The alphabet gang

15th July 2005, Comments 0 comments

Even most of those of us who think of ourselves as reasonably streetwise have fallen victim at one time or another to criminals. They can be hard to spot; often they look just like you or me.

Even most of those of us who think of ourselves as reasonably streetwise have fallen victim at one time or another to criminals. They can be hard to spot; often they look just like you or me.

A view from inside a Dutch prison

It is a relief, then, to come to the Netherlands and discover how sporting the local Ordinary Decent Criminals (ODCs) are. To make it easier for us to pick them out of a crowd, criminals here renounce their surnames.

For instance, a Paul Kok would become P.K. if he took up burglary as a profession;  Thea Brouwer would transform into T.B. the husband killer; and Mohammed Mohammed would take to calling himself M.M. if he made a living stealing handbags.

At least, this is the impression you might get reading the newspapers: people don't commit crimes here, letters of the alphabet do.

It was, the media keeps telling us, Mohammed B. who killed film director Theo van Gogh last year. Perhaps he was copying Volkert van der G., who shot dead politician Pim Fortuyn in 2002.

One can't help but wonder whether Fortuyn could have been saved had the authorities learned in time that Volkert van der Graaf had evolved into a murderous 'G'.

Privacy

The foreign media have no qualms about naming the killers of both Theo van Gogh and Pim Fortuyn in full, so why the prudishness in this land known for its matter-of-fact bluntness?

It's all got to do with privacy.

Apparently, if you rob a bank, commit the political assassination of the century or steal a handbag from a motorist and get run over for your trouble, it's your own private matter. You may be jailed for life for a heinous crime, but the wider public has no right to pry. That would be monstrous.

By the same token, the authorities can arrest an unnamed person, hold him or her for weeks without charge, and finally impose a lengthy sentence. Perhaps you could give a Max van der Meer an alibi, but we have to assume the state knows best when it jails M. van der M.

Victims of crimes have no right to this dubious protection. It is a safe bet, for instance, that the media will publish the name of a woman who is raped and murdered while working as a prostitute.

First names

A recent warning in the media that the Netherlands is heading for an economic recession caused a stir.

The authors of this dire prediction? Economists B. de Groot and P. H. Franses of Erasmus University in Rotterdam.

Everyone in the Netherlands knows who they are. Right?

De Groot, De Groot... is that Brenda, Bob, Bart? No, it was Bert. And the other guy is Philip Hans.

On the one hand, it doesn't really matter that we don't know their given names. But on the other, it's odd that they're telling us about something as important as the country's economic future yet they (or the media) don't want us to know who they really are.

The problem really comes into its own when you ring up a government agency or the customer service desk of a major Dutch multinational and ask for 'De Groot', or even a 'B. de Groot'. There are likely to be dozens of potential candidates answering to this description.

Yet many Dutch people cling to the secrecy of their first names as if they were magic talismans. You know you'll never make into the inner circle when every form you have to fill out as an expat requires all your names in full - even the superfluous ones in the middle.

At least this endless form-filling guarantees an expat can never turn to a life of crime.

[Copyright Expatica 2005]

Subject: Dutch news

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