low German are pretty much the same thing with a national border down the middle).

The "Nether" in the English "Netherlands" is to be taken in the sense of "low", but I think it's quite recent. My very poor Dutch tells me that Nederlands literally IS "Low countries". I reckon Netherlands is a fairly new coinage in English; Holland is the older term.

No doubt someone with a grasp of the politics of the English succession (William of Orange was a Dutchman, yes?) and a good historical dictionary could shed some light on this.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:16 PM on December 22, 2005

I'm American, and I can locate the Netherlands on a map, in exactly the same way you described it originally--north of France (everyone knows where France is, right?!?) and Belgium.

And by the way, while we're on the topic of geography, lots of Washingtonians (those from Washington State) would appreciate it if the whole world stopped refering to Washington D.C. as simply "Washington".
posted by folara at 7:19 PM on December 22, 2005

I just asked my girlfriend (also New Zealander). "Somewhere near England, isn't it?"

And rather crushingly, I'm afraid, "I've never needed to know where the Netherlands are."

I guess this makes up for all the time I spent trying to explain there are no kangaroos in New Zealand and that you can't from Sydney to Auckland via a bridge.

(that could be a good AxeMe: what is the stupidest misconception about your homeland you've had to correct?)
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:27 PM on December 22, 2005

Finding Netherlands on a map of Europe:
US 8%
Canada 11%
G. Britain 31%
Japan 27%
Mexico 8%
France & Germany 70%

As disturbing/embarrassing as our (US) results are, I find it amazing that 30% of French and Germans couldn't find it...

I could point to an unmarked map and mostly hit the Netherlands, with a bit of Belgium thrown in for good measure. As noted above, a childhood interest in WWII seem to correlate into a vastly enhanced knowledge of European geography amongst North Americans. But what's this crazy talk about no kangaroos in New Zealand!?
posted by jalexei at 7:40 PM on December 22, 2005

Sydney to Auckland via a bridge

And, oh my, from my visits Down Under I did learn to not conflate Australia and New Zealand ... and to be sure that all geographical representations of Australia include the island of Tasmania.
posted by ericb at 7:53 PM on December 22, 2005

I do have to say that New Zealand is one of the most beautiful/incredible countries on this planet. And the people are wonderful!
posted by ericb at 7:55 PM on December 22, 2005

But what's this crazy talk about no kangaroos in New Zealand!?

They all got eaten by Bunyips.
posted by pompomtom at 7:56 PM on December 22, 2005

The only kangaroo I've ever seen here in Auckland was on a shrinkwrapped tray in the meat section of the supermarket.

We do have a few wallabies but we're trying to kill them.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:06 PM on December 22, 2005

I'm Malaysian, and while most Malaysians may know who the Dutch are (we were a Dutch colony for a while), I'm not entirely sure they'd know where exactly it was on the map.

I have an idea, but that's because I've just been there (Amsterdam and Utrecht). GORGEOUS country, I'm in love with it.

My Utrecht host family told me that Holland is just a nickname for The Netherlands. My other Dutch friend (can't remember where in the Netherlands he's from) says it's a province. I'm now confused.
posted by divabat at 8:17 PM on December 22, 2005

My Utrecht host family told me that Holland is just a nickname for The Netherlands. My other Dutch friend (can't remember where in the Netherlands he's from) says it's a province. I'm now confused.

It's two, two, two meanings in one!

"Holland can refer to many different things, though primarily to Holland, a former county and region in the Netherlands, now divided into two provinces; North Holland and South Holland. In English, Holland is often colloquially used as synonym of The Netherlands (and during 1806-1810 it was actually named Kingdom of Holland)." (via)
posted by SuperNova at 8:53 PM on December 22, 2005

Most people who have passports and want to visit Europe can, though people may confuse it with its neigbouring countries. I doubt many people would confuse it with Austria or Mongolia.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 9:09 PM on December 22, 2005

I'd have gotten west of Germany and north of France, but not north of Belgium, since I have little to no idea where Belgium is. Shamefully, I scored only 51 on jessamyn's quiz; I choose to blame this on my poverty and inability to travel internationally.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 9:39 PM on December 22, 2005

As disturbing/embarrassing as our (US) results are, I find it amazing that 30% of French and Germans couldn't find it...

I'm more impressed by the 69% of British people. Where do they think it is?
posted by smackfu at 9:56 PM on December 22, 2005

I'm Australian, and I'd be lying if I said I could point to it with 100% certainty on an unlabelled map. But I know that if I tried and got it wrong, I'd be pointing at Belgium ;-)

(Just tried it here, and got it right)

For me, at least, the problem is that beyond a (apparently pretty accurate) rough idea, it's just not that important in my day-to-day life. It's not something that's even necessary to know once a week, or once a month, so beyond a vague "north of France, west of Germany, and Belgium and Luxembourg are around there too", I don't have it stored in my brain.

