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Typical Limburg? Typically Dutch?

People tend to talk about culture and countries as a one to one proposition, but anyone who takes a moment to think about it will realize that that couldn’t be further from the truth. Think of the differences between Northern and Southern culture in the US (separated by a huge distances as well as distinctive histories). Or even the linguistic differences between Boston and New York (which are only a few hours apart). It’s easy to see the cultural variations within your own country, but outside of that? It’s a harder task.

One of the things I’ve been told by Dutch people is that Maastricht (and Limburg in general) is extremely different from the rest of the Netherlands. In fact, they say, people living here only think of themselves as “really” part of the rest of the country during major holidays (Queen’s Day) or sporting events (World Cup). The rest of the time they regard themselves as separate.

Massive generalizations aside, I find this thought intriguing, and not just because I come from a very nationalist country (Americans are suppose to be Americans first). I can recognize distinctions on a surface level, such as preferred foods and architecture, but as an outsider it is harder to understand what makes Limburg, Limburg or Maastricht, Maastricht on more of a core identity level.

So this is a call out to anyone who might have thoughts on the subject. Can you explain to me what aspects makes Limburg so different from what the rest of the world sees as “Holland” or “The Netherlands”? If windmills and wooden shoes are emblematic (or stereotypical) of Holland, what symbolizes Limburg? Maastricht? One of the other towns in the region?

And for bonus points, what makes this region in the Netherlands different from Flemish Belgium just over the border? I’m told that the distinction is so great that you can tell the moment you cross the border, but as an expat it’s hard to see.

Update: Read the response post, Typically Limburgish.

I’ll be compiling the best responses and explanations in a future post. Thank you for helping out this ignorant, but curious expat.

24 Responses to “Typical Limburg? Typically Dutch?”

  1. Maureen says:

    Found you through SITS’s blogfrog and I think your blog is so interesting!
    I still have a tiny Dutch heritage in me and still have far relatives in The Netherlands (forgot the name to the cities will have to consult my Oma first LOL) but I find it so interesting to read about it from an expat point of view. Dankjewel for sharing :D

  2. Amanda says:

    Hi there! Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words. It’s amazing how blogging can make it seem like a small world. :)

  3. BLOGitse says:

    LOL! here I am and who I see on top – Maureen! :)
    Small world indeed!
    Greetings from SITS challenge where I saw you and Heather communicating – been to her blog already and now here.
    I’m an expat in Casablanca, Morocco. We came here from Cairo, Egypt.
    Your topic is very interesting.
    I’ve heard similar ‘competitions’ in Finland (where I’m from) and many other countries and it’s popular between countries too.
    I guess it’s typical for us, humans, to compare and compete about everything.
    We have a need to show off or at least we think WE are better than those/them/others.
    In Sweden they think they’re better than Finns, in Finland we think we’re better than Estonian etc. At least when it’s about song contests, sports etc. :)
    oooops, long comment, sorry!
    I’ll subscribe your feed and follow on Twitter – see you later!

  4. Amanda says:

    Hi there. Thank’s for dropping by. :) I don’t really see it as a competition per-sae, but I do think it’s interesting how lots of variations can set into what outsiders perceive as the “metaculture” of a country. And almost always geographically. I guess lots of people do have a certain level of “my version of the culture” is better thing.

    Another odd observation. People in the south (of any country) are often considered more hospitable than their northern fellows. I’ve run into that opinion in a few places. I’m a “Northerner” myself, coming from Vt.

  5. Lamb says:

    That does it. I have to visit there – and I have to get a photo of myself (and hubby, no matter how hard he resists) with those ginormous shoes! :)

  6. Amanda says:

    Aren’t those crazy? The Keukenhof is a huge tulip garden up north.

  7. Aledys Ver says:

    This is very interesting, isn’t it? What amazes me the most, is that in a country so small as this, there are so many differences between regions, even one city and the next – they have their own dialect, etc.!
    I have only been once to Limburg so I can’t tell you much of the differences. But the two things I noticed are rather too obvious: it’s not flat and they accent sounds completely different to what I’m used to, even funny!!

  8. Amanda says:

    Both true; although I think the Limburg accent sounds “normal”. And the “G” is easier to pronounce here than in Holland-Dutch.

  9. Judy says:

    1) Topography!
    2) Waffles!
    3) Limburgse (a truly different language)!
    4) Catholicism!
    5) Belgium!

    So the first three should be pretty self-explanatory. The fourth, Catholicism, stems from the fact that the Calvinist influence never quite made it south of “the rivers” (the Rhine, the Waal, and the Maas). In the 1600s, the Holy Roman Empire (which included present-day Belgium, but not Holland) decreed that everybody must be a Catholic, so the wealthy wool merchants packed up and moved to Holland, which was pragmatic enough to look away from their deviant religious practices and just get rich along with them. The Rhine, as it does in Germany, pretty much divides the Protestant population from the Catholic population.

    As for Belgium–for a long time Maastricht/Limburg was considered Belgian, but since Maastricht occupied such a strategic area, the city and the surrounds became a Dutch protectorate, until after Napoleon, when it declared itself Dutch rather than Flemish. Which, along with the Catholicism, explains the appreciation for good food and fine clothes (just for fun, go to Rotterdam one of these days and just look at the appalling lack of style you find there).

