Monthly Archives: July 2010

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!

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Peter Pan Grew Up

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I had a dream last night about, you guessed it, Peter Pan growing up.

Because normal people have dreams about being in school wearing just a towel or falling from a cliff or being chased by Freddie Kruger.

And I? I dream about the fictional futures of fictional characters.

And then I totally forget about the dream until I’m in the shower and thinking about my wedding which then leads me to think of the wedding of an ex-boyfriend that occurred last Septemberish which then leads me to chuckle because he was a wild child who finally settled down into humdrum suburban life which made me think of an immature guy finally settling down and voila, I realize that Peter Pan growing up is not, in fact, an actual occurrence from any book or movie but rather I came up with it in my head last night while sleeping.

Wanna know how Peter realized he was growing up?

He sprouted a chin hair.

Which leads me to the singular conclusion that I should never again wax my lip before bed time.

With This Ring, I Thee Wed

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Have I shown you a picture of my wedding band yet?
No? I didn’t think so. Here it is:

Pretty isn’t it?

Piet and I didn’t go for the matching band thing. We each went for what we liked best and his looks equally nice on him. Also no, there is no engagement ring, in case you were wondering. They don’t always do the engagement ring thing here and Piet and I couldn’t afford one at the time anyway. And I’ll take “no engagement ring” over “no engagement until there is a ring” any day.

Anyway, I used to be a big ring wearer in high school and college. I had a claddagh that I wore for years as well as this awesome 69 thumb ring I wore every day (including prom…my mother was so pissed) and several other rings I alternated wearing. Then, I guess around the time I started working in daycare, I stopped wearing rings. And earrings and necklaces and pretty much any other jewelry aside from a cheap watch.

Because who wants to scrape questionable crud out of their jewelry crevices every night? Or risk having there earlobes shredded by graspy toddlers refusing to let go of a shiny earring. I mean, I got a black eyes just from wearing glasses and colliding with a rambunctious kid falling off the water table.

So you can imagine, after almost 5 years of wearing almost no jewelry (except on special occasions) how initially uncomfortable it was to have my wedding band on all the time. Piet and I actually bought a special ring holder because we were both convinced that we would lose our rings any time we took them off.
And admittedly, I think I actually forgot to put my ring back on twice and Piet only once, but in the past month I’ve begun to actually forget to take it off every time I wash my hands or clean something at work. In fact, I rarely, if ever, take it off at all anymore. I sleep with it on and work with it on. My finger has a faint tan line now and a small callous has formed on my left palm, just underneath the joint where my finger meets my hand, from where my skin if often pinched between my wedding band and the filter holder at work.

Like everything else, my wedding band has become a part of me. Just like my husband and my life here in Belgium. It is another small piece of the identity that I am forever building and modifying. It’s like so many other small (and large) things I’ve experienced and assimilated into my physical and emotional being over the past few years.

Only shinier.

Playing Pretend

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I’ve always had what some people might call an overactive imagination.

Okay, when I was five I had what some people might call an overactive imagination.

I think at 29 they call it OCD or paranoid delusions or something equally stable sounding.

Either way, I’m admitting to you all that I still, to this day, occasionally play make believe to cope with stressful situations.

Cause sometimes reality is not only less fun and entertaining than what I can come up with in my head, but there are also occasions where I can only motivate myself by pretending that what I’m doing is more important than it actually is.

Let me clarify.

When I was young, maybe 9 or 10 years old, I was still very afraid of the dark. I was terrified of some evil thing hiding in my closet or under my bed, despite the fact that I knew rationally that there was nothing there. So, I used to make believe that I was a chipmunk that was about to settle in for winter hibernation. I would lay on my side, curled up with the blanket over my face and close my eyes and just pretend that I was safe and warm in my little nest full of nuts and seeds and that there was snow outside of my tree and I could look out and see it, but I was still safe and warm.

And voila, nine times out of ten, I was asleep in minutes.

To this very day, when I’m feeling afraid of something irrational I try to distract myself by pretending I’m somewhere else or something else in order to calm down.

Likewise, if I find myself moderately stressed at work, I do the same thing.

