A Glass of Tap Water Please?

In the U.S., receiving a glass of tap water with your meal at a restaurant is about as normal as receiving a fork, knife and spoon with which to eat your food. Restaurants in drought areas don’t bring it automatically, but if you ask for a glass of water, they will bring you one without hesitation. But if you ever want to feel like a subversive, just try ordering a glass of tap water in a Dutch restaurant.

A while ago I met my friend Colleen for lunch at Brocante Brasserie in Pijnnacker.  At 11:45 on a Friday, this cozy restaurant was half full. We started with a cup of tea as we caught up with each other, then placed our lunch order. Before they brought lunch, we were feeling a bit thirsty.

dnews-files-2014-01-glass-water-670-jpg“I wonder if they’ll serve us tap water here,” she asked.

If you’re from the States, that might sound like a strange question. But in The Netherlands, many restaurants refuse to serve tap water, and it has nothing to do with water quality. Dutch tap water is very high-quality and even tastes good. So safety has nothing to do with it. It’s all about money.

If you want water in a restaurant, you have to buy bottled water, which can range from 1,50  to 6 euros, depending on the size and brand. But the reason we were being so anarchist in our thoughts this particular afternoon was that we had both heard talk of a new law that restaurants can not deny you a glass of tap water.

So, we ordered tap water and the waitress launched into a monologue about how they don’t serve tap water. We mentioned the new law and she still refused. When we shared our concerns, she said she would get the manager. He repeated the same speel as she did. No, they do not serve tap water. He would be happy to serve us a bottled water, but there would be no tap water. He was young, rude and unwavering in his stance.

If I wasn’t looking forward to our lunch together, I might have been tempted to walk out. Water is as necessary to our survival as breathing and no one should deny you access to something as basic as municipal water–which we all financially contribute to maintain through taxes here in the Netherlands. Further, with all the manufacturing costs, transport and associated environmental pollution, bottled water is a crime against the environment.

My friend and I weren’t alone in our thoughts on this. In fact, a petition called “overall kraanwater graag” (tap water everywhere please), has gathered  107,075 signatures and counting to make tap water available everywhere and stop restaurants from denying us this basic need. To be fair, I wouldn’t mind paying a nominal fee for tap water, considering the waiter has to serve the water, the glasses need to be washed, etc. But denying me tap water all together seems just plain old wrong.

So I signed the petition. If you live in the Netherlands, feel free to sign it too.

Since that fateful lunch, I’ve been asking for tap water every time I go to a restaurant and have not been denied since my Brocante Brasserie Pijnnacker experience. In fact, my friend and I decided to go to another restaurant for dessert that same day and guess what? They served us tap water without batting an eye. Wish I’d remembered the name of that restaurant for the tap water map.

The what? Well, let me explain. I received an email at the beginning of June with the following call to action: This summer, dare to ask for tap water at your favorite festival, bar, restaurant or beach tent ( a seasonal restaurant set up on the beach). If they give you tap water, then take a “tap water selfie” and place it on the tap water map, which can be found at kraanwaterkaart.nl.

How cool is that? In addition to giving attention to a restaurant that gets this basic concept, you have a chance of having a ‘kraanwater locatie’ named after you.

Interesting articles related to the bottled water debate:

The Telegraaf: Horeca moet gratis kaanwater schenken, March 23, 2013

Refinery 29.com article, December 7, 2015




A Shot of Memory

This morning I poured myself a half cup of coffee and sat behind the computer to begin work. With my first sip of coffee, a shot of memory tore through me.  I was catapulted back to one summer in the early 1990s in Rupert, Idaho. I stood inside a scale house weighing 18-wheelers before and after they unloaded potatoes into a cooled warehouse.

I could picture the wooden structure of the weigh house, the giant ground scale that the massive trucks would drive onto, the green paint (was it green?). I could clearly recall the characters who drove truck for a living, remember the nosy questions of my co-worker, the playwright boyfriend I had at the time, the dust, the monotonous recording of weights and tares, the pot of coffee blackening on the burner. It was peak harvest season and all of those potatoes had to be delivered into a cool, dark place–a race against nature that lasted weeks. Like all of the other seasonal harvest workers, I was putting in long hours and earning double wages in overtime–which amounted to quite an exciting sum for a college student.Russet-Potatoes-morgue

I haven’t thought about that one-time summer job for years. What triggered it? The coffee? I’m fairly certain the Douwe Egberts coffee we brew at my work is of higher quality than what I poured into my veins during those long hours back in Idaho. Perhaps it was the artificial koffie melk creamer I had placed in the coffee. Or the forest green of the porcelain cup from which I drank? The rain? The shifting of gears of a truck rambling by outside? It must have been the perfect storm of sensory input for this memory to appear so acutely.

I wanted to take another sip of coffee, pause the world and explore this forgotten memory. But there was no pause button. Just as quickly as it came, it flittered away, and I was left only with an impression, a sensation from the past. I wish I had a journal from this time. But even if I did, I doubt I would have written my impressions of the scale house.

I have a theory why this particular sip of coffee was such a catalyst; I haven’t been drinking caffeinated coffee for close to three weeks now, and although this was not my first transgression, it was a conscious sip. Drink sparingly and consciously. You never know what might happen.