    The difference between Maastricht and Flanders is as different as night and day: you can tell by the way the houses are arranged. Dutch houses fall into what I think of as “clumps”, where you might have a whole block of identical houses, with slight variations (shutters, doors). At the very least, the houses are architecturally similar, and fall into distinct groups. In Flemish Belgium there is a streak of individuality, so that even rowhomes look like seventeen different houses mishmashed together. Also, the windows are smaller :-)

    I wrote a pretty extensive piece about how Netherlands =/= Dutch here. In the end, though, it comes down to people wanting to (and, on some level, needing to) be seen as different, so most of the “glaring cultural differences” between Maastricht and, say, Amsterdam that are cited are, to an ex-pat, small ‘taters.

  10. Amanda says:

    Ah, I knew you’d come through for me. :) That’s a wonderful article you wrote and I had no idea about Groningen and it’s linguistic differences. I’ll have to watch for the housing differences now that I know what to look for.

    Unfortunately the fashion comparison will probably go right over my head. You’ve seen how I dress. ;)

  11. Melissa says:

    A tidbit..when you go for coffee at someone’s house in Limburg you get a piece of the north you get a measly little cookie. And this info is from my Limburg born hubs:-)

  12. Amanda says:

    Oooh…That definately makes going to coffee in Limburg more exciting. ;) Vlaai is definately a tasty difference. Of course we don’t have giant stroopwafels…

  13. Judy says:

    I thought I was too fashion-unconscious to see the difference as well. Then I went to Rotterdam for three days. I never ever want to go back :-D

  14. Amanda says:

    Oh dear.

  15. Invader_Stu says:

    One of the things that struck me when I was in Maasricht was how difference the accent was to the Amsterdam accent I know. This was in the first year I was here so the fact that I could tell the difference in accents back then when I hardly knew the language must mean it’s a big difference

  16. Amanda says:

    Yeah. The local dialect makes it even harder, since I don’t even know what I’m being addressed in (and both Dutch and Limburgish sound the same to me still).

  17. I didn’t know that they think they are so different. Weird :D
    Thanks for the enlightenment.
    And hey, those shoes suit you well *grin*

  18. Amanda says:

    Are you saying I have big feet? ;)

  19. Not really. The shoes make them look smaller ;)

  20. Frank says:

    One of the major differences between Holland (any part of the Netherlands north of Noord Brabant) and Limburg is language. I was born in Kerkrade, Limburg (hard against the German border) whereas my parents were born in Bunde (now part of Meerssen) and just a few minutes from Maastricht. Kerkrade and Maasticht are at opposite sides of the south part of Limburg but only about 25 km. distant. As a small boy I seamlessly spoke Nederlands (Dutch) in school, and two Limburgse dialects – “Kirchrao plat” with my friends and neighbours and “near Maastreechs plat” (yes there is a slight difference in dialects between Bunde and Maastricht) to my parents at home and of course relatives still living in the Bunde and Maastricht environs. There is a distinct German aspect to the Kerkrade dialect. Most Dutch people north of the “rivers” cannot understand any or much of the Limburgse dialects. Most towns no matter how small have some differences in their Limburg dialect but can generally be understood by other Limburgers.
    The second is landscape. As you travel through Limburg you will actually find hills and valleys.
    There are many more diffrences but I’ll leave that for others to explain as I have not lived there since 1955 when we moved to Canada.

  21. Amanda says:

    Thank you for your comment. I sometimes forget that the dialect on opposite sides of Limburg are likely to be influenced by different things (German or French I suppose), but it certainly stands to reason. I do love that these dialects have survived so well, even if they do make learning Dutch a bit harder.

  22. Dave Hampton says:

    I think Judy and Stu nailed most of them; ‘great lists all along..

    Moving down from Arnhem, the rolling hills were the first difference that I noticed. The difference in the accent was also striking: I had practiced my hard ‘g’ under the Nun’s stick for months, and now I had to re-learn to keep it soft. The beer is a marked improvement (proximity to Belgium),there are remarkable chocolate shops (Belgium influence, again), and I’m delighted when the occasional German sausage leaks over from Aachen. The local celebrations have much more colour and noise (The Christmas Markets and Carnivale – we never saw either up north). In contrast, Maastricht takes Dutch football and Queens Day much more casually than they did in the north.

    The people are much more international here, more of a mix of languages and origins on the street than we had in Arnhem (I credit the university, but it may also be the drielandnpunt geography). Customer service is *much* slower and less attentive here (trying to get an internet line established or a package delivered or a workman to come is difficult): there is no sense of obligation or urgency. I notice the Catholicism more as I cross the border into Belgium: the restaurants all tend to sprout shrines a few miles to the south. Life is a bit less intense overall than in the north: people laugh more easily and take their time to be more social on the weekends. There is a regional sense of Limburg-ness that extends to the nearby Belgians (even in the regional development agencies and bank arrangements), but people keep a strong sense of themselves as Dutch, apart from Belgium (they may speak fondly of Vise, but never of Liege). There is a much stronger sense of history here, and of Maastricht’s changing role and nationality over the centuries.

    and, of course, Andre Rieu.

  23. Another great post! Really I have learned quite a bit about Maastricht through your posts, and I’d love to see it all with my own eyes. Thanks so much for sharing, and I also learned quite a bit through the comments as well!

  24. Amanda says:

    If you like food, try visiting during Preuvenemint. :)