that's rubbish

March 27th, 2006

It seems like a lifetime ago now, but back before I lived in Norway, I would crack up upon hearing stories from Erik about what life in Holland could be like at times. It all sounded too nutty to be true. Well, guess who's laughing now, that's right, Erik. One time he told me he took out the garbage "on the wrong day" [wtf??], cause he was headed out of the city, the garbage men "caught" him, they literally went through his garbage and found a piece of paper with his name on it [WTF???] and fined him for the "infraction" [please stop, I can't take anymore]. bwahahaha. Oh dear, couldn't hold it in. No, but seriously, whaaat? Dude, where is my car?

Ok, so I move into this historical monument (I kid you not) in the very center of Utrecht that the university painstakingly secured for me. The house is a ruin, it's literally falling apart. There are rumors about it being demolished once the last tenant moves out of it. In fact, there are rumors that it was supposed to be demolished years ago already. I won't dwell on the house, it deserves a photo album of its own. But rest assured it utterly sucks and looks, as one visitor called it, like "a hell hole". Anywho, I live with 4 other internationals here. That's right, big surprise they ripped off the international students and put them in probably the crappiest premises in the whole of Utrecht, charging us a steady fee. But where was I, oh yes, garbage, the recurring theme of this entry.

So the way they organize the garbage collection here (please hold your outburst of laughter till the end of this paragraph) is that they put out garbage containers. But, you won't find them just any time at all. No, they only appear on TUESDAYS and FRIDAYS. So if you have some garbage you really want to get rid of, you have to wait up to 3 days. But pay attention, because on WEDNESDAYS they put out the *paper* container. Although people throw a lot of crap in there, *technically* it's only for paper. Got it?

Time for a story. Picture a Tuesday night. In fact, a CL night. Jake and I are in the kitchen watching the game (can't remember which one). Our garbage is full, Jake ties up the garbage bag, heads out to toss it in the dumpster. Hang on, there is no garbage container outside, just the paper one. The garbage service must have screwed up the schedule. He brings the bag back inside, it will have to wait until Friday. The next morning, at 8.30, Melissa is headed to school. She grabs the garbage on her way out. Seeing that the dumpster is full, she leaves the bag outside by the staircase and goes to school. 11am that morning, I hear the doorbell ring. I reluctantly open the door to find two funny looking guys with a van parked in the street, blocking the street completely. On the van there's a title of some kind that I can't read. After the usual "oh, you're *not* Dutch, you had *me* fooled", I'm wondering what they want. "We are the...uhm...what is it called...the environmental police". Aha...(?) "We found this envelope with your address in the garbage.." He shows me the envelope. "We found the garbage outside your house." He didn't actually make it clear what the problem was, but I could see where this was going. "Well, it's not mine, there are 5 people living in this house." They obviously wanted the culprit. "Are they home now?" Yeah, pal, it's 11am on a Wednesday, of course we're all home, noone has anywhere to go. So I go to check who's home, only Cassandra is. Cassandra and I come back to the door and continue the chat, concluding that it wasn't any of us and noone else is home at the moment.

Well that's that. Or is it now. A couple of weeks later, Jake gets a letter from the local authorities. It's in Dutch, we can't make it out. The garbage cops are fining him €50 for putting out the garbage on the wrong day. Why Jake? Because they have him on record as the tenant living here the longest. Riiight. Well, we didn't know that was what it said, Jake went down to their office to find out. He also found out he can fight the fine and he has 30 days to file a complaint. Not only that, they told him they *scan* all "evidence" like this so they have proof of these "crimes". Who said unemployment was a problem? Not when you can hire people to scan garbage. A letter of complaint? Will do. We don't know anything about the form that it's supposed to be in, not even where exactly it should be sent, so Jake calls the garbage cops and they tell him the garbage "detective" is out. "Well is there someone else I can talk to?" "No." "And you don't know anything about this?" "No." "So what can I do?" "Call back tomorrow, please." What they did tell him was that usually in these cases, the garbage cops knock on your door because someone tipped them off. Let's see, Melissa took out the trash at 8.30, at 11 they were already at our door. Yeah, that sounds about right. In fact, aside from a tip off, there is no way they could possibly know that the trash was taken out on Wednesday morning, not Tuesday night. So one of our neighbors ratted us out. How Orwellian. [Feel a laugh coming on yet?]

Of course, it would not have happened in the first place had the garbage service not put out the wrong dumpster. But as always in this country, you *will* be charged for every small infraction, whereas noone generally feels responsible for anything they may have done wrong.

Ps. The original names in this story were replaced with soap opera names so that tv addicts will feel right at home.

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2 Responses to "that's rubbish"

  1. erik says:


  2. John/Mikhail says:

    Wow. Just wow. That's just taking the piss. Btw, garbage is collected here once a week. It used to be free, but now you get charged a flat fee for the service. And a per lift fee. And a weight-based fee. Yep, three times for the same service. And they wonder why there's pressure on the national wage agreement!

    Stupidity aside, the trick to fighting this is one-upmanship. For a start, deposit a bag of rubbish collected from the street (wear gloves) outside the offices of said department of bureaucratic harassment, with "evidence" inside suggesting it belongs to the royal family, or to Denis Bergkamp. How are the Dutch on CCTV cameras? You might want to wear a hood!

    [Thanks for the postcard BTW, I'd have reciprocated from the US, but I don't have your Dutch address.]