Archive for the ‘Bureaucracy’ Category

On Queen’s Day (April 30th) the municipal waste removal workers in in the Netherlands went on strike in Amsterdam and Utrecht. Their demand? A contract (they’ve gone a year without one) and a 1.5% pay raise (basically a cost of living increase). The strike was originally supposed to last for 24 hours– just long enough that the great masses of Amsterdam could, upon recovering from their hangovers, wallow in the filth they had created the day before toasting the Queen with Heineken. (And boy was it filthy!) And after the 24 hours was up, we got our clean city but the worker’s didn’t get their raise.

Garbage Strike 2010, Before1

Inspired by a longer-term Dutch railway cleaners strike earlier this year and in solidarity with municipal workers in Utrecht, the Amsterdam workers announced an indefinite strike beginning on Thursday, May 6th (kindly after the city’s Liberation Day celebrations).

Garbage Strike 2010, Before2

Things got very dirty, very quickly. Huge piles of trash bags formed at collection points. Glass and paper recycling containers overflowed onto the streets. Garbage that wasn’t secured in bags started to blow around, lining the sidewalks and spilling over into the canals. Fortunately it’s been on the chilly side or else things would be getting pretty stinky too. One little strike and we’re back in the 16th century! How quickly things fall apart.

Flash forward 10 days to Sunday May 16th. The demands are met! The municipal workers are back on the job! And by Monday the streets are looking clean again. Thank goodness.

Garbage Strike 2010, After

But in hindsight, I wonder if people moderated their behavior? Did people pay more attention to what they consumed and threw out when faced with visible (and smelly) evidence of the waste they produce? Did the piles grow at the same rate as the underground trash bins normally fill up? Did people adapt, finding new ways to dispose of their stuff– recycling, composting, Ebay, private waste disposal services? (Side note: Why don’t we recycle plastic, tin and aluminum here???) Or maybe 10 days wasn’t enough time for change?

Well, I’m glad the municipal workers got their 1.5%. The strike proved the worker’s point to me– we need them because at the moment there is no other infrastructure set up for removing waste from the city. And further evidence that they are a classy bunch: despite the strike they agreed to keep the Giro d’Italia routes clean. Nice.


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I woke up this morning with a single, simple task to complete today: Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the day when I will go and pick up my residence permit (verblijfsvergunning) from the immigration authorities (IND).

I had meant to do this yesterday, but I procrastinated just long enough to remember that I was supposed to have proof of health insurance which would certainly take *all day* to find and print off the interwebs.

I woke up this morning hoping that it would be rainy and I’d have yet another excuse not to face the task. No go– it was a beautiful, sunny 16C/64F degree day.

Honestly, I don’t know why I’m resisting– probably because it will be yet another an opportunity to fail at speaking Dutch and bungle up paying on the public transport system (ugh, remember: Uitcheck! Uitcheck! Uitcheck! I’ve been having a lot of trouble with this lately for some reason.). Thus far today I’ve taken an extra long shower, had a coffee, done some work (you know it’s bad when you procrastinate by working), and eaten lunch. And now I’m sitting here trying to figure out which book I should bring to read on the metro… I think I’ll forego the gratuitous, young-adult vampire fiction– this is a serious occasion, after all– in favor of a travel memoir about a lazy, lie-about Australian who wastes 3 years doing nothing in Amsterdam while his wife supports him. It seemed appropriate, given my behavior over the last 2 days.

Ah, but still one more task before I go– I must figure out how exactly to ask for my permit in Dutch. Certainly, given how adept the Dutch are with languages, I could do this in English. But I feel added pressure that these are the Immigration Authorities and I would most certainly disappoint them if I didn’t make an earnest attempt to conduct the transaction in Dutch. And who knows, maybe they’d say “What’s this?? You didn’t even try to learn how to say “residence permit” in Dutch? Well in that case, we revoke your permit until you at least make an effort.”

Wouter has been coaching me for days, but somehow “verblijfsvergunning” is just not an easy word to remember. Hm, I wonder why… Verrrrr-bl-I’ve-zz-verrrrrr-honey. Four-bl-eye-sore-hunting. Fear-blows-for-humming. Ugh. Finally last night Wouter’s friend Erwin seemed to get through to me by stressing the “gunning” aspect of the word– although I really don’t make a habit of thinking about guns at all, somehow it stuck. Pleased as he was with his talents as a teacher, he was careful to remind me that it would probably best not to actually emphasize the “gunning” when at the IND. All of this reminds me of when I was learning Spanish in middle school and couldn’t remember how to pronounce the letter ‘x’ for my first quiz. I remember my mother saying, “It’s like “Dos Equis,” the beer. Just make sure you don’t say “Dos” in the exam.” Indeed.

Well, several hours and a few successful in- and uit-checks later, the task is done! I’m in possession of a shiny new (and expensive) ID card. And so, onto the next task– actually making a life here.

If you thought the process of actually picking up the permit was a challenge, just wait… ha.

Niet vergeet te uitchecken! (Bwahaa!)

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Hi Team! There is so much to catch you up on and I have been quite delinquent, I’m sorry. I will start in reverse with the most recent events, but then I might cheat a little and back post some new stuff so that it ultimately shows up in chronological order. You have been warned.

So big news on the relocation front! This morning I had my appointment with the Immigration and Nationalization Authority and now have officially applied for a Dutch residence permit! I was really nervous about this– would we have everything in order? What if we missed something? What would they ask?

  • What brand is Wouter’s toothbrush? (I checked this morning. Jordan!)
  • Where and when was your last vacation together? (Er, does Utrecht count?)
  • How do you spell the name of your street– in Dutch please! (I practiced for this, just in case.)

But in reality it was totally painless. Most of the conversing was in Dutch between the interviewer and Wouter– and, of what I could follow, most of that was either confirming we had included all of the required documents or idle chit-chat. Of course Wouter *is* my sponsor and there would be no application at all if it weren’t for him, but it did feel a little strange to just sit there passively and (mostly) uncomprehendingly while two people discussed my future! (Note to self: LEARN MORE DUTCH ASAP!)

Apart from confirming that we were prepared to pay the >$1,000 fee (OMG!!!), we didn’t have to say or do much. No questions, no verifying if our relationship was real, no spelling of street names (Jammer! I was so ready!). Indeed, for most of the appointment Wouter and I chatted while our interviewer typed things into the computer. I’d like to think that for part of the time the interviewer wasn’t typing at all but listening in on our conversation to see if we seemed “casual” and “boyfriend/girlfriend-like,” but I suppose that’s unlikely. In all honestly, I found myself a little disappointed that we didn’t get to tell the crazy story of how we met!

Having had American friends with spouses and partners from abroad and knowing how hard it is to get a green card, I feel really lucky with how smoothly everything has gone for me thus far. The Dutch system, as I’ve experienced it, shows a great deal of respect for people and their partnerships– if you can afford to pay, that is (lucky x 2). And of course, I cannot know what it would be like if I were in a more precarious situation, seeking asylum or a victim of human trafficking (x 3). And I’m lucky still (x 4)– being from the United States I was not subject to the language and culture examination. And I can probably attribute the lack of questioning to my American citizenship, rather than because Wouter and I make such a cute couple (x 5).

So now we wait a couple of months and hope that the luck continues! Cheers to that!

Birthday Beer, Cheers!

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