My first experience with the cross-border mail delivery capabilities of the Dutch postal system date back thirty years. I had just moved to Germany, and Dutch friends sent me a gift. The box arrived, but the contents had been removed through a gaping hole in the side. This observation of the damage had been written on the package by a German postal worker at a delivery center on the border. I filed a complaint, with no effect. This was my first encounter with the consistently malfunctioning Dutch postal system, a country that is generally perceived as modern and well-functioning on many other fronts.
Years went by, during which family, friends and I continued to attempt to exchange holiday and birthday gifts across the German / Dutch border. Occasionally my parents sent money hidden in Christmas cards. Although sending money by post within Germany or from Germany to any other country is tricky business (thieves seem to have “magical machines” to detect money hidden in envelopes), no envelope with money ever managed to arrive if sent from the Netherlands. Surprisingly, Christmas cards without money sent at the same time did arrive, although always late. In fact, any letter or package consistently arrived with surprising delays, but also damaged… or not at all.
Not surprisingly, expat friends and I became very weary of the Dutch postal service. Years went by, during which I refused to send any package to and from the Netherlands. In contrast, delivery within Germany or to other countries remained as reliable as ever.
Ultimately, complacency would overcome my concerns, so after a while I would again try to send an occasional birthday present to a Dutch acquaintance. I started to notice an additional worrying phenomenon. Whereas in Germany, the addressee of a package is also the owner of its contents, in the Netherlands it may happen that the initial recipient gains full ownership. So, if the mail delivery service leaves the package with a neighbor (e.g. because the addressee isn’t home), this neighbor may well store this package with disinterest under a pile of coats in the hallway. Then after many weeks, somebody (a child, or a pet) will open the package and eat the edible contents. This lackluster treatment of other people’s belongings, combined with a below par delivery service, has caused much frustration and disappointment over the years.
Since a few years, we rely on a mix of traditional postal services and DHL.NL. There is no distinguishable difference in quality.
Now, some of you will say that I exaggerate, or have no hard evidence. Aha! Since two years, my two sons have moved from Germany; one to Belgium, the other to the Netherlands. Six months ago, I received election-related documents for them, which I sent on the same day to son 1&2. My sons had to sign a document, and return it to Germany. Then, from Germany the voting document was sent to each son, after which both could vote and return the ballot sheet. A complex procedure, that could not be done by email.
Now, a letter to and from Belgium takes about four days for delivery, and this son was able to vote well in time. My son in the Netherlands had no such luck. After all, a letter to and from the Netherlands takes 7, 9 or even 12 days. He missed the deadline miserably and was unable to make use of his right to vote.
After this experience I swore that this was my very final interaction with the Dutch postal system. But my wife was still optimistic. In November, she packed two identical boxes with Christmas presents for both sons. My son in Belgium received the package after 7 days, around December 1st. Christmas came and went, and my son in the Netherlands was still waiting. The package could be traced up to the Dutch border, after which it entered the black hole of the Dutch postal systems.
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