Putting Dutch service myths to bed

22nd July 2003, Comments 0 comments

Putting Dutch service myths to bed

Last time I moved house, I had to buy a bed. Optimistically I went to the bed store, selected the appropriate model and made my order.


I never had the pleasure of buying furniture back in my native Canada, because when I lived there I was a student and everything I owned was surreptitiously removed from my parents’ house while they were on vacation or at work.

Mom would come home and say “where’s the couch?” and I’d say, on my way out, that Dad said I could have it, which he did, but he may or may not have been sleeping at the time.

So this was a new thing for me. And ten weeks to deliver a bed seemed like a long time, but I waited.

Now those of you who still believe that the UPC fairy will come on the appointed day and connect your high-speed Internet might find this incredible, but furniture people do tend to show up as planned because otherwise they don’t get any money.

UPC can get your money without showing up, which is why they don’t.

The reason the furniture people have to show up is because they have an unusual custom in the Netherlands where you pay for the furniture when it arrives. In cash. So no matter how much you’ve ordered, you’re supposed to have a big stack of bills waiting around for a man named Friso to count out in his dirty hand before announcing that yes, you may keep your delivery.

If you don’t have the cash, you are in the rather unfortunate situation of having to leave Friso in your living room while you run to either the bank machine or the store where you can use your debit card. (I’m trusting you have been here long enough not to be so foolish as to think you could use your credit card).

This cash system, aside from providing furniture stores with very interesting tax dodges, has an effect on the balance of power in your transaction. Before you hand over your wad, the customer is still king, or since we are in the Netherlands, he is still peasant. But after? Whoa, buddy, you gotta problem with this bed?

By way of illustration, I’ll tell you what happened when they delivered the bed. Friso and his assistant brought the plastic-bedecked monster into the bedroom, unwrapped it and put it together.

Efficient and more or less polite as far as 150-kilo delivery men go. But when I looked at the bed, now assembled with mattresses, there was one very big problem aside from Friso’s waistline: it was used.

Don’t ask how I could tell it was used, but let’s just say I’ve been through enough highway motels to know a used bed when I see one.


“I’m not taking that,” I said.

Friso was obviously confused. His instructions were clear: leave bed, get money. My decision had left him in the lurch. I suggested he get the store on the phone.

That was interesting. The store was not amused to discover that I was not the buitenlander patsy they had taken me for. I could just imagine their glee on getting my order, figuring they could finally get rid of that ex-wedding present or whatever it was that had most certainly been used before crossing my threshold.

On the phone I could hear their glee melting into contempt at the realisation that the patsy was not going to stand for it.

“It’s not used,” the man told me, half-heartedly.

Rather than get into a detailed description of what exactly constitutes a used bed, I invited the gentleman for a look-see so he could determine the bed’s status for himself. He declined.

Sensing victory, I went in for the kill. “Listen,” I said, “just bring me another one and everything will be fine.”

Fortunately for me, this was mogelijk. And when things are mogelijk,, you’ve definitely won because the normal state of matter in the Netherlands is niet mogelijk.

Inexplicably, the new bed showed up the next day and not ten weeks later. Anyway, it was wrapped in what I could now see was original packaging. Friso put it together, and it passed inspection on the first try. Cash was handed over and counted by the requisite grubby hands; I had my bed.

The moral of the story? Do not let anything into your house until you have looked it over with a magnifying glass. Robert Louis Stephenson must have had the Dutch merchant in mind when he wrote Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde, an obvious reference to the remarkable transformation that occurs between the moment the money is in your hands and in his.

Just make sure you get what you want while the cash is in the correct pocket.

October 2002

Kevin Lowe is a Canadian expatriate living in Amsterdam.

Subject: Dutch service

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