Friday, October 19, 2007

19% sales tax, yikes!

You think our sales tax is high at 7.75%, how about the 19% I'm paying here in Alkmaar. The tax is levied on all general goods at the rate of 19%. A lower rate of 6% applies for certain goods and services, such as food products, books, medicines, art, antiques, entry to museums, zoos, theaters and sports.

The Netherlands has one of the highest tax rates in the world, with income tax and new automobile sales taxes topping out around 52%. But this country also has one of the highest standards of living: employers pay for workers' transportation costs, usually give employees an extra month of wages at the end of a year, and you get a minimum of 25 days paid vacation. Then there are extra days off based on your age. I'm eligible for 3 extra days. Getting older is finally paying off, ha!

Most streets here are paved in brick; each brick placed on edge in a bed of fine sand, this same sand covering the entire country. In small towns, like I where I live, homes are built right up to the narrow sidewalks, along narrow streets. This puts their large, living room windows inches from you as you walk by. Every living room is immaculate, with exactly two lush house plants in artsy, ceramic pots or art sculpture carefully place on a shelf just below the window.

It's normal for living room windows, which are almost the full width of the house, to either have no curtains or curtains that are left open all the time. It's considered impolite to look inside, but there's really no way not to. What's more, all the other windows in the house have their curtains open, day and night.

Packed in around me is one sq. kilometer (0.4 sq miles) of trendy clothing shops, gourmet foods, exquisite bakeries, and polished hardwood, candle lit restaurants with outdoor seating―eating out seems to also be very fashionable. Every Saturday there's also a street market at the Centrum, where I usually go for lunch and groceries.

Yes, I'm experiencing many new foods like fries roggebrood (Dutch pumpernickel), pannenkoeken (huge, fruit filled pancake), Speculaas Brokken and Stroopwafels (large, absolutely delicious cookies). Although, none of that "raw" herring served at foods stands for me, ha!