On an unusually sunny morning in January 2015, I cycled to the Leiden gemeente in minus-4-degree temperatures. Having lived in the Netherlands for the required 5 years and having passed my inburgeringsexamen (on the first try!) three years previously, I was eager to get my Dutch citizenship. The Dutch should be happy to welcome me among their ranks, right? After all, I can make one mean stamppot!
Arriving at the gemeente’s information desk armed with all the necessary documents for my application, I was disappointed when the woman behind the balie gave me a small piece of paper with a web site address and phone number. I apparently had to arrange for an appointment to apply for naturalizatie via either phone or their website. Why nobody in the gemeente could make the afspraak while I was actually standing there at the reception desk is beyond me.
Dutch Citizenship : Disappointed but determined
I cycled back home rather less enthusiastically than I had on my way there, but I knew how things worked in the Netherlands—and everywhere else in Europe I have ever lived. It brought to mind a hilarious video about a woman in similar circumstances in Spain. The immigration services would require an endless amount of obscure legal paperwork, needing the obligatory apostilles and signatures, but I was confident I had everything required. It was only a matter of time before I held my shiny new Dutch passport in my hand.
So I went to the Leiden gemeente’s web site as directed on the little slip of paper to arrange for an afspraak using my DigiD; but funnily enough, naturalizatie was not one of the options. So I called the phone number listed with some trepidation—I was dreading the rapid-fire Dutch most automated answering services offer as they list the possible options.
The paper advised that I press option 1, which took me directly to voice mail, where the only possibility was to leave a message. Not what I wanted. So I called back and listened to the other options, the first of which was to choose English, which I did. I do try to speak Dutch as often as possible, but it’s mostly exchanges with vendors at the market or other parents at my daughter’s school. When dealing with situations involving doctors and government officials, I want to be sure I understand everything perfectly.
Telephone ping-pong, Dutch style
After a few rings, the supposed English-language line was answered by a Dutch-speaking-only worker who asked if I had visited the IND website to see what the requirements were (this was to become a common theme every time I called). I said yes. She then forwarded my call to a colleague, who explained I had to call the number I had just called and choose the “naturalizatie” option.
So I called back; yet missing from the list of options (surprise, surprise) was anything called “naturalizatie”. So I listened to the list again and chose the one I thought sounded most like what I needed—something related to burgers. Success at last! Or not. Getting my details across to the (again, only Dutch-speaking) woman on the other end of the line (the fourth person I needed to assure that I knew what was required and that I had all the necessary paperwork for Dutch citizenship) was amusing.
I know my Dutch is still abominable, but I think she was also hard-of-hearing. I gave her my birthdate (twice) and she asked for my last name. I spelled it: Ah-fay-ay-err-eegreck. She repeats “Ah-zay…?”
“No,” I say, “ah-fay, like vos.”
Apparently she had never heard of a fox before. Admittedly, the letters V, W and Z sound very alike in Dutch, but no matter how hard I tried I just could not get it across to her. I should not even have attempted to say “E, like ei.” Bad move. I can’t even manage to say “egg” when trying to order breakfast. Finally, she managed to get my name by me literally shouting my BSN number into the phone, and I got my coveted appointment.
Making the afspraak for Dutch citizenship only took two hours. What more could go wrong?