For instance, if I’m alone making coffee at the kiosk while it’s very busy, rather than totally stress out I just pretend I’m doing something more interesting. Turning all the knobs and operating the steamers and making several hot drinks at once becomes operating a steam driven engine in a zeppelin. Dumping the bags of beans into the grinder becomes fueling a coal burning oven in a locomotive.

Because those things are interesting to think about.

It makes the job much more tolerable if I can pretend that I’m doing something important or interesting or useful, even if it’s only pretend.

So what do you all think?

Do any of you still play pretend? And if so, why do you do it?

Why I Love The Gentse Feesten

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It’s that time again.

The time when the tram broadcasts stops in a Gents dialect and the city of Gent probably triples in population for 9 days.

When people walk down the streets at all hours proudly wearing black and white nooses around their necks.

When half of the businesses in Gent shut down and residents flee to other vacation spots to avoid the insane 24/7 partying that goes on in the center.

It’s Gentse Feesten time.

This morning ushered in the 167th Gentse Feesten as well as a glut of tourists and non-Gent dwelling Belgians.
And surprisingly enough, despite the fact that I opened the kiosk and was running it solo from 6:30 until 8:30, I only lost my temper and yelled at one customer. And she totally deserved it, coming up to my little kiosk door and asking me to make her two coffees before her train left while I was waiting on 3 other customers who were in line before her.

My Dutch really flows easier when I’m pissed.
My grammar begins to disintegrate but I lose all the hesitant stuttering I have while thinking about my sentence structure.

But that’s besides the point.

See, the university shuts down for the duration of the Gentse Feesten which means Piet has 9 days of vacation.

Nine days of vacation in which he plans to (amongst other things) cook.
And when Piet cooks, he cooks. It’s almost something really delicious, even if it’s simple.* Tonight he made tuna burgers from fresh tuna steak, chili peppers, cilantro, basil and lemon juice. He grilled them with soy sauce and served them on whole wheat toast with a garnish of tomato, lettuce and shoots.

Apparently he plans on finding inspiration for the next nine days on the Jamie Oliver website.

My taste buds can’t wait.

* this is opposed to what I do, which is either bake a piece of chicken or fish too dry and serve sautéed peppers and mushrooms, often with a side of rice or bulgar. Point being, I can cook for sustenance sake, but I rarely create any magnificent taste sensations in the kitchen

Ikea: An Adventure in Domestication?

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A long time ago, in the land of early-twentyism, I used to get a good laugh out of people that went day-tripping to Ikea. I mean, seriously, an entire day spent in a big furniture warehouse? Why? Who could possibly spend that long shopping in one single place? How much of a life could you have if you got all psyched over a day at Ikea? I mean, it’s just furniture and lamps people, come on!

Granted I had never been to Ikea back then, and even after the first time I was (my very first trip to Belgium to visit Piet began with a stop at Ikea before I ever even saw his house), I was still relatively unaffected. I mean, it was big and nice, but still, a whole day there? Nope, not for me.

To this day I’m not sure when I actually began to look forward to going to Ikea. All I know is that last weekend one of my friends went to Ikea to check out the sales and when she came back and showed me some of her stuff I suddenly felt the desperate need to spend a day at Ikea.

To the point where several days ahead of time I began bugging Piet to pick a day to go so that we could be sure to have a car for the day (we use a car sharing system). When he asked what I needed there I didn’t really have an answer. I mean granted I’m always in the market for a tube of smoked salmon paste (no really, that’s not a joke, I love the stuff), but there was nothing special I really needed or wanted. I just felt the desire to dine on a plate of Swedish meatballs before purchasing some picture frames or a lamp or something overly streamlined and modern.

Thus, today (my last day off until next Friday, ugh) became Ikea day for Calliope and Piet!! Yaaaay!!!

Seriously, nothing could dampen my mood today. I was practically bouncing in the passenger seat as we pulled into the parking garage.
Cause we were finally at Ikea!
How can you not love it?! It’s got several smoked seafood products in tubes! And rack upon rack upon show room of completely matching sets of stuff!

