Famed for its liberal social policies, maritime trading traditions, battles to hold back the sea and the robust communication of its natives, the Netherlands consistently ranks as one of the top places in the world to live and work.
The standard of living is high and a survey by UNICEF reveals Dutch children to be the happiest children in the developed world.
To newcomers, Dutch society might seem open and informal, but some complex social rules are at play. Ostentatious behaviour is frowned upon, egalitarianism is valued and Dutch people "like to be as normal as possible," according to Martijn de Rooij, author of The Dutch I Presume? The Dutch saying 'Doe maar gewoon dan doe je al gek genoeg' (just act normal, that's crazy enough) is an anthem against eccentricity.
No Dutch city has yet reached a million inhabitants and each retains a unique character and architectural style. The capital is something else entirely, and in terms of atmosphere and attitude, Amsterdam and the Netherlands could be two different countries.
Amsterdam's inner canals are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site
In 2010, UNESCO added Amsterdam’s inner canals to its list of World Heritage Sites. This decision will not only add more prestige to the city’s image but it will also help to preserve some of its most important buildings. April 2011 saw the opening of Amsterdam's canal museum Het Grachtenhuis, which uses various media to tell the fascinating story of how the ring of canals was developed.
International residents tread a well-worn path to the ‘Lowlands'. Of the 16 728 091 living in the Netherlands in January 2012, over three million have a foreign background (source statline.cbs.nl). This multi-ethnic characteristic of the country's population has historic roots stretching back several hundred years, though most rapid changes in population demographics have come about in the last 40 years.
Traditionally, the Dutch government is a coalition of two or more parties, however, on 14 October 2010, for the first time, Prime Minister centre-right liberal leader Mark Rutte formed a minority coalition. The government comprised ministers of his liberal VVD party and the Christian Democrat CDA, supported by Geert Wilders' Freedom Party, PVV, a nationalistic party know for its right wing focus.
In April 2012, the government collapsed again when Rutte's minority government and its far-right ally failed to agree on a plan to slash the budget to steer the eurozone's fifth-largest economy back below the EU deficit ceiling of three percent, from last year's 4.7 percent. Elections to choose a new Dutch government will be held on 12 September.
Moving from politics to parties, Queen's Day (Koninginnedag) is celebrated throughout the Netherlands on 30 April, even though Queen Beatrix's birthday is in January. The April date honours her late mother, Queen Juliana. During the celebration, Oranjegekte (orange madness) takes over and people wear orange shirts, hats, dresses and wigs to celebrate while enjoying the annual free market (vrijmarkt), as it's the one time when people can set up shop without a trading license.
All in all, the Netherlands remains an attractive place to live in and expats are an intrinsic part of the Dutch knowledge-based economy. Dutch people are generally receptive, curious, cultured and friendly. English is widely spoken, which is seen as a drawback for those endeavouring to learn Dutch, and with many international companies headquartered in the Netherlands, there are plenty of employment opportunities.
Country facts and figures
Population: 16,728,091 (January 2012)
Density: 488/km2 (the highest in Europe)
Administration: The constitution dates mostly from 1848. Parliament consists of an upper chamber (eerste kamer) of 75 members elected by provincial councils and a lower chamber (tweede kamer) containing 150 members elected by proportional representation. The cabinet is the executive body and its constituents can't be a member of the cabinet and parliament at the same time.
Monarchy: The House of Oranje-Nassau has governed the Netherlands since 1815. Queen Beatrix (born 1938) ascendedto the throne in 1980.
Landscape: A fifth of the Netherlands is reclaimed from the sea and a quarter of the country is below sea level. There are 20 national parks and a few modest hills, with the country's highest point, of 322 metres, in Limburg.
Agricultural facts: The Dutch cow is a revered milk machine, producing 35 litres a day, and a quarter of the world's tomatoes are grown in the Netherlands.
Media and culture: The Netherlands has the highest museum density in the world, with nearly 1,000 institutions. The television programme Big Brother is a Dutch invention and Paul Verhoeven is known internationally for his direction of RoboCop and Total Recall.
Design: Dutch icons of style are nurtured in the Design Academy Eindhoven and the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. Dutch design is admired for its minimalist, quirky and often humorous qualities.
A guide to telephone, internet and television along with utility services water, electricity and gas in the Netherlands.
Lost in the Dutch immigration system? Look no further than this guide compiled for our Survival Guide 2012.
Expatica offers a whistle-stop tour of life in the modern Netherlands.
The challenges and benefits of the maternity system in the Netherlands and how it differs to other countries.