Dutch Rules and Regulations

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.

About wordgeyser

Our anglo/american family used to live in four countries (USA, Canada, UK and the Netherlands) on two continents, separated by distance, time zones, circumstance and cultures. It has been a scary, enriching, challenging place to be. The only things guaranteed to get us through were a sense of humour and the amazing people met along the way. . . This year everything changed with a move for us from the Netherlands, – and a move along with us for our son and his wife from the UK – to Houston, Texas, the same city as our daughter. With our youngest in Vancouver, Canada, we are now all living on the same continent. How this happened, and more importantly why, will be the subject of this ongoing blog...
This entry was posted in Advice for New Arrivals in the Netherlands, Dutch Culture, Dutch Laws, Taxes and Bureaucracy, Expat Experiences, Family Life and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Dutch Rules and Regulations

  1. Sareen says:

    loved the head exploding!
    Am enjoying your posts Jane!

  2. MA Dmochowski says:

    I was grateful that we had residency cards. Except having to keep track of when they expired. Like the day before we were scheduled to return from Christmas holiday. They were renewed in time. I am so “obey the rules” oriented that it’s hard to have a calm attitude when I envisioned me and the girls in the passport control office in no (wo)men’s land and my husband on the other side of the window looking in. I do feel for those of my friends and their children who were presumed to carry their passport all their time.

  3. susan says:

    Oh Jane….I laughed out loud again…wonderful blog…….Tom & I were so amazed at all the rules and the many trips to renew our residency! And all the visits to our bankers (who knew me quite well) so they could issue me a new debit card every time my card went on the blink. One Thanksgiving night I was pulled over on Wittenbergerweg as they said I was “weaving”. The police asked for ID and all I had was my North Carolina drivers license. Believe it or not they accepted this because they just wanted to smell my breath and make sure I wasn’t drinking (Tom was very much blotto in the passenger seat). I said I wasn’t weaving, my car I was just reacting to the bumps on the brick road!! They laughed and let me go home……

  4. Oh dear, between the post and the comments, I’m having flashbacks of a not-so-pleasant kind! We actually were issued residency cards (sorry wordgeyser) which really does help avoid the constant carrying of the passports. I’m with you – in a post 911 world, the last thing you want to be traipsing around with is your passport. Too important, too valuable, no way!

  5. wordgeyser says:

    Another subject for a blog. I have never had a contract phone – the initial process was grusome and we were declined as, although we had bought our home, we didn’t have the documents to prove it was our address. Go figure. I refuse to hand in my pay-as-you-go phone as dealing with a cell phone company is a nightmare I can’t face!

  6. wordgeyser says:

    That, dear Ellen, is another blog! I was going to incorporate Harry’s saga but the piece was begining to assume “War and Peace” proportions so had to be curtailed. Will be printed at some pointed!

  7. Ellen Worling says:

    So true! But what about the children? All children over 14 must carry a piece of acceptable ID, school ID is niet mogelijk! As an EU passport carrier, Heather used to carry a photo copy of her passport, but as you state, that’s not enough. We finally got her a CJP card as it not only gives great discounts to students, but usually is accepted as ID. Never had to show it to the police, yet!

  8. Poonam says:

    You could always supplement this with trying to make any changes to your cellphone account (which is often opened up by the working spouse because they have the required legal documentation and you are still waiting, but need a cellphone in the meantime) without said spouse being there to give his consent or once again provide his documentation, which contrary to regulations certain expats continue not to carry at all times (especially when going past the cellphone shop).


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