My number appeared on the screen, B247 cubicle 32. First question: Bent U latent Nederlander? Well, I’ve lived here a long time, speak the lingo, know the culture – does that make me a latent Dutch native, I thought. The puzzled look on my face must have been sufficient answer for the clerk behind the desk and he asked what I had come for. “An option,” I said fully expecting to have to explain exactly what I wanted: Dutch nationality without losing my British passport and without taking an “inburgeringstest “. After studying Dutch and writing on Dutch news and current affairs for the last ten years, I wasn’t about to take some silly test on outdated Dutch customs that no-one upholds or learn to sing the national anthm “De Wilhelmus” which no self-repecting Dutch person knows the words to.
The clerk seemed to know what I was talking about and ignored me while he typed something into his computer. He asked for my passport, my extended birth certificate with an apostille (stamp to prove the legality of the document) and my invalid IND card. He takes one look at my stamped birth certificate, squints his eyes and hands it back to me. This document which I had urgently requested and paid 60 pounds for was just a smaller photocopy of the original with an impressive-looking stamp, but the hand-written copy is virtually illegible, especially for someone who doesn’t know my parent’s names and places of birth. He asks me for the original – oblivious to the irony of the whole situation.
After a while, reems and reems of paper churned out of a printer. There must have been at least five forms. They included the names and date of birth of my parents. I swallowed, my father died just last February and it’s at impersonal moments like this that I am suddenly struck by the fact. I hesitate at my mum’s date of birth, was she born in 1940, I thought it was 1939? But I hadn’t filled in this information so it must have come from municipality sources. Oh, was my dad born in Eccles – didn’t know that either. I decide not to question the information as it would only lead to delays.
I start reading the forms, the clerk has left the cubicle, apparently disinterested in me altogether. Have I ever been in trouble with the police? Was I a war criminal? Or to be more specific had I ever been unfortunate enough to work for a regime that was responsible for atrocities in war as then I would be branded an F1 – which automatically brands one a war criminal even if you just happened to be a driver for a Taliban official in Afghanistan. Did I have fines amounting to something like 240 euros in the past four years. Gulp. No I hadn’t run up any fines, but my spouse has been known to exceed the speeding limit mininally and the Green Wheels car is in my name. Would this discount me from taking the Dutch nationality. By this standard most Dutch people wouldn’t be able to apply for their own nationality!
I dutifully give the required answers and sign all the forms. I was slightly perturbed by the sentence at the bottom. Any wrong information could lead to me losing my nationality altogether. WHAT! So you don’t just get rejected you could be left nationless with all the consequences that could cause. It seemed to me that the government’s tough stance on immigration and therefore on immigrants had gone a little too far. And I felt slightly anxious as I left the city hall after paying the fee of EUR182,20.
Outside, I sat at the foot of a statue of the philosopher Spinoza, a Portuguese Jew who fled to the Netherlands. Underneath me on the pedestal was the text: “The purpose of the state is freedom”. Somehow it didn’t seem so.