Sunday, February 8, 2009

Learning the Meaning of Snelheid

Despite his appearance in our driveway every day on his bike with bright orange "TNT Post" panniers, the mailman still receives a savage set of warning barks from my watchful and cute doodle dog. Yesterday, however, he brought something worth barking at: a Beschikking, or judgement, from the Centraal Justitieel Incasso Bureau, which is essentially the Judicial Collection Bureau. And guess what, they judged that I owe them money! Let me explain, and please mind the tangents...

Turns out I got a speeding ticket, via mail, from one of the ubiquitous traffic cameras (known elsewhere in the world as Lazy Policemen -- I'm not sure if there's an equivalent Dutch epithet). Dutch speed cameras (flitscameras) look something like this (not my photo: thanks to Gebba1). Note that the Christmas decoration is strictly seasonal:

The beschikking found me guilty of "overschrijding maximum snelheid:" exceeding maximum speed. By 4 km/h.

Tangent 1: FOUR KM PER HOUR!?? I did 54 km/h in a 50. In American terms, I got a ticket for going 33 1/2 in a 31! No wonder they mailed me a ticket, because what self-respecting policeman would pull me over and look me in the eye for such a minor infraction?? Come to think of it, I've seen more cop cars on a single drive down the New York State Thruway than I have in three months of living in the Netherlands. Cops really don't make a big presence here, on the roads or anywhere else... so I suppose that's why I've heard lots of warnings about traffic cameras. This is my first real encounter with one.

And yes, I verified that it was me who earned the ticket, not my wife; based on the date and time, I was heading north through town, alone, on a quiet Sunday morning on the way to IKEA. The quietness of that Sunday morning is actually crucial to the ticket, because the normal volume of traffic here quite effectively prevents speeding. I got the ticket on the Aalsterweg, which is the artery joining my town (Aalst) with the bigger portion of Eindhoven. During rush-hour, it can be bumper-to-bumper for several kilometers and take 25 minutes to get through. On a normal afternoon, practical speed is something like 20 km/h, and there are plenty of stoplights, buses, and left-turners to keep everyone from driving a reasonable pace. I suppose I've never had to actually pay attention to speed on that stretch... until now.

Tangent 2: Why so quiet? Sundays, in general, mean absolutely everything is closed, including grocery stores, drug stores, any-kind-of-store, etc. This fact is a real blow to the American "open 24 hours" ethic that, while if I stop and think about it, is kind of silly, but nonetheless is dang convenient. Fact is, here you HAVE to stop and think about it, plan ahead for your weekend groceries, and not run out of toilet paper on a Sunday. Lest you think the Netherlands is universally anti-Sunday, there is a thing here called Koopzondag, or "shopping sunday," during which stores are open. Apparently there's a council somewhere that doles out Koopzondagen to all the locales of the Netherlands, and it's so unpredictable and autocratic that there's even a website to bring word to the masses about where and when you can shop your Sunday socks off: Typically, the Eindhoven city center is open for business on the first Sunday of the month. Occasionally, a big business like IKEA manages to get a Koopzondag waiver, and that was indeed the case this particular Sunday.

Anyway, the beschikking I received explained my infraction, where and when, and even listed the "fotofilmnummer," which I have to believe is a relic of older times. Mmmm, the heydey of Kodak -- wasn't it nice? The letter is of course in Dutch, and unfortunately my Dutch skills have not kept up with my driving skills.

Tangent 3: I finally got my scanner configured to scan a given letter in Dutch (of which we get several per week that require action of some kind) and do optical character recognition (OCR) in Dutch. I then pipe that through Google Translate, and voila, no unpaid speeding tickets! I have a Canon MP540 all-in-one, which I think is a Europe-only model, but it works pretty well. I'm using Canon's MPNavigator software for the text recognition, which is not flawless, but gets me 90% of the way there...

I learned some sweet new Dutch words with this beschikking:
verkeersvoorschrift = traffic regulation
waarschuwing = warning
sanctie = penalty
beroep = appeal
verhoging = increase

Tangent 4: Snelheid means "speed" in Dutch. It's related to snel, which means fast. I see a pattern here with the word gezond, which means healthy, and gezondheid, which means health. I translate the "heid" as something like "-ness," so fastness means speed, and healthiness means health. Funny that in English we start with a noun (health or speed) and make it an adjective with the addition of "y" (healthy or speedy). In Dutch it's the opposite, at least for these examples...

So how big is the fine for 33 1/2 in a 31? €19. First reaction: not too steep. Finally! Something that's cheaper in the Netherlands than in the US (besides tulips). Second thought: wait a minute, that's more than €10/ kilometer per hour! And for a ticket that you would never ever get in USA! Dang it again!

Thank you, Mr. TNT Postman... this was a real hit! I know, I'll pay the fine online and -- HA! -- no letter for you to deliver!