By Mark van Engeland

The Dotted Line...

I thought it might be a good idea, whilst living in Holland, if I earned some money.  I mean, I've got used to a lifestyle which includes such luxuries as food.  Now, both the Netherlands and Britain are member states of the European Union, so I figured that it shouldn't be too difficult to sort out a tax code/national insurance number/whatever they call it over here.
When I went to live in Italy, early in the eighties, it was a different matter; I had to get a 'Permesso di Soggiorno' (residence permit), and a work permit.  I assumed that the EEC/EU/whatever the hell it's called, these days would have made some of the red tape disappear; and that it would simply be a case of my saying: "Hi, folks!  I'm here!", and everything would be dorily hunky.

I know what you're thinking.
You're thinking: "This van Engeland guy's an optimistic fool!"
Slight re-phrase:
You're Rightly thinking: "This van Engeland guy's an optimistic fool!"

I took advice from an ex-pat Briton, and he said that I had to go to the Gemeentehuis (Britons call it the Registrar's office; I believe Americans call it City Hall) to register.
No problem.
I trolled down to Rotterdam Gemeentehuis, took a number, and waited for my number to come up.
Amazingly, the waiting time was very short.  In Britain; where we have some of the world's greatest mathematicians in the field of Queuing Theory; average waiting time in a public building is (relativistically speaking) three-hundred and twenty years.  In Rotterdam; where I sat prepared with a stack of novels, a few puzzle books, and a large, refrigerated food hamper; I had to wait less than ten minutes.
"Cool!"  thought I.  "This will be over and done with in no time!"

Just a reminder:
This van Engeland guy's an optimistic fool!

Credit where it's due: It only took them twenty-five minutes to give me a list a mile and a half long of documents which I had to provide, and to divest me of a hundred and twenty-five guilders!
Some of the required documents had to be obtained from the Vreemdelingendienst (pron: vraim-day-ling-eh, with a soft 'g'), which I immediately re-christened the Vram-a-lang-a-ding-dong (perhaps not too clever an idea, since it's a police station); some I had to get from the Gemeentehuis, itself -- but only after I had obtained some of the other documents; some I had to get from England -- not so easy, since I was in Holland; and some from the health insurance company of my choice.
That last always comes as a surprise to Britons, even though we know that the rest of the world does not have our National Health Service.

< 3000 year-old joke mode on>

    British Patient :  Doctor, doctor!  I'm getting terrible pains in my shoulder!
    Non-British Doctor :  Well, once I've relieved you of the weight of your wallet, that should clear right up!

< 3000 year-old joke mode off>

Thinking that the biggest problems would arise from the British documents, because of the greater chance of having to do things either by post or by proxy, I rang the British Consulate in Amsterdam...

<Consular Intercourse mode on>

    van Engeland :  Hello, I need to get a 'no impediments' document.
    Consular Official :  No problem.  Drop in at the Consulate, and we'll make one up for you.
    van Engeland :  Excellent!  What do I need to bring with me?
    Consular Official :  Um, let's see...  Yes, just bring your passport.
    van Engeland :  Really?  Is that all?
    Consular Official :  Yes, that's it.  Oh, and two-hundred and sixty Guilders.
    van Engeland :  Pardon?!?  I have to bring what?
    Consular Official :  Your passport.
    van Engeland :  No, no.  The other thing.
    Consular Official :  The two-hundred and sixty Guilders?  Yes, that's what it costs, I'm afraid.
    van Engeland :  You can sod off!  I'm not paying that much for a piece of paper!
    Consular Official :  Oh.  Well, we can do a short version, if that will be Ok?
    van Engeland :  It'll bloody have to be!
    Consular Official :  Ok.  The short version is only a hundred and twenty-five Guilders.
    van Engeland :  ...!
    Consular Official :  Hello?
    van Engeland :  Where will you be going, on this holiday that I'm paying for?
    Consular Official :  Ha ha.  Yes.  A lot of people ask that.

<Consular Intercourse mode off>

...But they never receive an answer!
The other thing I needed to get from English sources was an Apostille, to be attached to my birth certificate.  For that, I had to send my birth certificate back to England (tearful farewell at the airport...) -- along with another twenty quid!
The thieving swine!  I was under the impression that the twenty years of taxes I'd handed over to the British government paid for any little bits and bobs I might need from the Foreign Office!  Where do they get off, charging me twice?

Anyway, off I toddled to Amsterdam.
When I got there, the Consulate was having some re-modelling done, and the room where formal oaths are taken was 'out of order'.  Rather than make me wait longer than the hour that they seemed to have decided was appropriate, they quickly whipped me through to the back office to swear out this document -- that is, they took me through to fully British soil!  That being the case, it was a damned sight cheaper to pay them the 125.00 than it would have been to pay British Airways for the same service (although the shopping and entertainment facilities in the rear of the Consular building left something to be desired).
Being somewhat ratty with the idea of having to pay at all, however, I decided to be a nuisance.
Before I returned to the outer office, I 'accidentally' left my book on the desk, back in 'England'; then I waited to be called to pick up the sealed and stamped sheet of paper.
The highly efficient security procedures in place in the Consulate naturally failed to pick up the fact that an 'unidentified package' had been left on the desk (maybe I should have spoken with an Irish accent?); so, next time I'm in a bad mood, I might just dash off a note to the Foreign Office in London, describing how lax the Consulate staff here are!
It's worth noting that the document I swore out has absolutely no value, whatever.  All it says is that an official was present whilst I swore to be who I am.  Not quite the best forty quid I ever spent!
I had hoped to pay a visit to the Secret Annexe, whilst in Amsterdam, as I believe such things should be remembered -- it is to Britain's great shame that we sat back and let the third Reich perform its atrocities unchallenged until 1939.
Prime Minister Chamberlain's faith in worthless pieces of paper does not seem to have been learned from, however, as my newly Apostillated birth certificate arrived with a note that effectively read that the Apostille, too, was worthless.  It clearly and unambiguously states (and I quote...):

    "If we attach an apostille or legalisation certificate to a document, it only confirms that the signature, seal or stamp on the document are genuine. It does not mean that the contents of the document are correct or that the Foreign & Commonwealth Office approves of the contents."

This means that the Apostille does not certify any of the details on the birth certificate, merely that the birth certificate exists.  You can tell that much by looking at the damned thing!

The vram-a-lang-a-ding-dong informed me that they would not give me the required documents until I had a certificate from an insurance company, reading that they would insure me.  The insurance company informed me that they were not willing to insure me -- until I had documents from the vram-a-lang-a-ding-dong, which the vram-a-lang-a-ding-dong would not give me until I had a certificate from an insurance company, reading that they would insure me.  The insurance company....
...And so on, and so forth...
So, I ended up with a completely worthless piece of paper from the insurance company, which read that they were not insuring me, but that they might be willing to insure me if and when I got the documents from the vram-a-lang-a-ding-dong.
I added this to my worthless 125.00 document from the Consulate and the worthless Apostille, and I was pretty much set -- insofar as worthless pieces of paper!

This is ridiculous!
I can't do Anything in under 1500 words!

To be continued....


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