Same with the states of the USA - apart from a vague "down there, up there, on the left, on the right", I just don't know the location of most of them.

However, I despair of people who have trouble identifying the continents. Not to knock Americans particularly, but I know a couple who have trouble identifying Africa and South America correctly on a world map. (You'd think South America would be a give-away, right? Wrong...). Maybe only the dumb ones emigrate here ;-)

And on the "stupid misconceptions" thing: not the stupidest, but the funniest was the Canadian tourist who asked me how may days it would take to drive from here to Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo. I appreciated that he had a good grasp of the scale of my country, but had to disappoint him by saying "about an hour" ;-)
posted by Pinback at 10:49 PM on December 22, 2005

Thanks all. Really helpful and a bit disturbing. I did not expect many people would be able to pinpoint it exactly on a map, but I had not considered the possibility that the word the Netherlands would be virtually unknown in favor of Holland. I, like many Dutch people, hate it when people say Holland when they mean our whole country. I expect it is indeed similar to saying to someone in Wales that you do not know where the UK is, that he should just say he lives in England indeed.

delmoi: Do people in the Netherlands know the difference between Britain, the UK, and England?
Educated people do. Uneducated people probably do not, but they would know that UK/Britain/England is the same island (they wouldn't know about Northern Ireland). They would not be totally confused if you said you were from Britain.

I guess I can expect that people know it is in Western Europe, and that's good enough. I wondered if people would think my country is in Africa or Asia and I should just say I live in Europe, but that does not seem necessary.

For the record: I do not blame anyone. Our geographical knowledge is probably as bad as that of people in the rest of the world. I recently was in a class where the instructor asked us to guess how large Israel was, in relation to the Netherlands. Guesses varied from 4 times as big to 100 times as big. It is half as big.

I am very surprised that even European people cannot find it on a map though. It does depend on what kind of map they show, I guess, and what kind of pressure people felt (I haven't yet read the study, but definately will). I know I can find Austria and Switzerland, but would have trouble pointing them out on a blank map if someone were to ask me out of the blue. I thought the Netherlands would be easier because it is near the coast (just like I can find California, but not Iowa). And Germans? What the? It are our neighbours! We have a lot of history together! How can 30% of them not know where it is? Very interesting, thanks.
posted by davar at 12:53 AM on December 23, 2005

Man, I did that test and only got 80. I would have done worse if it didn't tell you which country your WRONG guess was (it should really take those countries out). I was, however, able to find The Netherlands on the map. But then, I'm a Canadian currently living in Ireland who was just in Amsterdam a month ago.

I remember in 8th grade being forced to learn all of the countries of Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America... I got perfect on the Africa test (there were 50 countries at the time) and I couldn't point out more than 5 or so now. Of course, Africa is much different from what it was in 1991. Likewise Europe... It was so much easier when you could just say "Yugoslavia" and "Czechoslovakia" and not the 5 or 6 or whatever countries that they now are. :)
posted by antifuse at 1:27 AM on December 23, 2005

i scored 82/111 in the quiz :D
that's not too good for a german ..
posted by suni at 5:35 AM on December 23, 2005

Somewhat related (okay, only slightly, but still funny):
Fools world map - a world map drawn from memory, for those 2 people who haven't yet seen it.
posted by lodev at 6:25 AM on December 23, 2005

And by the way, while we're on the topic of geography, lots of Washingtonians (those from Washington State) would appreciate it if the whole world stopped refering to Washington D.C. as simply "Washington".

Well, how do you think we DC'ers feel about the confusion? When I'm on the East Coast, everyone knows we're referring to DC when we say simply "Washington." However, when I am on the West Coast, I have to take extra care to make the distinction.

DC was here before Washington State. So I think they should be the ones to be forced to change their name. How about "North of Portland." (disclaimer: just kidding, I used to live in Washington State)
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 7:24 AM on December 23, 2005

"About 11 percent of young citizens of the U.S. couldn’t even locate the U.S. on a map.

What does "young citizens" mean in this case? The article says "young adults" which generally means "teenagers". Now think about this a second. You give a survey to a bunch of teenagers and tell them they won't be graded on it. How many of them deliberately mess it up? How many of them just don't try? I mean, teenagers generally don't think "Hey, I'll impress my peers with my awesome knowledge of geography! That will be an awesome benefit to me!"
posted by dagnyscott at 9:44 AM on December 23, 2005

What does "young citizens" mean in this case?

from the link: "The National Geographic–Roper 2002 Global Geographic Literacy Survey polled more than 3,000 18- to 24-year-olds in Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Sweden and the United States."

As someone who teaches community college, I have very little trouble believing these results. I often notice how little context most kids have for things - for how the world is laid out, for how the earth fits into space, for how history fits together. They get lots of little data, but for the most part are clueless about the big picture. This is especially evident in timelines in my subject.
posted by mdn at 12:34 PM on December 23, 2005

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