I have to admit to feeling a little pleased with myself today. I wouldn’t go so far as to say smug because that would be tempting the fates, we don’t have to poke them with a stick to get their attention, they’re focused enough without our help.
My feeling good is down to having removed the monkey off my back who has been there since January. An intensely annoying little beast he’s been too, keeping me awake some nights, losing paperwork when I need it and giving me mental blocks when asked for a document by our accountants.
As of now, this morning, all our tax affairs are in order. The coffers of the belastingdienst have been filled and Uncle Sam will be rubbing his hands with glee. Another year filed, checked off and out of the way.
You may remember I blogged about tax season back in January Life’s Certainties: the Dutch and Taxes .
It’s a time of year I hate due to the bad financial advice we were given when we first arrived here, which took several years to resolve. Unfortunately there’s a remnant of that psychological trauma which has me on edge waiting for the worst to happen every year. The words ‘IRS’ and ‘audit’ are not ones I ever want to hear.
We are very happy with our current accountants, who are bi-lingual and understand the tax laws of the Netherlands and the USA. They are approachable, efficient and great to deal with.
So here I am feeling a heavy weight has been lifted and it’s feeling pretty darn good.
There’s something very intimidating about living in a country and not being at ease with the way things are done, especially important things like tax and legal issues. After five years I’m finally comfortable with getting our taxes submitted in a timely manner.
Our Dutch return is, obviously, written in Dutch and whilst our linguistic skills in the reading department are better than our verbal ones, it does take a few years to get to grips with the legalese used the world over by government departments.
I used to phone the Dutch tax office if I had a query or didn’t understand something and they would be most helpful and explain a technicality in English.
Unfortunately, the last time I called and got through to the right department after navigating the telephone menu, Franck told me, in Dutch, that he could no longer speak to me in English, I would have to ask my question in his native tongue.
‘You’re kidding me right?’
‘Nay mevrouw u moet aan me in het Nederlands spreken.’ You don’t need me to translate.
‘Franck, I speak to you every year and you’ve never done this to me before.’
There was an uncomfortable silence then a rasping whisper came over the line, ‘I know Mrs Dean, but we are not allowed to speak English to anyone anymore. It’s the new rules, I’m so sorry.’
‘Oh heck, Franck, what are we supposed to do now? This is difficult enough to do if you’re fluent in the language!’ I found myself whispering back, despite being alone in my kitchen.
‘I know mevrouw, it’s crazy but that is the new policy, you will have to let your accountant deal with it.’ I can hear the chinking of money pouring into the pockets of accountants everywhere.
I’ve missed my annual chats with Franck but one has to move on, and for the record I completely agree with the belastingdienst policy that Dutch tax matters should only be dealt with in the Dutch language. It is complex information and their own staff can inadvertently give out wrong information due to translation difficulties.
We had a situation with the Gemeente (Town hall) when we first arrived here. We got a bill in the mail from them for €4000 ($5750) and had no clue what it was for.
In those early days we often paid bills because we assumed they would be correct – we later discovered many were charity appeals with a bank slip attached which we presumed was a bill. There are an awful lot of senior citizens who’ve probably been on some good excursions to the Caribbean on our inadvertent donations.
We figured €4000 was a bit steep to pay without investigation so set off to the Gemeente to find out why we owed them this amount of money. Was it a tax we were unaware of and hadn’t factored in our budget?
Our first contact was the man behind the main desk who spends his day dealing with the crazy, manic-eyed foreigners who have arrived in his town. He scratched his head, made several phone calls to various departments trying to discover what the bill was for. He did agree absolutely that it was a demand for money, not a request for a donation.
The consensus of opinion after an hour or so of consultations was that nobody knew which department it had come from or what it was actually for.
The man behind the counter shrugged his shoulders in that ‘go figure’ kind of way, scrunched up the bill and threw it his trash basket. We never heard anything after that but we’ve been very wary of unexpected demands for money ever since.
Five years in and for the first time we’re feeling a real sense of having got a handle on the way things work here, being ahead of the game for once rather than endlessly running to catch up. We feel we’re running with the pack and not caught off guard when unexpected letters arrive from official institutions.
Perhaps it’s being comfortable with things like this that make us at home in a foreign culture, rather than feeling as if we’re in a rudderless boat on storm-tossed seas.
It would be nice to think so, especially on a feel good day like today.
Being abroad makes you appreciate so much more all the little things when you go “home”… wherever that is defined. Such as casually reading a paper in your own language, watching familiar TV, understanding the regulations…
Oh that Franck, such a tease! I love that he at least would admit why he couldn’t speak English with you. Glad that it appears to all be sorted. Time to exhale!