Benelux Countries

The Benelux is made up of 3 countries.
The Benelux is made up of 3 countries.

The Benelux Union is a politico-economic union and formal international intergovernmental cooperation of three neighboring states in western Europe: Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. The name Benelux is a portmanteau formed from joining the first few letters of each country’s name – Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg – and was first used to name the customs agreement that initiated the union (signed in 1944). It is now used more generally to refer to the geographic, economic, and cultural grouping of the three countries.

A portmanteau is a blend of words inn which parts of multiple words or their sound are combined into a new word, as in smog, coined by blending smoke and fog, or motel, from motor and hotel.

Before the economic union that created the term Benelux, these countries were collectively referred to as the Low Countries, so-called because of their relative position to sea level. In the Netherlands, about 17% of the land falls below sea level! The Benelux countries are some of the most densely populated countries. They have managed to work together toward a common economic objective in spite of their cultural differences.

The capital and largest city in Belgium is Brussels, with the other urban areas being the ports of Antwerp and Ghent.

Guild houses in Antwerp
Guild houses in Antwerp

Belgium is split into three large geographic areas. The dominant language in the northern region of Flanders is Dutch (Flemish), and the people are known as Flemings. In the southern region of Wallonia, most people speak French and are known as Walloons. German is the third official language and is spoken along the eastern border.

Belgium is a multi-national state where more than one nation of people occupy one state (country).
Belgium is a multi-national state where more than one nation of people occupy one state (country). Notice the Belgium spellings of the cities.
History with Hilbert: Why is Belgium so Divided?
Note: There is one printed curse word in this video.

The European country of the Netherlands also includes the colonies of the Netherlands Antilles in the Caribbean.

Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius (from left to right, BES islands)
In the Caribbean Netherlands, Lesser Antilles, Caribbean
Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius (from left to right, BES islands)
In the Caribbean Netherlands, Lesser Antilles, Caribbean

The Netherlands, sometimes called Holland, is actually the name of two provinces (North Holland and South Holland) in the northwest part of the country.

North and South Holland are provinces of the Netherlands.
North and South Holland are provinces of the Netherlands.

The largest city is Amsterdam. The Hague is the seat of government and is home to the United Nations International Court of Justice. Rotterdam is located at the mouth of the Rhine River and is one of the busiest ports on the continent. The country is famous for its Zuider Zee, which is the large inland region below sea level that has been drained of water and surrounded with an extensive dike protecting it from the North Sea. Reclaiming land from the sea in areas called polders has provided this densely populated country with more land area for its people to expand their activities.

Netherlands: Polders and Windmills
Tulip fields in Holland as seen from an airplane.
Tulip fields in Holland as seen from an airplane.

For a small country with few natural resources, the Netherlands has an impressive GDP. The Dutch have made good use of their location on the North Sea and of the location of several large navigable rivers. The Netherlands is a top exporter of agricultural products, which contribute substantially to its economy. Dutch agricultural exports consist of fresh-cut plants, flowers, and bulbs (tulips!) as well as tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers.

Dutch windmill
Dutch windmill

The Dutch are also known for wooden shoes or clogs called klompen. Approximately 3 million pairs of klompen are made each year. They are sold throughout the Netherlands. A large part of the market is for tourist souvenirs. However, some Dutch people, particularly farmers, market gardeners, and gardeners still wear them for everyday use. 

Klompen - The red painting on top makes the clogs look like leather shoes. It is a traditional motif on painted clogs.
Klompen – The red painting on top makes the clogs look like leather shoes. It is a traditional motif on painted clogs.

The traditional all-wooden Dutch clogs have been officially accredited as safety shoes with the CE mark and can withstand almost any penetration including sharp objects and concentrated acids. They are actually safer than steel-capped protective shoes in some circumstances, as the wood cracks rather than dents in extreme accidents, allowing easy removal of the clog and not continued pressure on the toes by the (edge of the) steel nose.

Beginning in the 1950s, the Netherlands discovered huge natural gas resources. The sale of natural gas generated enormous revenues for the Netherlands for decades, adding hundreds of billions of euros to the government’s budget.

The Netherlands has a long tradition of social tolerance. In the 18th century, while the Dutch Reformed Church was the state religion, Catholicism, other forms of Protestantism, such as Baptists and Lutherans, as well as Judaism were tolerated but discriminated against. In the late 19th century this Dutch tradition of religious tolerance transformed into a system of pillarisation, in which religious groups coexisted separately and only interacted at the level of government.

