Monthly Archives: November 2010

Try to Pay Someone a Compliment…

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Language misunderstandings still do occur occasionally, in case you mistakenly assumed I’d reached perfection in my other language (ha!).

Just the other day a guy came and ordered a coffee and he was wearing this really cool carved rams head on a leather necklace. I don’t know how to say “pendant” in dutch so I just said, “Dat is tof” (that is cool). But I no longer talk like a text book so I said something closer to “da’s tof”. Because contractions make you sound much more native.

And the guy looked at me all confused like, so I repeated myself and pointed at the rams head.
And then he said in kind of questioning tone, “stof?”

Which means “dust” in dutch.

So yeah, here I was, trying to tell him his pendant was really cool and he thought I was pointing at hime and saying “that’s dust.”

Really, you try to pay someone a compliment and they think you’re saying dust. Teaches me to stretch outside the boundaries of “do you want milk or sugar in the coffee?”

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Turkey Day, in Absentia

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This is the second year I’ve missed out on Thanksgiving, one of my favorite (and definitely my mom’s favorite) holidays.

In 2008 my parents and brother were visiting me in Belgium for the first time and we had Thanksgiving with my (then future) in-laws. But last year I didn’t even post about it and this year I’ve nearly forgotten.

Funny how easy it is to forget to be thankful when no one is dangling a turkey and pie in front of you, huh?

But I am thankful for many things including:

  1. my family, who I miss even more this time of year
  2. my husband, who loves me more than I ever thought anyone could
  3. my health, both physical and mental (sometimes I question the mental, but eh, not crazy yet)
  4. my cats, who love me and bring me smiles and give me something to nurture
  5. my friends, who I can always count on to be there, even when I haven’t been able to since I immigrated.
  6. my general situation: we’re both employed, have a house and food and utilities. We live comfortably enough for now.
  7. my life experience: not many Americans can say they immigrated with no job, not knowing the language, simply to follow their heart. There are things that I want and need to do that I won’t be able to unless we move back to the U.S., but at the same time, I’ve learned a new language and successfully integrated into another culture. Maybe for some that’s not much, but it’s helped me develop as a person and I try not to forget that.

I do miss the feeling of Thanksgiving. I miss the hay bales and corn stalks and pumpkins and family together time. I miss watching the parade while the day is spent cooking and even the dish washing and the football afterwards. I miss the drowsy hugs and kisses goodnight and the promise of a fun Hannukah party in a few weeks. It will never be the same here and I try hard not to think about that when the end of the month rolls around. Instead I concentrate on things I have to do or I think ahead to the smells and sounds of the Christmas markets.

But I guess every once and a while it’s still good to sit and reflect on what I’m thankful for, even without the incentive of homemade stuffing.

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.

I’m Here

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…doing the same thing I do every day, only now it’s cold and I have a sore throat so I prefer to be curled up in bed under a blanket instead of freezing my fingers at the computer.

Oh, yeah and last week Belgium “flooded.”

Three people died, though I’m still not sure how because in the footage on the news the water was knee high at its worst. And I’m not trying to downplay the deaths, really.

It’s just that when Belgium has the “worst” of any kind of weather in decades, it’s always still so much less than what other places tend to get on a more frequent basis. You know, like that 3 inches of snow last winter that shut down all the major highways for an entire day or that insanely cold freezing spell of 25°F…oh the humanity!!

I’m wondering if we ever move back to Pittsburgh, will Piet find the wild climate of Pennsylvania too harsh to tolerate? I guess that’s as good excuse as any to move to Hawaii, right?

Celebrating no More Drama In Our Lives

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You may think this title has something to do with the dog pee situation (thank you all for your suggestions, by the way), but it doesn’t, other than saying that on the way home the other day I noticed at least 3 other peed upon doors on our street. So while it generally still sucks, at least I know now that it wasn’t just us. There is a door-peeing dog peeing indiscriminately on several doors on our street.
Sadly, while I do plan on following some of the suggestions, I have to keep in mind that it is autumn in Belgium and due to non-stop rain, vinegar, ammonia, hot pepper sprays, etc. will eventually be washed away, but I’ll take a look into it anyway.

Regarding the drama, well, I personally have none to speak of currently, but I was noticing an insane increase in a few of the blogs I read from down under (no, not you, your drama usually entertains me or makes me want to send you an epically huge first aid kit). I started following said blogs because they seemed to pop up in a few other bloggy circles I touch down in. One I like in general, the other I find I merely tolerate. I’m really not sure why I kept reading other than a lot of other bloggers I read seem to. Kind of like when you have a network of friends and they all hang out with that popular person who denies their popularity while at the same time asserting it so you hang out with them too even though they often make you lift an eyebrow so far off your head that it hurts.

