-3’c – winter is coming

Frosty field

Back to normal morning temperatures…

Yesterday I had to defrost the car for the first time this autumn. Today, the first normal frost of the autumn.

I guess I am going to have to phone the heat pump installers I asked to quote for some air to air heat pumps.

I often have the feeling that Norwegian companies really don’t want customers given the amount you have to hassle them just to get a quote…


The problem with fanatics, the Listhaugs, the Wilders, the ISs and the Al Qaedas of this world is that you, as a reasonable person will never be able to win a reasoned argument with them. Fanatics are always more dedicated to their causes than reasonable people ever can be, that being the whole point to fanaticism. Fanatics will be out at the crack of dawn, promoting their “alternative facts” while the rest of us are still waiting for our eggs to boil, our coffee to percolate and our toast to pop up cheerfully from the toaster.

Then one day, as we are enjoying a particularly good boiled egg, the perfect cup of coffee and some crisp fresh toast we turn around and notice that all the newspapers that used to practice proper journalism are gone. That the radio and TV documentaries that look past the sound bites and check the facts and sources against each other are no longer regarded as relevant by the vast majority of the population. That all the humanist voices suggesting that people who are not like us should be treated with dignity and respect will have disappeared into the margins of the internet, the margins currently occupied by today’s fanatics.

What will we do then?

For my part I have decided that after twenty years of “free” news on the internet it is high time for me to start paying money to quality news outlets for the work they do before they are driven out of business. It is an easy thing to do and a small price to pay for my children’s future.

I hope it is not a case of too little too late…

Addressing the issue

On our return to Gol we were greeted by a demand for payment from Utrecht Council. Apparently we’ve not been paying our gemeentebelasting. “Hmmm” we thought “we don’t remember getting the initial bill from the council.” However, we immediately noticed a problem that might have caused this.

The address on the demand letter is:
S Williams
Brikevegen Lia

Now, those of you who know our address will realise that this is quite different to our address. In fact it is amazing that the Norwegian postal service managed to deliver this letter at all, although it is not a surprise that it took a month to get to us.

Damae phoned Utrecht council and first time got a very unhelpful lady who was not interested in the fact that the letter had been addressed incorrectly and merely told us that we were responsible for paying our council tax and it was our fault if we didn’t do so. Interestingly she did confirm that the address they had for us on their computer system was in fact correct and that our address could only be changed in writing or by a visit to the Burgerzaken office. She also told us that we had to pay the complete amount (more than Eur 600) in one go. Finally Damae realised that the lady at the council was not going to help us in any way and hung up.

Ten minutes later she phoned back and got a much more helpful lady who told us we could still pay the sum in six monthly installments by direct debit and what information we needed to put in the letter to the council. She once again confirmed that the council did have our correct address but could not explain why the letter (and presumably the bill we never got) had an incorrect address.

Now this needs to be addressed. Either there is a problem in the IT systems at the council which means that addresses are not passed correctly from the GBA to the billing systems at the council. Or there has been a breakdown in procedures. Someone has amended our address without or without authorisation. If they were authorised to change the address, then there should be a paper trail in the IT system that can be checked. If not, then the history in the computer system should, at least, show who amended the address.

Whatever the reason, I am going to send a letter the council and complain. Whilst it is annoying that we have been charged administration costs by the council for their error, the more important issue is the unauthorised alteration of our address details at the council. This should never happen with properly designed information processing systems. Nor should it happen when people follow procedures correctly.

The written word: Part 2

Last week a familiar blue envelope appeared in our post box. It was a set of tax return forms for tax year 2010 for me to fill in. As we have emigrated from the Netherlands we can no longer do our tax returns on our computers using that handy program that the Belastingdienst creates each year. Oh no, that would be too simple.

This year we will have to do it on paper, and two sets of paper, one for me and one for Damae. The tax return is called an M-aangifte and strikes terror into the hearts of emigrating former-residents of the Netherlands. The forms come with a ninety-eight page  ‘toelichting’ in Dutch (which we can read of course). However, on the front is says in friendly letters “This explanation is also available in English on the internet. Look at www.belastingdienst.nl”. So I looked, as naturally it would make life a lot easier trying to digest those written words in English rather than Dutch. After twenty minutes I realised that I couldn’t find it.

I phoned the Belastingdienst in Holland, and after the obligatory ten minute wait in the queue (it must have been a quiet day) I got a gentleman on the line who informed me that there was indeed no English version of the ‘toelichting’. He also explained that the English text on the front of the Dutch version was a ‘drukfout’ or misprint to you and me.

That’s some misprint if you ask me – “Oh I meant to print nothing on that part of the paper but accidently slotted the following words in moveable type into the printing press: ‘This explanation is also available in English on the internet. Look at www.belastingdienst.nl’. Sorry guv, I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again”. Yep, that is one amazing misprint.

I digress, as I often do.

Although we have until late June 2011 to submit the completed forms, it looks like during quiet evenings in the next couple of months, our combined abilities in comprehending written Dutch will be taxed to the limit.


Taxed to the lim…………… I’ll get my coat.


Trying to contact KPN ‘Customer Service’ whilst abroad

KPN is a hard company to get hold of even when you are in the Netherlands. It is impossible to find a customer service email address on their website. So you have to phone their customer service uses a 0900 number (10 eurocents/minute) which costs over Eur 1-30/minute when using a prepaid mobile. It is not possible to use Skype to phone Dutch 0900 numbers.

So if you have no landline and only a prepaid mobile it will cost you a fortune for a simple five minute wait in the queue and a five minute conversation with a customer service agent.

It is worse from abroad. Not only can you not phone KPN using Skype you can’t phone KPN using a Norwegian prepaid mobile phone. Aha but you can use ‘Mijn KPN’ to do all sorts of useful things. Yes. Except you can’t change your address details to a foreign address*.

I’m obviously missing something here, but isn’t this against all those nice EU rules about freedom of movement of goods, services and people. There are plenty of legitimate reasons why you might want to use a Dutch company’s services whilst not being a registered resident of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. So why on earth does the ‘Mijn KPN’ website not allow this**.

 I digress. The good news is that I have found a way to get to the KPN ‘Customer Service’ line from Norway. I phone the main switchboard phone number +31 70 3434343 (using Skype prepaid), explained my problem and was put through to ‘Customer Service’ straight away.

Not that it helped much but hey at least it was possible and didn’t cost a fortune***.

*It is not just the website. KPN Netherlands simply does not accept a foreign address from you for any reason.
**KPN is not the only company with this limitation, we had the same problem with ‘Mijn FBTO’ earlier in the year. At least FBTO will accept a foreign correspondence address although they will ignore it and still send letters to the Dutch address.
*** Actually most companies in Holland use 0900 for customer support. Even the dole office uses a phone line that you cannot use from Skype and costs Eur 1-30/minute from a mobile. That’s really useful when you are unemployed.

Customer service is so bad in the Netherlands that the present govenment has promised to ‘talk to companies’ about the problem. That’s a good example of swift and decisive action from the new government .

The article in Dutch
The article in Googleze-Dunglish (you don’t need to understand any Dutch to appreciate how badly Google Translate does with Dutch to English translations)

The article mentions a campaign by the Dutch comedian Youp van’ t Hek after his son had a rough deal from T-Mobile. Google translates “het ‘legaal naaien van klanten'” literally. It should read something like “the legalised screwing of customers” (-by companies)