Be welcome

The Netherlands is a picture-postcard country famous for its tulips, windmills, wooden shoes, canal-side burgher mansions, Delft pottery, great hot chocolate and Hans Brinker and his silver skates, popularized in the children's classic and in a 1958 TV musical starring Tab Hunter as Hans. It is also a kingdom: the densely populated, highly urbanized country, which has reclaimed much of its land from the North Sea, and the Caribbean islands of Aruba, CuraƧao and Saint Maarten.

Once master of a global trading empire, it is culturally rich in art (think Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh) and cuisine (think rijsttafel, the original small plates buffet adopted from Indonesia). For centuries it has been a refuge for persecuted minorities and since World War II has welcomed immigrants not only from former colonies like Indonesia and the Netherlands Antilles but also other European nations, West Africa, Turkey and Morocco. Today more than 11 per cent of Dutch residents are foreign born. Society in general is equalitarian, individualistic and tolerant, but the diversity has not come without challenges, particularly since the 2004 murder of Theo Van Gogh, an outspoken filmmaker and Vincent's great-grandnephew.

The Netherlands was the first nation in the world to legalize same-sex marriage on April 1, 2001, and requires all primary and secondary students to take courses teaching LGBTQ respect, but some religious groups have not been accepting and gay bashing has been reported. Public displays of affection would call unnecessary attention in more conservative areas.

The Dutch generally disfavor ostentatious behavior and are a matter-of-fact lot, speaking directly and looking you in the eye. The expression "going Dutch" - paying your own way - may have its roots in the Netherlands where friends often split the bill even on a date rather than pick up the whole tab.