Anyway, sadly, it seems that lately any post from these two bloggers that pops up in my reader is referencing the other blogger/blog and all the bs going on in it. And these two bloggers do often end up working as a tag team of sorts when it comes to issues on the internet they feel the need to address. And then their scores of followers kind of automatically assume they’re in the right, even though I don’t think they always clearly are.

Finally, today, I read a comment where the commentor asked the blogger to continue sharing her life with us and I had a clear moment of thinking “y’know, I’d really she rather didn’t” before doing something I rarely do. I went into my scarily long list of blogs on Google Reader and I deleted the two aforementioned blogs from my feeds (along with a few others who haven’t updated in so long I forgot they were on the list).

I’m sure these two people won’t even notice I’m gone since I rarely, if ever commented, but I’m personally looking forward to checking my Reader tomorrow and not rolling my eyes at some blown up broo-haha that was at least 50% self-created.

Hair of the Dog

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Piet and I do not live in the nicest of neighborhoods.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve lived in worse neighborhoods, but by Gent (and most of Belgian not counting Brussels and Antwerp) standards, our neighborhood is pretty crappy. There’s not really any violent crime, mostly just loud noise, some vandalism and neglect of property. There is also apparently quite a bit of drug activity that goes on although I honestly can’t say I’ve seen any drugs personally, though I’m sure I’ve passed some hand-offs between dealers and clients and just tried not to look too hard.

A lot of kids don’t go to school, there’s a lot of trash overflowing from the garbage cans or simply thrown on the street, cars are occasionally abandoned (we had one in front of our house for more than month before it was towed away), street lights sometimes go out and it takes several days for them to be replaced, you don’t see many Flemish faces or hear many Flemish accents.

It’s certainly not Central Park or South Central, but living here has made both of us (probably Piet moreso than me since he’s lived here longer) more aggressive than I think most typical Belgians would be. I don’t think either one of us is inherently aggressive mind you. We’re both introverted and I know I used to prefer avoiding conflict rather than stirring it up. But you know, you can only take so many people leaving half-eaten waffles on your window sill, riding their motorbikes on the sidewalk and expecting you to move, blasting music from their cell phones on public buses and spitting while you walk by before you decide you’ve had enough and begin to defend yourself, even in situations where it’s probably easier or better to just ignore it.

Mind you, when he or I do behave over aggressively, it is always in response to something. We aren’t going around yelling at innocent old ladies or kicking sand in babies faces, but if some neighborhood lowlifes decide, for example, to come huddle in a group and lean on the back of our Cambio car while we’re still in it, I no longer hesitate to get out, shove my way through them and open the trunk with the intent of whacking one of them.
Someone else’s car is not your fucking coffee table, assholes.

If someone parks in the Cambio spot and we can’t park the car in it’s proper place, Piet has no problem asking the person if they ever learned how to read before taking a picture of their license plate and telling them he’ll have them towed and/or call the police.

I could probably go on, but you get my point. We stand up for ourselves, but admittedly do so in an over the top way from time to time.

Anyway, now we’ve gotten the exposition out of the way, let’s get to the real crux of things.

One or more dogs keeps peeing on our front door.

We noticed the stains start sometime in the summer but they weren’t that frequent so it sort of slipped our minds.
Until we got back from Tenerife and it was quite obvious that our door was some dog(s) favorite toilet and had been marked several times in our absence.
Fed up and disgusted, I took a sponge, soap and water and scrubbed our door and step, hoping that would help, but literally within an hour another dog had peed on the door. Piet thinks these random dogs are smelling the pee and peeing on the door and that’s all. I, on the other hand, have rarely, if ever seen a stray dog in our neighborhood. In fact, haven’t even seen many pet dogs in our neighborhood either. Which leads me to believe that some asshole is walking their dog(s) and then allowing the dog to repeatedly pee on our door.

Which makes me see red. Really. I’m ready to sit by the door and wait for whoever it is that is allowing (in my mind possibly even encouraging) their dog to piss all over someone’s front door and when I finally catch the jerk I plan on throwing a bucket of water on him and his dog (yes I know it’s winter and I’d still do it anyway, I’m that angry) and I may possibly threaten to shoot the dog the next time I catch it peeing on my door. Not that I’d ever shoot a dog, but I have a friend whose boyfriend collect air pistols, so I can make it look pretty convincing without actually breaking any laws.

In the meantime, Piet read that vinegar discourages dogs from peeing on things, so he put vinegar on the front door. And it worked.

Until today.

I got home from work and there was a big stain practically on our mail slot. I scrubbed it again and poured a lot of vinegar on the stoop and door but I’m really at a loss here.

Are these stray dogs or is someone intentionally having their dog pee on our door? And if they are, why us? Did we offend someone in the neighborhood enough that they’d be doing this sort of thing over months?Does anyone know what we can use on the door to stop this from happening?