Column | Wash cups with a drop of cold water

Column | Wash cups with a drop of cold water
Column | Wash cups with a drop of cold water

Margaretha Schenkeveld (93), my former professor of Dutch literature, has received a letter from Vattenfall. Her energy rate will increase from 1 October. Whether she wants to adjust her installment amount before that time. “I couldn’t find an email address for them on the site,” she tells me. “Calling also failed, the waiting time is more than an hour. So I sent a letter back. But I haven’t received an answer to that for two weeks and now I wanted to ask you” – she looks at me uncertainly – “if I can dictate a new letter to you. I don’t think they can read my handwriting.”

“What’s the problem?” I ask.

“Whether I should let the bank know that the direct debit will be increased. Or do they?” She’s terribly worried, she says. Soon she will be without gas and light. She can’t sleep at night because of it.

It’s 3:30 a.m. Friday and I’m typing the customer service number on my phone. A computer voice reports that Vattenfall can no longer be reached after three hours. Chatting via WhatsApp is possible and within a minute I receive a message from chatbot Nina. “Hi,” she says.

Margaretha Schenkeveld lives alone in a rented flat in Buitenveldert, Amsterdam. Her husband has passed away and she has no children. Cousins ​​who care about her are there, but should she bother them with this? “Fortunately,” she says, “we now have Nina.”

Nina wants to know if she has a My Vattenfall account. “Account?” asks Margaretha Schenkeveld. “What is an account?”

Meanwhile, I look at the draft of her letter. “Dear Director of Customers”, it reads above. I can’t decipher the rest. The letters march like a column of ants across the paper.

“No account,” Nina concludes. “Pass on your details so that my colleagues can help you quickly.”

At the end of the morning on Monday, Nina’s colleagues have not yet done anything and I am cycling to Buitenveldert. My old professor is attending Elizabeth’s funeral to watch – ‘God Save the Queen– and I turn on her laptop, a new one. The old one had crashed. Yes, an account after all. The monthly amount is a few tens. So little? That can’t be true, can it?

Of course it’s true. Margaretha Schenkeveld has been wearing a cardigan all her life when it is cold in the house. When it freezes outside, she puts a woolen shawl over her knees. She does the dishes by hand and for those few cups she uses no more than a drop of water. Cold. Yes folks, this woman was young in her thirties and forties. Sobriety comes naturally to her.

Jannette Koelewijn (j. [email protected]) and Sheila Kamerman will replace the regular columnist here until November.

A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of September 22, 2022

The article is in Dutch

Tags: Column Wash cups drop cold water

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