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Dutch bureaucracy


I tried to get a tax number, called a Sofinummer, when I was living in Amsterdam the Netherlands in year 2000.

I went to several offices in different parts of the city, pursuing information. Everybody at every one of these offices was friendly. A couple of them referred me to each other, in a friendly way.

Dutch bureaucracy, part II

I got a temporary permit for work at a bakery in Nijmegen in 2004....

Ultimately, it seemed I ran against the catch-22 that is at the core of bureaucratic SNAFU. I had to have this to get that, and that to get this. For me in Holland, it was the tax number and the residency. It's damn near impossible to get one without the other, and vice versa.

Several times I sensed that I was about to achieve success. Most notably, a case worker at the Foreign Police told me "you will get that number." I don't know if I was actually close to getting it and I blew it, or if that nearness was simply an illusion. I think I blew it, but I'm not sure. I did do one thing wrong: I got impatient. Let's face it, I'm American; and while fancying myself no typical American, I do like my logic. I do like direct answers. And, at a point, I did say "I just want to know what I need to do." I did not speak angrily, but that was a very direct request; a demand, possibly, to the Dutch ear.

Being demanding is nothing less than a social gaffe in the Netherlands. And, if one is American, there is cause for special diplomacy when visiting Dutch governmental offices.

This particular conversation had been going fine. Shortly after I said that, the lady got up from the counter across which we were sitting, and went to speak with a colleague. When she came back, she had some bad news for me. I wouldn't be getting my sofinummer that day.

The lady directed me, in a friendly way, to another office. I don't remember pursuing the matter much further after that.


  • I lived in Amsterdam from May until December of 2000. In the summer of 2003 I met a Dutch girl in Ireland and returned to NL for a year and a half.


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