Column published in the Observant, Maastricht
January, for me, has always meant sunshine, beach and barbecues. (This is because I’m one of those upside-down Australians.) And thankfully, that’s precisely the case this year: as I write, I’ve got one foot dangling in a creek and I’m watching a spider crawl idly over the other. Lovely.
It’s a far cry from one year ago, when I was – somewhat harshly, I feel – de-registered by the Maastricht city council. Now, on a scale of evil from 1 to 10, the gemeente is hovering (along with T-Mobile, @home and the tax office) at around a million. But this de-registration was a new low. The reason for it? A trip to an ‘onbekend buitenland’. Um, excuse me? In Switzerland, I was once told I couldn’t give blood because I come from a ‘third-world country’. But now, says the Netherlands, my country doesn’t even exist.
It’s not the first time I’ve been to battle with the gemeente. When I first moved to Maastricht, I discovered that the good folk at the gemeente couldn’t register me until I told them where I was last registered. This presented an interesting dilemma. In Australia, we don’t have registration (much to the consternation of my German partner: “But how will the state know WHERE you ARE?!”).
This meant, of course, that I had no answer to that glaring blank box on the gemeente’s registration form. Couldn’t they register me without filling in that box? Of course not, because if there is a box, the box must be filled in. Finally, I simply gave in and made up an answer (if anyone asks, I was previously registered on Gingerbread Lane, Peppermintville).
But to return to my latest dilemma – my inexplicable de-registration, and after all the hard work it had taken to be registered in the first place – I did learn a lesson from it. If you actually need the gemeente to do something, its ineffectiveness is boundless. But when it comes to something you DON’T need (say, being de-registered), the gemeente goes about its business with spectacular efficiency. Within a week of my return from that ever-enigmatic onbekend buitenland, I found myself concomitantly de-registered from my insurance company, pension fund, and even the dental surgery.
But perhaps I shouldn’t whinge. After all, I’ve heard tell that the registration system that today plagues foreigners in the Netherlands, Germany and elsewhere was in fact installed by the Brits post war, to help them keep an eye on you suspicious continental folk. So it’s for my own good, really.