Tuesday. N had left for a conference in Germany. The children and I were still in our pajamas as some primitive part of our brain that doesn’t understand abstract concepts like time and time zones was puzzled as to why it was light in the middle of the night.
Outside, dreary, dense gray clouds blanketed the sky. Rain glistened off the neighbors’ slate roofs. My children laid on the sofa, enthralled with Dutch cartoons, and I stood before the open refrigerator wondering what a person with a gluten-free, diary-free (sorta) diet can eat in the land of bread and yogurt.
There was a knock at the door. It didn’t elicit the fear of door knockings as back in the states–the dread of a how to tell some scary dude you don’t want a magazine subscription, need your gutters cleaned, or your lawn mowed. Door knockers in the Netherlands are typically nice people with licenses for collecting money for a legitimate charity.
Nonetheless, being suspicious by nature, I only opened the top half of the old door—like some character in a German fairytale. This blonde, efficient-looking guy stood there in a windbreaker, holding a notebook. Before I can muster the typical Pardon, Ik spreek Engels, he is flashing a card with the word “politie” printed on it.
“The police!” I exclaim.
“Ah, you speak English.” A little light sparked in the policeman’s pale Northern European blue eyes. Some intelligence, like a private joke I didn’t get. He held up his notebook, between the ledger lines is an Indian name scribbled in red ink. “Do you know this person?”
Now, I’m an American, but my dominate subculture is southern and not the cultured, graceful low-country southern, but the rural, rock-gut, gnat infested southern near lower Alabama (LA). I operate on two modes: friendly ,helpful, smiling Georgia peach and get-the-hell-off-my-property redneck.
I started with Georgia peach and explained that we were mere renters and had arrived only days before. I gave him the name of agency we rented from and suggested he checked with owner. Inside I’m feeling like the biblical good Samaritan.
I noticed the policeman didn’t take any notes, but stared at me with his unblinking blue eyes. Then his blond, somewhat heavy, police friend joined him. I think there is a universal law that when two policemen get together, something or someone is going down. In this case, me.
“May I see your passport?” The original blonde cop asked. As I write, I added a question mark because technically it was a question, but it didn’t sound that way. I turned around, embarrassed to be caught by the cops in my pajamas, and pulled out my passport and my children’s passport without saying a word. Although, inside I had made the silent transition from Georgia peach to redneck.
“You have many passports,” said the cop with notebook.
“What are their ages?” I told him. He took my passport, flipped through the pages, then handed it to his heavy friend. The two looked at one another.
“And how long are you staying?” Notebook cop asked.
I replied. The two cops looked at each other again. Isn’t this a fun game? So I tell him, thinking once they know I’m leaving in a few days there won’t be any problem. I’m here to improve the Dutch economy, after all, not to ask for health benefits or other perks of the Dutch government.
“And why are you here?”Ok, I was very tired after the flight, but I’m pretty sure we covered this at the airport. Again I answered. Again they look at one another. Clearly, I was flunking the oral examine.
“You do not have an alien stamp on your passport.” The notebook policeman said with a smile–not a warm, “Welcome to Holland” smile, but one capable of being both pleasant and jerk at the same time. Like the commercial they show here with all these good-looking foreigners trying to comically, yet futilely communicate. You would think this is some kind-hearted mobile phone service commercial, but then the punch line appears at the end saying something like “If you live in Netherlands, speak Dutch.” To be fair, however, I was in full redneck mode.
“I’ve never needed one before.” I said, then realize I might have said something very stupid.
“It is the law,“ he smiled. Laws are very, very important in the Netherlands. Not that laws aren’t important in US, it is just there are less of them guiding your daily existence. For instance, you might get lazy one afternoon in US and not recycle that smelly tuna fish can. Well, in the Netherlands you are breaking the law.
The notebook policeman asked for a piece of paper (wasn’t he holding a notebook?). I gave him my child’s coloring book. He wrote down the address of the police station in the neighboring city where I should go to apply for the stamp, the “uurs” the alien office was open, and his phone number. Now, I don’t have a phone, and I don’t have the rental car and nothing is more daunting then trying to figure out the Dutch bus system, which seems to be passed down like spoken word history through generations of Dutch, never written down on clay tablets or the internet. Plus, my children have bladders the size of green peas and only stare at me with vacant, confused expression when I tell them why we should try to use the bathroom before we get on the bus. So I tell the cops I can’t get there until next week because that’s when N returns with the stylish Peugeot station wagon with the sunroof. Again the blonde policemen look at each other. Will y’all stop that!
“You will need it as soon as possible. It is the law.” The notebook cop who did all the talking smiled that smile. “Good day.” He and his friend turn away and began to walk to the sidewalk, then suddenly he turned around, his pleasant/jerk smile even bigger. “We will come back next week and check.”
There you have it. I’m wanted by the Dutch authorities. I’m an outlaw. A Dutch bandito.
So I called N over the internet. He doesn’t answer his phone (so much for emergencies!) I emailed my Dutch friend and said I was in tears (I’m a total crybaby) and couldn’t possibly meet that afternoon and could we reschedule. Three hours later N gets back to me. He tells me not to worry; he’ll take care of it. He researched the specifics of “the law” on the internet, then asked his colleagues. The Chinese one said it was very serious and N needed to take care of the matter immediately. The Dutch colleague laughed and said something about politics, recession, and immigration. Not taking any chances, the next morning, N skipped his conference and drove back to Netherlands. Since we had last met, N had discovered the stationwagon’s big screen GPS system with the sexy female continental voice. “Turn left, big boy.” Already it had replaced that instinctive masculine, Viking navigational system in his brain that took thousands of years of evolution to hone. “At the round-about take the third exit, Mr. Leif Erickson.” N punched in the police station address, and we obeyed the sexy voice’s commands, until that nasty snag with the detours, construction and a shopping street, then it was kind of a whiny bitch. N left us in the car at the politie station, coming back thirty minutes later with shiny, laminated stamps on our passports, it–and I’m not lying–looked like rays of red sunshine.
Ok, in all honesty, I’m feeling kinda bad about being a redneck to the smiling Dutch cops. After all, they did stop a terrorist attack in Amsterdam today.
Here is a little side note: So I did turn up at my friend’s house the next day and recounted the story. She said the politie had only come to her house once, looking for marijuana. Her husband let them in because they weren’t growing any pot. The politie had the wrong address, it seems, because my friend’s neighbors were growing marijuana plants in every room, using special growth lights etc.
Now when it comes to drug use, I own up to being far, far more innocent than our last three presidents and Oprah Winfrey, nonetheless I’m curious. Isn’t marijuana legal in Netherlands? I asked. My friend told me you can only have thirty marijuana plants, not hundreds like her ex-neighbors.