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Long Arm of the Law

Of course I can laugh about it NOW. But at the time, eh, not so much.
Yesterday I had one of those experiences reminding me ‘You aren’t in Kansas anymore, Dorothy…’

My Dutch friend Katja and I were out walking Oli (he of Dopey Dog fame) at lunchtime.

We were busy solving the problems of the world. (Much easier than solving our own, although sometimes we do try to solve each other’s.)

We decided to leave one park and head over to another. We were deep in conversation in Westbroekpark when we noticed a harhaving (enforcement) police car pulling up. Two policemen got out, and headed toward us.

It still wasn’t registering that they wanted to talk to us, so we continued chatting and walking. I’d like to say that nothing gets by me, but apparently it does.

The light bulb finally did go on, I’m proud to say, when they stepped in front of us.

What followed was a rapid barrage of Dutch, some gesturing, and the slow dawning on my part that we were being questioned. Politely, but questioned nonetheless.

Now anyone who has been following me for any length of time knows that my grasp of Nederlands is tenuous at best. I’m solidly entrenched in Camp Intermediate, with no signs of reprieve.

I couldn’t understand some of what they were saying. Alright, much of it. But I also know from experience that it’s better if you speak the language as much as possible rather than reverting back to English only.

People do care if you make the effort. They seem to subconsciously feel you respect them more, and are friendlier to you. Attempting to speak their language shows that you’re at least trying to ‘join the herd’.

Of course, my experience was never with police officers.

But I figured it was still my best bet, so I continued to ask for clarification and answer as best I could in Dutch. If I didn’t understand something, either Katja or the police would explain in English. But I’d switch back to Dutch whenever possible.

It seems we’d broken the law prohibiting dogs in certain parks. We’d walked Oli through that park several times before and had never noticed the signs indicating it was a dog-free park. We explained that we didn’t realize we couldn’t walk the dog there, and apologized.

That’s when we were told the Dutch version of that old American phrase ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse.’ The younger policeman asked if we had something, but I wasn’t sure exactly what. I saw Katja nod yes and pull a wadded up plastic bag from her coat pocket.

Turns out there is another Dutch law requiring dog owners to have a plastic bag with them whenever walking their dogs to ‘scoop the poop’. Before I walk with Katja, I always make sure Oli’s done his business, hence no need for plastic bags. (We’re used to ‘bagging’ so please don’t go off on a tirade on that.) Nice save there Katja!

I still thought we were going to get off with just a warning when I heard the dreaded words: do you have any form of identification? Okay, he said it in Dutch, but I understood enough to know what he was asking. And that I was in trouble.

Because what I did know was that there is yet another Dutch law requiring everyone to carry identification proving citizenship and legal address. We’d had to register with the Dutch authorities (the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in our case since Husband works for an international organization), and received little green cards you were supposed to carry at all times.

Except who sticks an official ID card into their jacket pocket when out walking the dog? Well, it seems that Husband and I will be doing so from now on. Because Dutch police have the right to demand such identification from anyone. At any time. For no reason. No need to first establish ‘probable cause’ here, no sir.

I didn’t have my Dutch registration card on me, so I was politely informed that I could be arrested and taken to the police station until someone could produce the card. At this point I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Oh crap

What followed was the officers kindly offering me this alternative: go directly home and they would come to my house in 45 minutes to see whether I could produce the registration card I maintained I had.

(I had been hoping for the alternative of ‘we’ll let you go this time, just don’t let it happen again’. So much for that damned intercultural communication everyone’s always yammering on about.)

Long story short, I went home. Officers arrived as promised. Registration card was reviewed, my ‘statement’ taken.

[For the record, I should note that the enforcement police officers did not come into our home. Rather, they stay outside your door and conduct their business in public view. Which I found respectful and oddly reassuring. Plus it gave the neighbors something to talk about.]

The officers explained that they had latitude when it came to arresting me or ticketing me for lack of proper identification (which they kindly chose to do neither), but my lack of ID at the time of the original offense (walking the dog in a prohibited area) REQUIRED them to ticket me.

With a hefty fine. Oh joy.

I’m probably in some official database now, with other criminal elements.

And where was Oli during this second round with the police? Asleep on the living room couch. Natuurlijk.

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