Pillarisation is the politico-denominational segregation of a society, or the separation of a society into groups by religion and associated political beliefs.  These societies were (and in some areas, still are) “vertically” divided into two or more groups known as pillars (Dutch: zuilen). The best-known examples of this have historically occurred in the Netherlands and Belgium. Each pillar may have their own social institutions and social organizations. These may include their own newspapers, broadcasting organizations, political parties, trade unions, and farmers’ associations, banks, schools, hospitals, universities, scouting organizations, sports clubs, and other organizations. Such segregation means that many people have little or no personal contact with people from another pillar.

This tradition of tolerance influences Dutch criminal justice policies on recreational drugs, prostitution, LGBT rights, euthanasia, and abortion, which are among the most liberal in the world.

Daniel Demoustier: Euthanasia – The Netherlands – AJE
The "Red-light" district in Amsterdam. Notice the canal. There are many canals in Amsterdam.
The “red-light” district in Amsterdam. A “red-light” district is where prostitution and other related businesses are located. Notice the canal. There are many canals in Amsterdam.

If you have 25 minutes, you may want to watch the following video:

Optional video (25 min. long): Rick Steves’ Europe: The Netherlands: Beyond Amsterdam

The Dutch are also famous for many different painters such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Escher.

Drawing Hands by Escher
Drawing Hands by Escher
Rembrandt - self portrait
Rembrandt – self portrait

Some Dutch foods are:

Dutch pea soup with rye bread and smoked bacon
Dutch pea soup with rye bread and smoked bacon
A sauzijzenbroodje is a savoury snack in The Netherlands. It consists of spiced, ground meat (either beef or a mixture of beef and pork), rolled into puff pastry and then baked. This snack is usually eaten warm.
sauzijzenbroodje is a savoury snack in The Netherlands. It consists of spiced, ground meat (either beef or a mixture of beef and pork), rolled into puff pastry and then baked. This snack is usually eaten warm.
Stroopwafel is a wafer cookie made by two thin layers of dough filled with caramel.
Stroopwafel is a wafer cookie made by two thin layers of dough filled with caramel.
A simple Dutch meal of braadworst (sausage fried in butter), boiled potatoes, boiled Brussels sprouts, and a cucumber salad. The gravy comes from the butter used for frying the sausage and a dollop of coarse Dutch mustard is for added taste.
A simple Dutch meal of braadworst (sausage fried in butter), boiled potatoes, boiled Brussels sprouts, and a cucumber salad. The gravy comes from the butter used for frying the sausage and a dollop of coarse Dutch mustard is for added taste.

The Dutch are also famous for their cheeses, like Gouda and Edam.

Cheese market in Gouda, cheese and a brig with Friesian horses for transporting the cheese
Cheese market in Gouda, cheese and a brig with Friesian horses for transporting the cheese

Your local library may have a couple of the following books about this area:

Luxemburg

The main languages spoken in the small landlocked country of Luxemburg are French, German, and Luxembourgish.

Optional video: Luxembourgish: language or German dialect?

Luxembourg’s one major city is Luxembourg City. Luxemburg has an enviable economic situation with a stable and prosperous economy, low unemployment, and low inflation. Thanks to rich iron-ore deposits, this country was able to develop a very robust steel industry, which was the cornerstone of the nation’s prosperity until the 1970s. As steel declined, Luxemburg remade itself as an important world financial center. Luxembourg leads Europe as the center for private banking and insurance industries and is second only to the United States in terms of being an investment fund center.

Alux.com: 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Luxembourg

Key Takeaways:

✎ The Benelux Union is made up of: Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.
✎ Belgium is a multi-national state where more than one nation of people occupy one state (country). This is reflected in Belgium’s languages.
✎ The Netherlands has a long tradition of social tolerance.
✎ Luxembourg is a tiny and rich country.

Next: 6.3: Northern Europe

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Image and additional information credits:

Benelux Union information
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benelux
Benelux countries
By Shaund – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22744092
Guild houses in Antwerp
By User:Manfreeed – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1560
Antilles map
By Lesser_Antilles_location_map.svg: NordNordWestBlankMap-World-noborders.png: Sanbecderivative work: Thayts (talk) – Lesser_Antilles_location_map.svgBlankMap-World-noborders.png, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14476696
Tulip fields
By Rob Schleiffert from Holland – Tulip fields Lisse, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33859219
Netherlands (windmill)
By Gouwenaar – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16142895
Red light district Amersterdam
By Ввласенко – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37287756
Pillarisation information:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pillarisation
Drawing Hands
Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3475111
Rembrandt
By Rembrandt – Rembrandt, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1326
Dutch pea soup
By Takeaway – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8298835
Stroopwafels
By Takeaway – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29718397
Sauzijzenbroodje
By Takeaway – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38174135
Dutch meal
By Takeaway – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19401720
Gouda cheese
By Ralf Roletschek – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26940811
Klomp info https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klomp
Klompen By Berkh – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17202956

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