It’s got lingonberries and mattresses that have names that sound like the volcano in Iceland!!

Ah a day at Ikea. I’m not sure whether to laugh at my younger self or cry about the fact that I’ve hit the age where Ikea day has become the highlight of my month.

The Old College Try

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One thing that Piet and I have discussed on occasion is education and our opinions of it regarding any future BelgAmericans we will eventually produce. Education here is different from the U.S. and in many ways, from what I can tell, it’s far superior. I could go into how that turd W. destroyed American education with his No Child Left Behind travesty or how disappointed I am in the current Obama administration for not bothering to address the complete joke that is America’s public school system, but that would just dissolve into an acid-tongued tangent of pointless vent, so I won’t go there.

Anyway, in Belgium most people choose to send their children to either a state funded public school or a state funded private school. Both receive money from the state, but from what I understand, the private schools sort of have the right to make a kid leave if he/she isn’t performing to a certain standard of academia. The public schools have to take and keep everyone. Piet attended a private school and is of the opinion that any offspring of ours, assuming they go to school in Belgium, are best off in a private school as well.

I like the idea of the private schools here because there isn’t any tuition (unlike the salary suckers in the U.S.) and also because some of them have nifty uniforms which are not only cute, but in my opinion, go a long way to taking the focus off of appearances that tends to crop up once puberty arrives. That and it’ll save on wardrobe costs if the kids wear basically the same thing 5 days a week.
What I don’t like is the manner in which the information is taught in the private schools. A massive amount of information is given to the kids and they have to memorize it and then spit it back out on tests. From what I’ve heard there is very little class discussion or room for students to discuss their own opinions. They learn the information, they apply it to a given situation on an exam, they either pass or fail.

Which is why, I think, while there are indeed a plethora of highly knowledgeable, educated individuals here in Flanders, the majority of them are often very set in their ways and, in my (and other expat opinions) are significantly stunted when it comes to social interaction with people en masse.

Anyway, I’m more in favor, at least in Belgium, of sending children to a Montessori school, or somewhere where they will be evaluated on their individualism and personal strengths as opposed to how well they can force themselves into the standard Flemish methods of education.
When I made that clear though, Piet shook his head and said simply that children who spend their later years (maybe 10-17 years old)  in schools like Montessori or other alternative schools have almost a nil percent chance of succeeding in Flemish universities.

And I’ll admit, that shut me up quick.

I come from a family that stresses a university education and both Piet and I come from countries that put huge emphasis on receiving university degrees in order to be successful occupationally. My first reaction was to give in and agree that we should do what we could to have our kids do their best in university.

But this morning I was thinking more about it, and I realized…who cares about a stupid piece of paper that basically states that you are “officially skilled” in academic thought?
I have a college degree and it has gotten me nothing. My bachelors is in psychology, which I promptly decided I hated when I was 3 years into studying. I’ve done nothing with it and can do nothing with it here. It has actually given me problems in searching for a job because I was often considered too skilled for the jobs my language abilities limited me to and I had no practical training for anything my language abilities would allow me to do.

Similarly, I have an Egyptian colleague with a journalism degree that he is unable to use in Belgium. All those years he spent studying and he’s never been able to use any of it since he left Egypt. University degrees, both of us, and we’re working in a coffee kiosk in a train station.

Had I chosen to go to tech school or to be a salon specialist, or something along those lines, I have no doubt I’d have been employed longer in the U.S. and been able to find a job much easier here in Belgium. Unlike the state funded daycares here, I wouldn’t have to write essays on a high school graduates level in order to be eligible to work in a salon or something along those lines.

So, in reality, is a university degree really so important? Why be so set in sending our children off into the political games and chest puffing of academia when they could be much happier and financially secure by going to an alternative school and then studying to be an electrician or a carpenter?
Western countries have become so obsessed with highly educating their masses that they are now running short on skilled manual labor. The demand is always high and in places like Belgium, people are payed extremely well for their labor. As long as the human race uses indoor plumbing or light bulbs, they’ll need other people who are trained to repair and replace it.

I think I’d be more than happy to have my children be those people. They’re a lot more important than us academics give them credit for.