There’s no getting away from it, the Dutch are a nation managed by infinite rules and regulations. They are there for a reason, they work and are immoveable. Even Moses would have had a tough time without the Ten Commandments in triplicate and verified by an authority higher than God.
This is not a complaint – it just takes a little adjustment if your life before the Netherlands allowed more flexibility in the rules department. We relocated from Louisiana USA, so you can appreciative our culture shock where unbendable rules are concerned. The trick is to find out about the rules, protocols and minutiae of social behaviour before you have the chance to screw up. Not likely if you’ve just stepped off the boat.
One Dutch rule which does perplex and aggravate me is the requirement to carry personal identification at all times. Not only identification, but the right sort of identification.
As is usual in our family the Captain arrived in the Netherlands ahead of us, got his required residency card and was good to go. By the time we breezed in the rules had changed. Residency cards were no longer issued – a rather colourful, official visa-like document was super-glued into our passports instead.
At my interview with the Dutch Immigration services I was handed back my newly decorated passport without a residency card and was disappointed. I felt I should make sure there hadn’t been a mistake, unlikely with Dutch bureaucracy but you never know. I looked inquiringly at the poker faced official, nervous smile in place.
‘Thank you so much for your help, but don’t we get a residency card too?’
‘You no longer need one, mevrouw – the document in your passport will be sufficient proof of residency,’ he beamed, rather patronisingly, as if speaking with a three-year old. Which I suppose I am when it comes to dealing with the intricacies of the Dutch immigration laws.
‘But what about having the residency card for identity purposes?’
‘Mevrouw, your passport will suffice,’ the smile became tighter, the eyes a little less friendly, the poker face showed a twitch of annoyance.
‘I’m so sorry, I’m obviously being a bit dense.’ His expression confirmed this.
‘What you’re actually saying is I’m supposed to carry my passport with me at all times?’ His smile broadened with pleasure that I’d finally grasped the concept.
Fortunately, I’ve never been stopped by an official demanding any form of identification since then, which is a good thing as I never carry my passport. Let’s face it, the chance of me losing it is high and often a driver’s license will suffice in day-to-day life, but there are times when having the correct form of ID is crucial.
Let me elaborate.
It’s a fact known to everyone except new arrivals that the debit cards issued by Dutch banks are extremely fragile and temperamental compared to the more robust counterparts in other countries. Put them near cell phones, keys and other random domestic items and the magnetic strip on the card has a complete meltdown and wipes itself clean. The first inkling you’ll have of this catastrophic event will be when you try to use it and it fails to work.
It will always happen at the store with a cart full of shopping in the spare 25 minutes before a dental appointment. The check-out woman will suggest that maybe the card has been wiped clean.
‘Excuse me?’ Assuming you have funds in your bank account this really won’t compute with any previous life experience.
‘Yes, mevrouw, it happens all the time. Have you had it near any other bank cards or a cell phone perhaps?’ No, but I know someone who has. ‘You must go straight to the bank and they will sort it out for you. You can leave your shopping here and come back when you’ve sorted things out.’
The bank was, thankfully, empty. I knew the staff, they knew me. I explained my predicament. They smiled – this is a regular occurrence in the banking world. I felt myself calming down. I could withdraw cash and a new card would arrive in the mail in a couple of days. My faith in the system was being restored.
‘That’s about it then Mrs. Dean, all I need to see is your ID.’ I slid my newly laminated Dutch drivers’ licence across the counter, complete with photograph, far too many personal details and probably my DNA profile embedded in the chip.
‘I’m sorry Mrs. Dean but this will not do.’ His voice conveyed a well practised tone of concern and solicitation. ‘We require an acceptable form of ID.’
‘I’m sorry?’ Not so much sorry as stunned.’But you know me and my driver’s licence has all the information you need on it.’ It probably had my blood group on it too – information which might be needed should my head explode.
‘Why is it not acceptable?’ I tried to remain calm, aware the hands on the clock behind the counter were ticking closer to my dental appointment, and my frozen goods at Albert Hein were defrosting and it dawned on me that dinner was sitting in the cart.
The powers that be required my passport. A photocopy sat in our personal file open on the desk – I could see it lying there, but a photocopy was not acceptable. There was no option but to drive home and find it.
There was no time now to retrieve my groceries before seeing the dentist, who would charge for a missed appointment if I turned up five minutes late – that’s the rule.
Some days you have to accept there’s nothing else you can do but go with the flow, breathe deeply and chant ‘serenity now’ through gritted, pristinely cleaned teeth.