Walking around the streets of Rotterdam, I recall a television program I recently viewed where someone referenced to America’s Dutch roots. The person argued that it was the Dutch, not the English, who initially colonized and shaped America. This statement is starting to make sense to me on many different levels. The architecture of Rotterdam and several other Dutch cities very much reminds me of Boston and New York. The 17th century Dutch settlement on the southern tip of Manhattan, known then as New Amsterdam, left cultural and economic legacies that affect the US to this very day. Scholars have recently found evidence of this settlement promoting cultural diversity and working your way up the career ladder. It’s very likely that the notion of the American Dream was born in this inclusive environment.
Another Dutch-American connection can be found in one of the most celebrated communities to colonize the North American continent. These colonists I speak of, of course, are known as the Pilgrims. Having resided just 10 miles north of Rotterdam in the city of Delft, the Pilgrims famously set sail for America in 1620. Before settling in Holland, the Pilgrims fled religious persecution in their native England. Holland’s reputation as a tolerant country that respected different religious groups made it a natural choice for them to relocate to. What they did not foresee, however, is how successfully their children would assimilate into the local Dutch culture. They were fearful that their children would abandon their fundamentalist version of Christianity and instead become ambitious hard working merchants. As a result, the Pilgrims decided to relocate yet again. This time, however, they would need to find a land that had not been corrupted by modern European culture. This land, of course, could be found in North America.
The final Dutch connection to America I have observed is the shared spirit of hard work and entrepreneurship. For over two centuries, America has been suspiciously viewed by many Europeans as a nation of busy bodies who work too many hours and don’t take enough vacation time. As I walk along the streets of Rotterdam, it becomes obvious to me that these American traits have their origins right here in Holland. From an outsider’s perspective, it appears that everyone in Holland is constantly on the move and needs to get to their next appointment as soon as possible. I don’t see many people hanging around during the day like I would if I was visiting a city in France or Italy. Rather, I see workers efficiently eating lunch while keeping a close eye on their watches. I see hotel employees springing to attention in an exuberant manner while the building’s fire alarms are tested. The fact that the Dutch healthcare system has far more elements of privatization than its European neighbors only reinforces this point. So the next time a British acquaintance of yours brags about America’s British roots, you can inform them of our Dutch roots as well.
- Correction: the Pilgrims left from Delfshaven, not Delft