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Nobody who lives in one of these countries -- with the exception of politicos and bureaucrats -- speaks routinely of the "Benelux." Whenever you read that word here, be advised that it's merely a convenient shorthand that does away with the need to write "Belgium, the Netherlands (Holland), and Luxembourg." No one from the Benelux -- not even politicos and bureaucrats -- thinks of themselves as a Beneluxian.

Like an Atlantis in reverse, Holland has emerged, dripping, from the sea. The country was once mainly a pattern of islands, precariously separated from the North Sea by dunes. As the centuries rolled past, these islands were patiently stitched together with characteristic Dutch ingenuity and hard work. The outcome is a canvas-flat, green-and-silver Mondrian of a country, with nearly half its land and two-thirds of its 16 million inhabitants below sea level.

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