Category Archives: work

Epiphanies Lost

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The past several days I’ve been getting these magnificent revelations and epiphanies over a gamut of topics. Mostly self absorbed, self actualizing topics, granted, but still, it’d make for excellent writing fodder.

And every single time one of the profound little lightening storms hits my head, I’ve been without one of my trusty notebooks, or even an old receipt or napkin, which I’ve also been known to jot some thoughts down upon.

I try to preserve the idea, to bring it back home and let it fly out of my fingertips and onto my little editing screen here, but the past week in particular that hasn’t happened.

See, I was scheduled six days in a row, all closing shifts, so my musings typically occur in the day time while I’m out running errands or grabbing a bite before work. I haven’t had a scrap of paper to preserve them on and then after 8 hours of mind numbing repetition and (for me and my increasingly heavy abdomen) back breaking standing, coffee making, cash registering I trudge home from the tram and try to spend at least one hour conscious with my husband before I fall asleep.

Beautiful, beautiful sleep which I can’t seem to get enough of, in our warm bed, which I never seem to want to get out of, dressed in fuzzy pants and a huge t-shirt which I never want to change.

All a sharp contrast to the person who used to be awake and restless and ready to start the day at 7 o’clock every morning, even if nothing in Belgium is open at that hour except a few low budget convenience stores and the ER at the hospital.

I don’t know.
I’m really not happy with how my schedule has been the past week or so, nor with how it’s planned out for next week. My boss is having a tough time of it, and I know that, but at some point I have to draw the line between sympathy and chronic exhaustion, now that I have an extra passenger on board who needs me to have energy and be healthy too.

It bothers me that I’m having some really productive thoughts…thoughts that I could eventually write books based around and they keep slipping away due to a lack of time, energy and available paper. I mean, the paper thing can be easily remedied, but the rest, not so much.

I don’t want to keep losing the original things going on in my head to the incessant drone of “milk or sugar in your coffee?”

Gritting My Teeth

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“Is the lemon tea warm?”

“No, it’s iced tea.”

“But is it warm?”

“No, iced tea is with ice.”

***

“May I have a marshmallow in my espresso?”

“Sorry? In your espresso?”

“Yes, can I have that?”

“Well, um…the marshmallow is as big as the cup…”

“And? Yes? Can I have that?”

***

“What exactly is a steamer?”

“It’s steamed milk, with a flavor of your choice, and whipped cream.”

“I’ll take one of those then.”

“What flavor?”

“Milk.”

 

Wishing you all a happy new year, filled with health, wealth, and less stupidity. Thank heavens I have the next two days off!

The Parade of Stupid

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This is what I call the sometimes endless stream of completely annoying customers that pass through in the span of my 8 hour shift at work.

Nationality has nothing to do with it, just so you know up front. Really, the stupid is in all sizes, shapes, genders, colors and cultures. I’m just letting you all know, by no means am I inferring that there are only Belgians culprits here. If I was working a customer service job in America, I’d likely have the same complaint, if not worse. After all, I once had someone throw a tray at me during Lent when I was 16 and worked at Long John Silvers. So while there’s plenty of stupid, I can definitely say that at least in Belgium it’s non violent stupid.

Yeah, I guess you could say I’ve really finally had it with my current job. I swore up and down I’d never have another customer service job once I left college and I’d kept that oath until this job because I know myself and when it comes to serving people, I’m pretty much a total bitch. But after the fiasco I found myself in while I worked at the daycare in Brussels, I desperately needed any kind of out that got me closer to home and provided a salary.
The job I have does both.
And I’ve also made a few, what I think are lasting, friendships.
And for that I am very grateful.
But the ability to perform the customer end of this job, for me, is quickly guttering out.

Today, for example, within 5 minutes of my arrival, I got my first stupid.

Our kiosk is set up with two cash registers and two centralized espresso machines. In theory, if we have 4 people working, 2 are on the register, 2 are on the machines and everything runs fast. On most days we’re with 3, so one register has a barista that does both order taking and drink making while the other register has one barista taking orders and another making drinks. Today we were temporarily with 2 people, so I was taking orders on one register and my colleague (who is still new and somewhat slow) was making the drinks.
Anyway, a few people ordered and then an older woman kind of cut in from the side and said that she was standing at the other till and that she’d moved down there to give her order.
To which I politely replied that I hadn’t asked anyone to move to the other register, we were with 2 people, so we were only using one register. To which she insisted that she always moved down to the other register to order. To which I again, calmly replied that that may be the case, but I was here, taking orders on this register and I pointed to where the line started. She then moved back to the other, empty, register and continued waiting.
So when the next customers stepped up and I began taking their order, she stepped over again and said she was standing at the first till to give her order. I told her I was still here, taking orders at this register, regardless of where she felt she wanted to stand. She said she wanted her coffee.
Resigned, I shrugged an apology at the girls who’d been waiting, took the old lady’s order (none to friendly at this point) and then quickly took the other girls’ order.

Another fine example is the older lady who came up and asked, very slowly (because clearly I must be stupid?) for a decaf coffee. I asked if she wanted sugar or milk, she said milk and I gave her the price, which was 2.15€.
She then put a 2€ coin on the counter, followed by a .05 coin and five .02 coins. She began to take more coins, but I said (this is always all in dutch by the way), “That’s fine ma’am.”
To which she looked at me, shook her head in pity and said, “Nooooo, that’s not enough.”
Because, y’know, since I work with money every day, I must not be able to count. Then she took out five more .01 coins and laid them down. So I very touched each coin and counted them out loud for her, proving that, indeed, I had been right and she hadn’t needed those last five coins.

Now, these are just two incidents and by  now you probably think I have absolutely no patience at all.

Which is true now. After almost a year of daily interactions like this, I have been drained of 95% of my patience for consumers in general. There are still very nice, friendly customers, don’t get my wrong. and they make me smile and I chat and treat them very kindly, as they do the same for me. But there are so few of these people scattered between the people who refuse to say hello, or smile, or look at me, or even talk, or the people that constantly question my ability to count or the ones that look at me like I’m a complete asshole for asking them if they want whipped cream on their hot chocolate or the ones that literally toss their money across the counter at me or place it literally at the edge of their side of the counter so I bodily have to stretch to reach it (which sucks with bursitis I might add) or the guy that yawned in my face when I asked him if he wanted chocolate on his drink and then had the sack to ask me if I liked my job when I irritatedly plopped the drink in front of him.

It adds up, y’know?

There’s really only so many times a person (or at least, me personally) can be treated with complete disrespect before the kind, nice customers no longer neutralize the negativity.

Sadly, I don’t have a ton of options right now and the straw hasn’t broken the camel’s back yet, so I’m still hanging in for the near future. But honestly, it’s really not very easy to do anymore.

NaNo I Don’t Know

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I was toying with doing the NaNoBloMo and blogging every day this month.

Thing is, this month may turn out to be a “kick my ass until I beg for mercy” kind of month. Things are getting crazy busy at work, which is normal, but rarely fun, we’re short about four experienced staff and if one thing isn’t breaking down, another is. It looks like I’ll be one of only two people who can get to the station early enough to open, which means at least 2 days a week, if not more I’ll be literally up way before dawn and halfway done with my shift before most normal people even arrive at their jobs. Exhausted is probably going to be my semi-permanent state from now until after New Years.

Then I considered NaNoWriMo, where you write a 500,000 word book in the month of November. Which would be awesome, except for the fact that here it is, the end of the first day and after work and a birthday party in Aalst I’m barely finding the motivation to blog, let alone write a few thousand words for a novel.

Still, I may give it a try. I have tomorrow off, so maybe I’ll try to start something up. Never to late to start my career as a novelist, right?

Spanish, Turkish, Kurdish

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Life has gotten a tad hectic since we’ve returned home. We’re going through one of those bi-yearly turnovers at work where some people are leaving, some are temporarily working in other kiosks, and some are taking last minute vacations before the blackout period we have from midway through November until after New Years.

This means some different scheduling and I’ve ended up working mostly day shifts, which I don’t mind at all, but it often leaves me tired and not incredibly inspired to write. The lack of writing has driven me to the crazy conclusion that I may try to do NaBloPoMo this November, despite the fact that I swore I’d never do it again after the first time I did it back before I moved to Beglium.
I always feel guilty if I don’t write for a long-ish period of time, like I’m letting the people down who read here. Although I suppose the worst time to start loading you guys up with posts is the month where most of your blog readers are probably overflowing. I don’t know…it’s still up in the air. I may try a poetry prompt every second day instead.

But in the meantime, while I’m here and feeling like I ought to write, and while Piet is still procrastinating on nuking the pics from the honeymoon that he doesn’t approve of for bloggy consumption, I’ve decided to share a few anecdotes that, if nothing, else, will reflect the awesomeness of my tan. The tan which you have yet to see because of aforementioned procrastination.

Anyway, we realized the night before we left Tenerife that our plane would be landing in Charleroi too late for us to catch a train back to Gent for the night, so we ended up booking a cheap place right outside Charleroi airport for the night and waking up early to catch a taxi to the train station. we got there early and because it was Sunday there were only one or two trains running to Brussels every hour anyway, so we stopped at Panos for a sandwich.
At the register I ordered a coffee (café for any of you non-french speakers out there) and said in my crappy french “un café s’il vous plais”. And the cashier apparently didn’t understand my “un” because she held up one finger and asked, “uno?”
To which I looked at her oddly, because, hello, we’re in Belgium, if you’re going to guess another language wouldn’t Dutch or English be the way to go? before replying “oui” and paying for the food.
So upon returning from the trip, I was apparently brown enough to be mistaken for Spanish or I suppose possibly Latin American.

A couple days later Piet had an ingrown toenail removed and I ran to the neighborhood super-cheap Turkish general store do get a container that he could soak his foot in. As I was checking out, the owner (who until that point had been speaking with another guy in very fluent dutch), smiled at me and said something I couldn’t even repeat to you now, but I’m pretty sure it was a Turkish greeting or thank you as I took the bucket and left.

And yesterday a very Mediterranean hued man ordered a coffee at work and asked me in accented Dutch what my nationality was. I told him I was American, which he obviously didn’t like, but then I asked what he’d thought I was and he said Kurdish. Which struck me as odd because if he was Turkish, me being Kurdish should be as bad,  if not worse than me being American. Either way, he can bite me and go order his coffee somewhere he finds more ethnically appropriate.

But I personally was a mix of amused and disgruntled by these assumptions of my nationality.
In America, obviously, everyone assumed I was American. In America it’s rarely a question of nationality and more often a question of descent. And 9 times out of ten, people thought my descent was Greek or occasionally Italian, despite the fact that I’m neither. The olive skin tone, wavy dark hair and high bridge of my nose are all very Mediterranean features which I get from my father’s side of the family, even though that side is a mix of Russan and Romanian.
Here in Belgium, it’s different. Belgians look…Belgian: usually pale skin, the brownish-blond colored hair we call “mousy” in America, slim builds, average  height. Dutch people look Dutch: tall, ruddy complexion, blond hair and often blue eyes. Turkish and Moroccan immigrant groups are the big ones here, ****but they tend to get their spouses from their home countries as opposed to intermarrying, so even the second and third generation Turkish/Moroccan Belgians tend to keep their physical and even their language and cultural differences that make them clearly not “Belgian” Belgians.
Point being that, when people here see me, they assume I’m another nationality, not based on my accent, but based on my appearance, which sadly, often leads people to stereotype me and treat me a certain way before I even get the chance to open my mouth. No one in America would treat me any differently because they thought I came from a Greek heritage. No one would automatically try to switch over to Greek to try to speak to me before allowing me to open my mouth. Even if I spoke with an accent, no one would try to switch to another language based on my appearance.

I noticed these things a lot more when I first moved here but as the Belgian climate has drained the color from my skin and my accent has diminished and my Dutch become more fluent, I suppose I either experienced it less, or just noticed it less. But now, with a brown color back in my skin there has been a notable upsurge in assumptions being made about my nationality, what language I speak, who I am as a person.

And while I do find it entertaining to add to the list of countries the people here think I come from, I also find it highly frustrating to have to play guessing games as to how I’ll be treated based on those assumptions.

 

****UBER DISCLAIMER – this is my own impression and opinion, based off of my own observations as well as some information I get from my husband, the doctor of cross-cultural psychology. There are, as always, most certainly exceptions to the statements I’m making here, but I’m giving what I believe to be a generally true overview of how things currently stand here in Flanders

Bursitis + Rain = Sad Little Immigrant

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I think I probably forgot to mention it, but I have been home all week due to pain in my shoulder that is apparently bursitis caused from work.

Once I started working and ended up on all sorts of weird hours I often thought how nice it would be to have a break. Obviously this isn’t the kind of break I wanted, since it comes with pain and some limited movement on my left side, plus Piet and I are taking our belated honeymoon to Tenerife in October, so I was already getting my break anyway. But not being able to work has really not been fun.

I’m a creature of habit and I need my routine to have even a semblance of a healthy day. As of right now I feel like a lump and I’ve been eating nothing but junk food, usually at very irregular times of the day.  I can’t honestly say that I miss my job, but I miss spending time outside of the house with colleagues and I miss having some structure to my day.

Oh, and to top it all off it’s raining, which, while perfectly normal for September in Belgium, does not help my dreary attitude whatsoever. According to the physical therapist I’ve been seeing, I should be able to get back to work on Sunday, so hopefully that’ll get my mind off of my annual Autumn Blues before the trip to Tenerife.

Just To Let You Know

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The hedges along the slow moving, fowl filled waters of the coupure were a lush and brilliant green today.
The uniform borders of maple trees stood tall, the thin, ivory and beige mottled trunks supporting a broad canopy of full, emerald leaves, broader than their Canadian cousins.
The peaceful scene was laid out underneath an azure sky spotted with soft clumps of fluffy clouds, perfumed with the cool clean air of September. Summer’s last sigh, autumn’s first breath, co-mingling, rustling the branches and rippling the water.

Pouring hot water into cups of espresso and fresh milk sent puffs of cozy, comforting coffee scented air into my face today, triggering minuscule memories of warm family gatherings, post-holiday feast dessert time where my mother and aunt served coffee to the adults while the kids tried to snatch extra brownies or strawberry whip; my father stirring creamer into his favorite white porcelain cup with the faded blue stripe around the rim; later my own giant mugs, flavored with amaretto or cinnamon creamer.

Today brought more smiles than frowns, laughter and no tears, an evening of pleasant company with my husband (who spontaneously cleaned the upstairs), and an overall feeling of contentedness.

Just to let you know that I do have plenty of those kind of days too.