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Nevertheless, the Randstad culture has been hegemonic in the Netherlands because of the concentration of political, economic, and cultural power in that densely populated region. The Netherlands is situated in northwestern Europe and borders on Germany to the east, Belgium to the south, and the North sea to the west and north.
The name "Netherlands" means "Low Lands" in reference to the nation's topography as an alluvial plain. Almost one-quarter of the landmass is below sea level, protected from the encroaching sea by dikes and dunes.
Most Dutch people reject the notion and consider it to be tainted with an unacceptable form of nationalism.
Instead, they emphasize the country's cultural diversity, tolerance of difference, and receptiveness to foreign influences.
The Netherlands has for centuries provided a safe haven for ethnic minorities fleeing from discrimination and persecution, with each minority influencing Dutch culture in its own way.
Many Jews from Spain and Portugal and Protestant merchants from the Spanish-ruled southern Netherlands sought refuge in the Dutch Republic in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The Dutch used to repel foreign invaders by deliberately piercing river dikes.Another source of national pride that sets aside regional and religious differences is sports, especially soccer and speed skating.Whenever the national team engages in international competitions, orangemania reigns.Other sizable groups are Surinamese (297,000), Turks (300,000), Moroccans (252,000), and Antilleans (99,000).
The average life expectancy in 1996 was 75.2 years for men and 80.7 years for women, while the infant mortality rate was 5.1 per 1,000. The official language of the Netherlands is Standard Dutch.
The Netherlands is also a relatively small country (13,297 square miles [34,425 square kilometers]) without surface water. Amsterdam (730,000 inhabitants) is the capital, but the government meets in The Hague (440,000 inhabitants).