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The Xenophobic Face of the Netherlands

On my way to work, early this morn­ing, I read a news­pa­per art­icle that made me very angry. I sup­pose it’s a cul­min­a­tion of pent-up frus­tra­tion with what I feel is an increas­ingly openly xeno­phobic and racist cli­mate dom­in­at­ing Dutch pub­lic dis­course. This art­icle was the last straw that made me decide to devote a post to it.

Now, the situ­ation described in the art­icle is in itself obvi­ously not the worst thing that has happened recently. What with a nation-wide dis­cus­sion of the folk­loric black­face char­ac­ter Black Pete, and the recent aquit­tal of the police officer who killed the unarmed and inno­cent 17-year old Rishi Chandrikas­ing, racism and racial pro­fil­ing has been at the fore­front of pub­lic dis­cus­sion in the Neth­er­lands recently. Per­haps need­less to say, in today’s soci­ety where ‘free­dom of speech’ seems to be the highest moral ideal we can think of, racist sen­ti­ments were aired by a sig­ni­fic­ant seg­ment of white Dutch people. Con­cretely, the situ­ation described below pales in com­par­ison to those two examples, but for some reason the atti­tude expressed in it, and the neut­ral tone in which it is presen­ted by the news­pa­per took me com­pletely by surprise.

A brief bit of back­ground: the art­icle in the free news­pa­per Metro—which I trans­late in its entirety below—is part of a recur­ring series on cus­tomer ser­vice and ways in which it can be improved. In it, a spot­light is shone on par­tic­u­lar com­pan­ies that respon­ded ‘con­struct­ively’ to cos­tumer feed­back. You’ll find out why those scare quotes are there soon enough. The com­pany in ques­tion, Veolia, is one of a num­ber of private com­pan­ies that organ­ises pub­lic trans­port on the Dutch rail­way system.

Here is the trans­la­tion in full—with style errors intact; a scan of the ori­ginal Dutch art­icle is presen­ted at the end of this post.

Veolia uses com­plaint to bet­ter itself

In Metro’s con­sumer column ‘Van Klacht Naar Pluim?‘com­pan­ies or organ­isa­tions that pro­cess a com­plaint in a man­ner sat­is­fact­ory to the con­sumer, are dec­or­ated by Metro with a ‘Pluim’.

[A pluim is a Dutch expres­sion mean­ing ‘decoration/reward for good beha­viour’. It’s also the brand name of the gift cer­ti­fic­ate that spon­sors this column.] 

After Richard M and his girl­friend got on the train to Maastricht in Cuijk, they were quickly checked for tick­ets (without incid­ent) by two Veolia stew­ards. It tran­spired that another pas­sen­ger did not have a valid train ticket. This young man tells the stew­ards that he is resid­ing in the Neth­er­lands illeg­ally. And is on the run from the Min­istry of Justice. When one of the stew­ards asks the man for his name and address, Richard hears him sum up the inform­a­tion. The other stew­ard checks the inform­a­tion on his cell­phone and con­firms Richard’s sus­pi­cion: the inform­a­tion is faulty. To Richard’s aston­ish­ment, the ‘stowaway’ is let off with a fine. Says Richard: “In the Neth­er­lands, when you can’t show a valid ID, you should be appre­hen­ded until your iden­tity can be con­firmed. But this young man was let off the train without incident.”

Hand­ling of the complaint
Because Richard had not received a reply to his com­plaint from Veolia, he con­tac­ted this column. Quickly we estab­lished a hot­line with Rob G, the Cus­tomer Inter­face Man­ager at Veolia. Appar­ently the com­plaint has never reached Veolia. So Veolia starts pro­cessing the com­plaint the second time around. This quickly yields res­ults. De pas­sen­ger’s per­sonal inform­a­tion was veri­fied with the rail­way police. The stew­ards in ques­tion, how­ever, failed to have this inform­a­tion checked by the police in the first place, pre­vent­ing the oppor­tun­ity of appre­hend­ing the man.

Richard’s com­plaint will take cen­ter stage at the next stew­ards’ day organ­ised by Veolia. The stew­ards in ques­tion will be con­fron­ted with their beha­viour. In addi­tion, Veolia offers Richard two free all-day train tickets.

State­ment from Veolia
“The past year, cus­tomer ser­vice from our staff has been cent­ral again. More than ever our cus­tom­ers expect good and fast answers to their ques­tions. We imme­di­ately trans­lated Richard’s report into meas­ures that bene­fit our cus­tom­ers. A win-win situation.”

Jury report
Veolia trans­forms the com­plaint into a pos­it­ive res­ult: the pro­fes­sion­al­ity of the stew­ards will be honed fur­ther. That is surely worth a big fat Pluim!

Spot­light on your complaint?
Do you want to have a spot­light on your sat­is­fact­or­ily handled com­plaint? Mail [the author].

(The reward for this week’s Pluim (a gift cer­ti­fi­care for a day out worth 35 euros) goes to Richard M)

To me, this whole art­icle feels like some­thing from a dysto­pian novel. Do I even need to point it all out? I have severe moral objec­tions to the concept of an ‘illegal immig­rant’ in the first place, but even so, the com­plete mat­ter-of-fact­ness of the way this whole thing is writ­ten astounds me. Note that the ‘illegal’ young man was not viol­ent, unco­oper­at­ive, or any­thing of the sort. If he was, the stew­ards surely would have handed him over to the police, espe­cially in today’s polit­ical cli­mate. They decided to let him off the hook with a fine—which is not even really off the hook, but still. For some reason, the hero of our story, Richard M bravely took it upon him­self to uphold Dutch law and decency, and felt that the two train stew­ards had severly failed in their duties by not clap­ping an illegal immig­rant in irons imme­di­ately, and put­ting him on the first air­plane to wherever is not Hol­land (who cares anyway).

And what does the com­pany think? Sure, brave sir Richard is right! They’ll be more attent­ive in the future. Maybe they will make it offi­cial policy to aid in the speedy deport­a­tion of any and all illegal—and let’s face it: coloured—people. They’ll be sure to men­tion it on their next cus­tomer ser­vice improve­ment train­ing day. And rightly so: what the cus­tom­ers appar­ently value most is that their trains are cleansed of icky foreigners.

And Metro? Well, obvi­ously this is a good story, Richard. Here, have a gift cer­ti­fic­ate for your trouble! While we’re at it, let’s sug­er­coat it all in bull­shit busi­ness lingo so it looks like a vic­tory for homo eco­nomicus.

I’m really at a loss for more words. Feel free to dis­agree, but we prob­ably would­n’t see eye-to-eye in daily life, and I’m not ashamed of that. And that Richard? I hope he enjoys his 35 pieces of sil­ver. Almost exactly 30. Maybe post-hoc hon­or­ary mem­ber­ship of the NSB entitles you to five extra sil­vers above the usual fee for being a dirty snitch?

The ori­ginal Dutch column. ‘Metro’, 10 janu­ary 2014, page 5.