Compared to other countries, Holland is the size of a postage stamp—about as big as Maryland, USA in land mass. California is nearly 12 times larger. Indeed, three hours on the clogged I-405 in my home state will get you from Los Angeles to Bakersfield. In contrast, you can travel through the entire Netherlands, from Maastricht in the south to Groningen near the northern tip, in the same amount of time.
While Holland is tiny, it’s home to some 0f the world’s tallest people. The average male Dutchie is six-foot-one—four inches taller than most American males. Dutch girls also outstrip their American sisters in height, averaging five-foot-seven inches compared to a puny five-foot-four inch average in the USA.
A perfect storm of genetics, disease prevention, a protein- and dairy-rich diet, and a 95% child vaccination rate contribute to Dutchies’ robust stature. Some of the world’s best healthcare also helps, especially during prenatal and early childhood development, when it matters most. By studying ancestral skeletons, Leiden University’s Professor George Maat concludes, “Health, nutrition, living conditions, genetics—everything…goes down to one thing that represents all of that, and that is stature.”
Government also can play a role in vertical superiority. According to economics history Professor J.W. Drukker of the University of Groningen, the mid-19th century Dutch growth spurt coincided with establishment of the first liberal democracy. Earlier, Holland grew rich off its colonies, but wealth remained in the hands of the elite. After democracy settled in, money trickled down to all societal levels. Incomes rose and average heights went up, narrowing the gap between rich and poor. Today, that gap remains narrow compared to countries like Chile, Mexico and America, land of opportunity, now 4th among countries in the developed world with the most uneven distribution of wealth.
Architecture reflects vertical evolution in Holland. While 16th century doorways might require average-height males to hunch, a new minimum for business and residential doorways is seven feet, eight inches—adequate for above-average Dutchies, as well as tangible evidence these giants have grown taller through the ages. And they’re still growing, vainly attempting to reach that elusive sun! Alas, they’ll never win that battle in the Netherlands.
At this point, you may be saying, “So what? Who cares if Dutchies are taller than Americans and virtually every other nationality? Does height really matter?” The truth about Holland’s soaring population goes deeper than a vertical measurement. Historically, tallness is among the most important indicators of a nation’s success, reflecting not only wealth but a country’s overall health and well-being. At the height of the Roman empire, Romans were the world’s tallest humans. America led for two centuries, reaching new heights during the frontier years. These days, the Dutch and Scandinavians rule, guaranteeing them the best seats at concerts around the world.
Oddly, in this land of giants, diminutives are used ad nauseum to describe anything sweet, cute or funny. Just as Americans refer to a nice dog as a “doggie” or cute cate as a “kitty,” Dutchies add je (or a few other suffixes) to every other noun to indicate fondness, endearment or sometimes sarcasm. A dog (hond) or cat (kat) becomes a hondje or katje. Diminutives also can describe objects, i.e. a table (tafelje) or glass of beer (biertje). In some cases, the diminutive is embedded in a phrase, e.g. een goed woord doen (to put in a good word) is conventionally expressed as een goed woordje doen.
With their incessant emphasis on cuteness, Dutchies can sound like children trying to manipulate their parents. While growing upward not outward is their statistical pattern, they use the diminutive form for snacks they regularly consume—a kroketje, sateetje or patatje—possibly to minimize the calorific value of these deep-fried treats in their minds. To see the full force of their emphasis on small things, watch Dutch performer Wim Sonneveld stringing diminutives together for comic effect in this YouTube clip. Even if you don’t speak Dutch, it’s easy to recognize the je (sounds like “chuh”) sounds throughout.
Beyond language, Dutchies’ love for diminutives is expressed in their windows, usually sans coverings, open for all the world to see. With their Calvinist roots, they’re raised to believe they have nothing to hide. Rather than shrink from the world, they display collections of miniatures—some cute, whimsical or odd, others frankly bizarre.
Which brings us to Madurodam, an interactive amusement park near Den Haag where a postage stamp-size country becomes even smaller. Here you can learn how Holland transformed itself in the Golden Age and became a destination with world-class cities and a rich historical legacy. In this small, small world laced with landmarks, historical scenes, battles and monuments at 1/25 scale, even shorties will feel like giants.