For the past eight years I have made a lot of friends in the Netherlands. I have got to know the Dutch people. I have (very slowly started to) learn their language. I have even taken part in their customs and learned their culture. However, unbeknownst to my Dutch hosts this is all a lie.
It turns out that for the past eight years since my arrival in the The Netherlands I have not actually been registered as living in The Netherlands. In fact, despite having a permanent job with a contract, a tax number, medical insurance and even a membership card for my local DVD rental store the Dutch government was unaware of my existence. This technically means I’ve been living illegally in The Netherlands
This shocking revelation happened during a recent visit to city hall while the residency official sitting on the other side of the desk from me gave me a very baffled ‘are you serious’ look as I tried to explain to him that I had been living in Holland since 2001.
As the residency official did some more confused typing on his keyboard I considered showing him my DVD rental store membership card as proof of my claims. After all it was and is a very respectable DVD rental store and probably more efficient then the Dutch government since not only did they know my name, address and date of birth but also my taste in movies. The only downfall to this idea was that they might not make a good character witness since I have a bad habit of returning DVDs very late. I thought about it for a moment and decided to leave the membership card in my pocket. After all, there is no dignity in being deported by Video Land.
The reason for all this was a simple administrative error. By this I mean I was supposed to visit city hall and register myself when I first moved to the country but since no one ever told me I never knew. I only found this out recently during the process of moving in with my Dutch girlfriend. However, it’s not as if I was trying to hide my existence. I was leaving behind some pretty big clues that might tip them off that they had an extra tea drinking Englishman in the country.
After some more confused looks between me and the non- existing data on his computer screen the residency official must have decided that I did exist after all because he simply shrugged his shoulders, said ‘ok then’ in a very Dutch manner and handed me a different form to fill out.
This seemed rather anti-climatic for someone who had been living outside the system for eight years but had only known it for eight minutes. I thought there would be some repercussions. Had I been living illegally in The Netherlands for the last eighth of a decade?
Did it mean that everyone I had ever shared living accommodation with in the past hadn’t simply been lowering the cost of living by cohabitating in a place of residency with another law abiding citizen as they might have thought but were in fact harboring a fugitive? Someone who knows no laws? A criminal?
And what about in Britain? Had the British government worked out that I had left the homeland? Were they looking for me? Could I have coursed the credit crisis? Had they budgeted for the tax from one extra person who was no longer there and was now paying taxes in Holland instead? And more importantly, did I have any late DVDs to return in Britain?
I thought about it some more and then made sure I filled in the form in my best handwriting to avoid any risk that the residency official might change his mind that everything was ‘ok’.
A few days later after I received the all clear my girlfriends sister sent me this post card to congratulate me on moving to The Netherlands after eight years of living in Holland: