Category Archives: work

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.

Putting a Price On Time

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I’m going to go out on a limb here and write a bit about work.

I know that it’s possible that some of my colleagues read this blog, so I’ll keep things as obscure as possible while I try to discuss what’s irking me.

Last week we had a meeting. Albeit a pointless, useless meeting that did nothing but solidify enmity between some of my colleagues and force me to work a ten hour day while four other colleagues sat around and singled out and pointed fingers at each other.

The only good thing about the stupid meeting was that it had absolutely nothing to do with me, aside from the fact that the person who I’d consider my closest friend in Belgium was at the center of the conflict and the meeting accelerated her current job search.

But one thing was said that planted tenacious little barbs in my craw and it’s been stuck there ever since.

“I spend more time here, with you all, than I do with my wife. I’m with you full time, and her part time.”*

Now, this coworker was simply trying to point out that in the line of work we’re in (10 people working in a small kiosk that is open 7 days a week) we have to be around each other a lot and therefore, we have to be patient with each other and try to get along despite our differences.
And he has a point and is totally correct in the sentiment he was trying to put across.

But I, personally, do not want to spend more of my waking time with my coworkers than my husband! Period.

As I stated to Piet via messenger a few minutes ago:
life just shouldn’t be like that
you work with someone cause you have to, you marry someone cause you want to. You should be spending more time with the people you choose, not the ones forced on you by association

Not that I don’t like my coworkers (to varying degrees), because I do, but I don’t get to pick and choose who I work with or what shifts I work or anything like that. There are times when I work with all of my favorite people for an evening, although that’s rare. There are times when I work only with people who I can really only relate to on a work level and those times I quite content to cut out the chatter and simply do my work. I am very rarely working with what I consider the ideal set of people to work together in a cramped little box surrounded by loud, hot machines, serving people who aren’t always particularly good natured or friendly.

Some days I wake up at 4 in the morning and I’m biking in the cold darkness of 5 a.m. on a nearly empty street where even the gas stations aren’t open yet in order to get to work in time to open and have people leave in a huff when they find out the croissants aren’t fully baked yet. On those days I leave work at 1:30 in the afternoon and I usually take the rest of the day to get any random groceries or laundry done before spending a few hours online. I don’t usually have the energy to want to cook dinner by the time Piet gets home, but lately I’ve gotten back to trying to do it more. Or at least buying some healthier things and asking Piet to cook them. On those days I try to watch some television in the evening with my husband, but more often than not I’m passed out sleeping by 8 p.m.

Other days I get to wake up around 8:30 and Piet goes to work while I have my few hours online before preparing my lunch and heading off for the evening shift. I usually get home around 10 p.m. which means Piet and I don’t eat together at all.

I suppose we could develop some sort of routine around these shifts if they were regular, but they aren’t. Monday and Tuesday I might close, with Wednesday off. Thursday and Friday I might open with a middle shift on Saturday and Sunday I’ll have off. the next week is usually something different.

I admit, it’s really starting to get to me. I want nothing more than to work a nice, normal, Monday to Friday job that’s within normal hours. Oh, yeah, that isn’t customer service.

I want to spend more time with my husband, the person I chose to have in my life as much as possible.

I’m not asking for more hours in the day, just for the hours that exist to be spent on the person I love the most.

*loosely translated from somewhat broken, Arabic-accented Dutch

Forced Fashion Sense

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Living in Europe has affected me in many ways. And one of those ways, though I rarely discuss it, is fashion sense.

But to begin, you have to understand that I have no fashion sense whatsoever.

None. My second semester acting as pledge educator in my sorority, my pledges gave me the “biggest ‘fro with the most mismatched clothes” award. Really, they were lucky they survived their initiation evening.
Ahem.
My point is simply that not a single iota of my being willingly excepts clothing trends. The only two fashions I ever took up and ran with were the grunge rock flannel shirts and boot cut jeans of the early/mid ’90′s. Both items were comfortable and matched everything…how can you go wrong with that? But I digress.

When I really started to gain weight, my wardrobe consisted almost entirely of over-sized, baggy jeans and huge grey t-shirts. Partially because I was so horrified by trying on clothes that I just picked a size I  knew was big enough to fit so I wouldn’t have to look at myself in the mirror trying it on, but also because, meh; grey, jeans…always matches, very functional, I had no life and never went anywhere that wasn’t work or graduate classes, so who cared?

As soon as I moved to Belgium, however, I became acutely aware of fashion, trends, and the differences between what I saw in the U.S. versus Belgium:
Men wearing tight pants and t-shirts, women with asymmetrical haircuts and boots all year round.
Thin-soled, very narrow cut shoes (which still kill my feet and fall apart within 3 months of buying them so I refuse to wear anything but my steadfast American-bought Skechers as my everyday shoes).
Both genders wearing scarves as an accessory, even in the summer.

Madness, I tell you!

Early on I refused to give in and pledged never to buy boots that weren’t for snow and a scarf that wasn’t woolen and made to keep my face warm.

And I held out for almost 2 and a half years before caving this past april and buying a pair of casual brown boots to wear occasionally when going out.
I then quickly followed that up by buying a gauzy green scarf to wear for the bachelorette party thrown by my coworkers for myself and another colleague who got married the month before me. I needed something cheap and green and it didn’t even occur to me that by buying it I’d broken the other half of my boot-scarf embargo pledge until I saw pictures of myself.
In boots and a scarf.
In mid-April.
Oh the shame.

And so I vowed extra, extra vehemently against the next big trend that came around: skinny jeans.

I hate skinny jeans! They look like a pair of Levi 501s took advantage of a pair of stirrup pants after one too many tequilas.

Seriously, I’ve never seen such unflattering jeans. Even skinny girls with no thighs and flat butts look like tent pegs in these things. And we won’t talk about those of us packing extra weight. Okay, I lied. We will, and it makes heavy people look like weebles.

And so it came about that I swore to myself to never ever buy skinny jeans, no matter how long they stayed the trend here in Belgium.

Until yesterday when I was in C&A, desperately searching for cheap work pants and came across a pair of black pants that fit comfortably and were under 20€.
But as I slid them on I realized they were the dreaded skinny jeans. The fabric wrapped around my calves, tighter than my normally bootcut-clad lower legs are accustomed to. The extra fabric bunched by my ankles, achieving that quasi leg-warmer look that echoes the ’80′s and is one of the main reasons I so detest skinny jeans.
And yet…

And yet the waist, butt and thighs fit perfectly, especially for all the bending, lifting and standing I do while at work. And the price was right, which can be rare here in the land of uber-taxed and thus uber-compensated labor.

So I bought the bastards and wore them today to work, cringing internally and hoping no one would pick up on my noticeable weebleness.

While in fact, both female coworkers did notice, and actually asked me where I’d bought the pants, since they apparently liked them so much. Proving to me, once again, that Belgium has much more fashion sense than I ever will.

Resistance is futile.

When Work Is Done

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I make myself a cup of tea, usually Earl Grey or peppermint in the evenings, but wild berry in the afternoon, like today.

I shove my bright green ear buds into my ears, dimming the sounds of the train announcer and milling crowd with One Republic or Coldplay as I walk across the rails and wait patiently on platform 18. The old, greasy smell of the bright blue bratwurst truck that caters to those in a hurry and scurrying for something warm to eat assails my nostrils, making my stomach churn with a mix of nausea and hunger.

When the tram arrives I board, quickly grabbing a forward facing seat that isn’t filled with sunflower seed shells, and I slump into one of the narrow, gray and yellow upholstered seats, lifting my tired feet while I surreptitiously sip my tea. I stare out the window, watching the different people at the stops, noting the changes in demographics as we follow the tracks through different areas of the city.

At my stop I step down and decide to hold on to my tea cup, as the garbage can is overflowing with the offal of the neighborhood. The one lone can can’t really keep up with the amount of low-income immigrants who can’t or won’t buy the bright yellow IVAGO grabage bags that residents have to use in order to have their trash picked up every week.

I cross the highway, and then the bridge, crossing the street to avoid the shady Algerian bar that is full of greasy-haired younger men who seem to do nothing but smoke cigarettes, drink Jupiler and strut all day and night. At the corner I finally find a garbage can that I can jam my tea cup into before I take the shortcut through the small renovated park behind our house. The daily group of shoeless children is playing in the back alley while their parents smoke and play cards in the picnic area of the park. None of them responds when one of the smaller children starts crying.
I simply turn the volume up on my iPod.

Once through the park I emerge into our street, barely avoiding a smeared pile of dog droppings that no one bothered to pick up from the sidewalk. One of the neighborhood independent taxi drivers pulls up and parks. I peek inside his window and see the customary can of Red Bull, a taxi driver’s best friend, from what I can tell with my glimpses in to the taxis that line our street.

I wonder, vaguely, how many cans of Red Bull a taxi driver drinks on average per day as I pull my keychain from my pocket and fiddle with our front door lock.

There are days when I truly enjoy the extra exercise and fresh air that comes with walking from the tram stop or biking to and from work.
But days like today I really miss my car.

If You Can Believe It

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The following are actual questions I get (quite frequently actually) at work. Keep an eye out for question 6 cause that one is just beyond my comprehension.

1. Do you have beer? No, we do not have beer. We are a coffee kiosk, not a pub. There is no beer anywhere on display, nor is it on that giant menu on the front of the kiosk, therefore it safe to assume that we do not sell beer.

2. Is that liquor? No, that is flavored syrup used to flavor the milkshakes and steamers. Again, we do not sell alcohol. If there is no names of liquor on that giant menu on the front of the kiosk it is, once again, safe to assume that we are not selling liquor.

3. How do I drink this? Through the hole in the lid, dammit, why is that such a hard concept for you people!

4. May I have a latte with extra milk? Um… a latte is a double shot of espresso and the rest of cup is filled to the brim with milk. I guess you can have extra milk if you want me to put it in an extra cup.

5. May I have a cappuccino without milk? Yes. But in that case it’s called an espresso. That foamy white stuff on it that makes it a cappuccino? That would be milk.

6. Do you have coffee in cups? … typically yes, the coffee comes in cups. I suppose I could pour it into your hands, but that would be messy. And it would probably hurt.

Really, sometimes I am completely and totally overwhelmed by the stupid. Half of our clients probably couldn’t place an order at Starbucks without having an aneurysm.

And you know what? While I’m at it…
NO I will not change your 20, we are not a bank,
NO we do not sell cigarettes or phone cards,
NO I do not have a map and do not have time to tell you where the tourist attractions are.

Oh and by the way, when both of the windows and doors are closed and locked and the lights are off it means we are closed. NO you may not have a coffee!

And lastly, for the love of all that is good and decent in this world don’t you dare ask me for a steamer with “a whole lot of chocolate powder.” That is what we call a hot chocolate and I will be charging you the extra .10 cents for it because that’s what a hot chocolate costs you cheapskate!