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When You Cannot Help Yourself

I just can't help it.

You know those professional football players that get fouled and make it look as if they were taken out by a drone strike? The ones who roll around more than James Bond's Aston Martin? I saw a clip of a football player who got tackled, rolled around six or seven times, realised he was rolling off the pitch and rolled back to ensure the game got stopped. Fighting ensued. I say fighting but when professional football players fight, you have to understand that these are grown-ups who earn more in a year than most people do in an entire lifetime - and they're pushing each other like they're ten years old and back on the playground.

But I came to the conclusion that these people, as much as I think they are pathetic, they cannot help themselves. They have to roll, they have to deceive, they have to pretend and they have to act like entitled toddlers. It's not that they want to - they cannot help themselves.

And for all my imagined moral superiority, neither can I. I also cannot help myself.

I have to write passive aggressive emails. I can't help it. I have to do it.

Someone once said to me that the way to tell an American from a Brit at the airport is by getting them really, really angry. While the American will simply get really, really angry; the Brit will tell you he's going to write you a strongly worded letter.

Dutch Embassy, What Happened to You?

Let's get to the heart of the problem, the passive aggressive email and the strongly worded letter first. The Dutch embassy in the Netherlands.

I mean, what happened to you guys? Is it because De Hems has been closed for a while? Is it the national team? Is it the bad press we're been getting? What happened to you? You organised a Dutch culture day that packed out Trafalgar Square! Now you do shuffleboard on King's Day with twelve people? You used to have an informative, believable and trustworthy reputation. Look at your Website now - do you think you should go along with all that carnavalesque, let's-be-orange-because-we-can, faux, loud joviality? It's more orange than EasyJet and the images look like they were stolen from some child messing around with a Polaroid. You used to be so kind and helpful, serving a cup of coffee with your passport application. Now you can't even apply for a passport anymore. When did you start partnering VFS Global? Why?


If VFS Global got a catering contract at homeless shelters on Monday, they'd start charging on Tuesday and offering a-la-carte on Wednesday. Not only that, they're so incompetent, they make Network Rail look legitimate.

I had tried since October to get an appointment for a passport renewal. Now that the Dutch embassy has started working with VFS Global, this isn't so easy anymore because that's why companies start working together, isn't it? To make it even more complicated for the general public to get hold of their product. British Airways' partnership with Iberia was another one of those success stories. Remember that? So forget calling up the embassy to make an appointment and forget calling up any of the five consulates of the Netherlands. Call VFS.

Better yet, go their Website and make an application online. The phrase easier said than done springs to mind when attempting to explain how difficult this was. For starters, the website has probably got one of the worst customer service merry-go-round systems in the world. When looking for help, you go around in circles so much, you feel like when the Griswolds visited Paris. Of course, all of this is after I tried to get an actual passport application appointment, which, to use another understatement, was also rather complicated. If not completely impossible.

In order to make the appointment, I had to create an account and to create an account, I had to do one of those ridiculous puzzles. You know the one, the nine squares that have (or haven't got) a picture of a road, a picture of a bird, a picture of a Nazi leader or whatever else. I get why they do the puzzle, but even trying to solve it makes you feel like a moron. Failing it is a whole new level of feeling stupid. And it turns out I failed it at least four times.

And the worst was yet to come...

After I had indeed successfully completed my braintraining for the totally insane, I was asked to log in with my credentials. You know which ones, they ones I'd just created five seconds ago. Anyway, you can guess what happened. I could not log in (password and username not recognised), I could not apply for a new passport and - as it happens - it was almost impossible to find a telephone number.

Customer Service Low

When I did and when I did get through to VFS customer service, I think I experienced another ultimate low in the history of customer service. So VFS, are you listening? Here's how that conversation went down?

Customer Service person: "blah, blah, blah, name, blah, blah. How can I help?"

Me: "I tried to create an account so I can apply for a Dutch passport but it says my username and password aren't recognised."

Customer Service person: "I'm sorry to hear this, blah, blah. Have you tried blah, blah, logging off, deleting cookies, blah, blah, call your pastor, psychic hotline, blah, blah, try again when it's fifteen degrees or some spiritual cleansing?"

Me: "I tried most of the above. I deleted my cookie and so on."

Customer Service person: "Are you sure it's the correct password and username?"

Me: "..."

Customer Service person: "..."

Me: "Yeah, no, I mean, I created the account like five seconds before I was asked to log in again."

Customer Service person: "..."

Me: "Yes, I am sure they're correct."

Customer Service person: "Could you hang on sir. I just need to talk to my supervisor - right, we are right now having some issues with the server right now and the systom won't process any new passport renewal application appointments."

Me: "Well, can't I make an appointment with you."

Customer Service person: "I am afraid that's not possible sir. I am in the Visa Department. I can make an appointment for a visa over the phone."

Me: "Can you put me through to someone in passports?"

Customer Service person: "We don't have that department sir."

Me: "So how am I meant to make an appointment for an application then?"

Customer Service person: "Online."

Yeah, she did said this.

Me: "But the Site is down."

Customer Service person: "..."

Me: "Other than the Website, which is down, and the Visa Department, which only accepts visa appointments over the phone; is there any way I can make an appointment? I only need an appointment, right. I am not asking for an actual passport. Just the appointment to make the application."

Customer Service person: "If you'd like a visa for the Netherlands,"

Yeah, she said this too.

Customer Service person: "I can take an appointment over the phone."

Me: "I probably will need a visa for the Netherlands soon. You know, when my passport expires."

Customer Service person: "I can make the appointment right now. We'll be happy to help you."

Me: "I was being sarcastic."

Customer Service person: "..."

Me: "When is the sit come back online?"

Customer Service person: "blah, blah, supervisor - we don't know. Perhaps it's a good idea to check back in, blah, blah, date. Fingers crossed, invoke spirits, blah, blah. Can I help you with anything else."

Me: "..."

Customer Service person: "Could I ask for your assistance? After this call, you will get a menu, blah, blah, leave feedback, blah, blah, tell the world how awesome I am. Blah, blah some more."


For three more months I tried. I figured out through a slightly less unhelpful person at the Dutch Embassy that appointments could still be made at the embassy. "We basically work with a limited number of appointments," she said. "This number is refreshed every Monday morning, so you just check in every Monday."

Since I had no idea when exactly new appointment slots were added on Monday mornings, I figured I needed to tackle this like you tackle Taylor Swift tickets when they're put on sale. You organise a battalion of friends, save the date, clear your schedule and hope for the best. In the meantime, the VFS website wasn't coming back online and telephone calls to the various Dutch consulates proved equally unsuccessful (my favourite quote from these telephone calls: "Yes, we're a consulate but we do not handle consulary services."

In December my online stalking paid off and I got an appointment for mid January. It meant having to say no to a number of business trips.


I am writing this as my passport misery has all about come to an end. After a passport application in London I was given a tracking code. True to everything that has happened so far, the tracking code did not work. I was alerted to an email that was, presumably, in my inbox or my spam folder. It wasn't.

This prompted my passive aggressive email. Written just after I did a few laps around some Website trying to find a telephone number, trying to find someone to speak to; I apologise to anyone who found themselves at the receiving end. I can't help myself. I am like a professional football player rolling around on the grass, desperately trying to do something that in any other scenario I wouldn't do. I promise, I am an adult and I am responsible for my own actions.

Sometimes, just sometimes, I can't help myself.

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