“The only things certain in life are death and taxes” – Benjamin Franklin
What Ben didn’t mention was that the dead still need to complete their taxes. Even in The
My husband was born in The Netherlands. He can trace his Dutch family history back 300 years on both sides. His Grandmother, on his mother’s side, lived and died in
Gouda – a small town
about 30 minutes from where we live in Leiden. The story of her death and burial was a
dramatic process and being the only living relatives she has in The
Netherlands, my husband has been granted the prestigious title of Executor of
The Estate – and for months, has been working through all the tedious
challenges of the job description. The
Dutch, and their love of paperwork and challenging efficiency, have been doing
their best in dragging out and complicating the process as much as
My husband received a 30-page document (in Dutch, obviously) from the government explaining how to complete his Grandmother’s tax return. He flipped through it, amazed at the heft of the package. He lugged it up to his father’s relatives, pleading for assistance, and discovered the taxes were due April 1 as opposed to August 1 as he had mistakenly skimming-translated.
The first step was to contact the tax office to make an appointment to visit with someone in order to complete the tax form. “Ja. Okay. So. Are you free, Wednesday between the hours of
11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.?” the pleasant-sounding Dutch woman
asked V. V leaned his phone on his
shoulder, and checked his calendar, “Um, yes.
I can be. Where do I need to go?”
he responded. “Oh, no, no, no. Someone will be calling you on Wednesday between 11:00
and 1:00 in order to make an
appointment for your taxes,” she explained with an air of factuality and
finality in her voice. V’s eyes lit up
and he made an imaginary fist pump in the air.
All the Expat websites and cultural guidebooks had warned us about the appointment-for-an-appointment
quirky Dutch custom, and after a year, he finally could say he too, had been indoctrinated
into the club. It tipped the scales from
long-term tourist, to local - like getting your bike stolen in Amsterdam.
Two days later, the phone rang at the appointed time and a man’s voice confirmed the date for the filing of the taxes. “You free in two weeks, yes?” he said roughly. “Yes, of course – but isn’t that date after the April 1st deadline to file?” V responded, quite confused. . . his mind reminiscing of Americans driving all over town to find the one post office open late on April 15th, then shoving their stamped envelopes desperately into the mail slots like breathless marathon runners crossing the finish line. “No. No. It is okay. As long as you have an appointment to file your taxes, then it will be just fine.” Of course. This appointment business again. He instructed V to go to the Hogeschool in
isn’t that a college? V thought to himself.
Confused, but humbled by the whole
filing-taxes-in-The-Netherlands-process thus far, V left the unspoken question
linger in the air.
The Hogeschool was within walking distance of our home. Rain fell softly as he entered the glass revolving door. The tile floor stretched before him and the odor of cheap cleaning products similar to high schools all over the world (apparently) assaulted his nose. He followed the low buzz echoing throughout the hall and came upon the gymnasium. Folding card tables were set outside the gym and he checked in, and then sat in a row of chairs, waiting for his name to be called, as if at the DMV in
He shifted uncomfortably in the plastic chair until his name was called and a plain, young girl escorted him into the gymnasium. The room was crowded with tables, ‘tax advisors’, and customers. A hum resonated throughout the room as she led V to her own spot among the rows of folding tables and plastic chairs. “Ga zitten” she instructed, and V sat. She shuffled some papers, shifted in her chair, subconsciously wiped her hands on her jeans, and consciously relaxed her shoulders. She asked how she could help him – in Dutch. “Um, spreek ja Engles?” V responded. He’s been taking Dutch classes. He can read children’s books and have a decent conversation with people in shops, restaurants, at the train station, etc., but he’d prefer to speak English when dealing with The Netherlands Government - can’t be too cautious. The girl frowns at him, but responds that she would give it a try. V continues to explain his position. Her eyes widen as his story continues. As he concludes, the look of horrified bewilderment upon her face is solidified. Her hand shoots up into the air. Apparently, the chapter that explains: How to file taxes for a Dead Dutch Grandmother of an English-speaking-Expat-grandson had not been covered in her Introduction to Individual Taxation course. At least, not yet.
Her professor comes to her aid. In rapid Dutch, the flustered student enlightens the woman of the unique case my husband has presented her. The lecturer pats her lightly on the shoulder and ushers my husband away from the scene like a woman shielding someone from an accident, and towards an older gentleman. As V handed him a pile of statements, papers, and notes, the elderly man nodded with the calm wisdom of an unfazed tax advisor who had seen it all. A few flips through the documents, a few keystrokes into his computer, and a couple of penciled digits onto a receipt slip – and Oma’s taxes were filed. The bill would come later.
V shook the man’s hand and passed the rows of students on his way out. With an enlightened sense of self, V danced out of the gym, proud of his accomplishment. Filing my Grandmother’s taxes in an hour - in The Netherlands – check! But before he left, V asked the all-knowing tax advisor about how to handle the subsequent inheritance tax. His response, as if you had not guessed it already – “Oh yes. Just call the tax office. And make an appointment!”