The life in Holland, smooth in general, sometimes delivers nasty surprises.
On the last Liberation Day (May 5, 2012), I was liberated from my wallet (and the wallet, respectively, from me). It was stolen in Utrecht, a very nice city otherwise, at the Central Station, in a Chinese restaurant called Charlie Chiu’s, where we decided to make a pit-stop before a long and exhausting shopping round.
All I’ve done wrong is hung my jacket on the back of my chair. The wallet with all the cards, from discount ones to residence permit, was in the inside pocket of the jacket. It was undoubtedly spotted by the thieves when I was paying at the till.
In hindsight, trying to remember the details, we recalled two young Moroccan-like ladies who sat behind me, both having a kid and a stroller. They were fiddling all the time with those kids and strollers. My girlfriend was sitting right before me, but she never spotted anything suspicious, meaning those ladies must be true professionals. I think it’s almost certain that they were the ones who nicked my wallet. What looks particularly filthy in this situation is that those people use their little children as a cover. Anyway, I’m convinced sooner or later they’ll be punished.
We’ve spent about a quarter of an hour in the restaurant. When we stood up, I checked my pockets and noticed the loss, but theft wasn’t my first thought. We’ve searched all the places where I thought I could have it dropped, and asked help from the staff. Then I called my bank to have the credit card locked and—voila—I was told there was a money withdrawal attempt just a few minutes before. Thank goodness, the attempt’s failed because one needs to know a pin-code in order to do that. And I could definitely conclude the wallet didn’t vanish just like that.
First thing to do was informing the police, of course. Police precinct located at the station, just fifty meters away from the restaurant. We were explained that, since the crime wasn’t commited on the railway station territory, we ought to inform the district police instead.
We got their address and started off for the Kroonstraat police station, about ten minutes walk from the station:
Yet another victim of the same sort was waiting in the foyer: a lad who also lost his wallet, but it was nicked from his bike bag in a dark passage.
A police officer invited us into her office and began taking down the evidence, Proces-verbaal in Dutch, with all the relevant details.
Recording all the details took more than an hour. The officer was very friendly and sympathising, and in other circumstances I would really have enjoyed it. She made all the necessary calls to have my stolen cards locked. She also called the restaurant and asked them to make sure the CCTV footage wouldn’t get overwritten.
She told us about another popular scam aimed at people who leave their mobile phones on the table top while eating. A rascal would approach them asking to sign, say, a petition against the construction of a nuclear power plant around the corner. The petition is held in such a way that it covers the phone, and the rest is obvious.
Thieves’ haul was about 5 euros in cash (I never carry much cash on me), a used wallet and a handful of cards.
As to my losses, they proved to be much more substantial. Besides a few discount cards, which are free and pretty easy to recover (like IKEA Family, which can be requested via Internet), I lost:
- My Dutch driving license. A replacement cost me € 48 euros and a few days.
- Public transport card. A duplicate costs just € 11, but I had to wait about three weeks, and buy paper train tickets every day. My expenses on them counted some 250 euros, but that amount was completely reimbursed after I declared them.
- The worst was my residence permit card. It was incredibly silly to carry it all the time, but I realised that too late. You never need it to identify yourself if you have a driving license, and otherwise a photocopy would do. But it absolutely required when crossing the border, because it replaces a visa. Without it I could leave the country, and we already have planned our Barcelona trip on June 1st.
Do you have an idea how much a replacement of this piece of plastic would cost? You’re wrong. The right answer is € 250. But that’s not the whole story—you have to patiently wait at least two months to get your hands on it. We didn’t possess this much patience. So I went for another alternative, namely a Dutch return visa. It isn’t cheap either, € 140, but you get it immediately. And since my residence permit was about to expire anyway, I simply applied for a new one.
All in all, losses amounted ca. 200 euros, plus time and efforts.
Our rascals seem to have escaped the punishment this time. The prodigal wallet wouldn’t come back to the owner either. Most likely it was dumped into a garbage bin after the money was picked from it. Otherwise I’d have heard, as all the card codes were recorded by the police officer.
Relaxed Dutch atmosphere makes you now and then off your guard. But there’s always a black sheep in the flock, so here are the conclusions:
- Never store pin-codes together with your cards (I was sane enough to refrain from that).
- Never carry along what you don’t have to carry (like a residence permit).
- Never leave anything valuable unsupervised, even if it’s right behind you. I for one now always stick my wallet into my trouser pocket.
- As soon as you’ve discovered you’ve lost something, immediately call and lock the cards. After that inform the police. Even though they’re not likely to find the stolen, you’ll need the official statement afterwards.
The restaurant is now closed down, by the way.