Jan Schenkels, who is the patriarch of our family, comes from the city of Delft. Naturally, we are all very fond of this charming city and visit frequently when we make our yearly trips back to the Netherlands.
One of the most charming cities in the province of South Holland (Zuid-Holland) is beautiful and historic Delft. The city, with its charming canals and picturesque town center, has long associations with the Dutch Royal Family. The city was also the birthplace of the 17th century master Johannes Vermeer who used Delft as a setting for many of his renouned domestic scenes. Anyone familiar with Delftware will recognize the blue and white ceramic tiles, housewares and decorative items that come from this captivating city.
Holland, the Netherlands, the Dutch: I am so confused!
In the Netherlands, no one is confused about what to call themselves or the language they speak. They are Nederlanders from Nederland who speak Nederlands. In English speaking countries, we frequently sustitute the word Holland for the Netherlands. And to add to the confusion, the people from Holland speak Dutch. We admit that this is confusing.
Like the United States, the Netherlands is divided up into different states or in this case 12 provinces. Holland, which is located in the West part of the country, is composed of two provinces, North Holland and South Holland. It is in these provinces that you will find Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. People from the Netherlands will sometimes refer to their country as Holland, and at soccer matches, they will definitely cheer for Holland.
The word neder means downward of below, and the word lands stands for country. Put them together and you have "the Low Lands" or "the Low Countries." In addition to the 12 provinces, the Kingdom of the Netherlands also includes the Carribean Islands: Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, St. Eustatius, Saba and Sint Maarten.
Here is where things get really technical, so stay with me. In the Middle-Ages there were two Germanic words used to describe people who didn't speak or write Latin (which was practically everyone): deutsche and diets. I assume Latin speaking people would refer to the great unwashed masses as the deutsche in a snobbish tone. The word was adopted by the Germans who call their country Deutschland, or land of the people. Get it? However, it was the English who created the confusion by referring to people from the Netherlands as the Dutch. Nederlanders have accepted this word as a foreign invention.
So now that I know, what do I do?
Nederlanders are quite happy for you to interchange these expressions, but if you want to be precise, Nederlanders are from the Netherlands and speak Nederlands. Just as Spaniards are from Spain and speak Spanish!