Monthly Archives: April 2011

Celebratory Fries Anyone?

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Guess who’s been officially Belgian since April 19?

Guess who didn’t receive any notification until April 28th?

Guess who really doesn’t care because, yes! Finally!!

Now I have dual nationality and will never ever have to do any immigration paperwork ever again! Unless the Tea Party gets a candidate elected as president and Piet and I decide to flee to Canada.

Obviously I can’t celebrate with my favorite Belgian beer, but maybe a trip to the fry shack will do.

Language Control

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Today at work we had a language control, of sorts.

I was working with three other coworkers, one of which is Flemish, so Dutch is his first language and two others, both of which can speak well enough to take orders and understand questions that are work related (i.e. someone asks what a vanilla latte is or asks if we can make a cappuccino with decaf), but who don’t necessarily understand everything being said by a customer, especially if the customer is using dialect or slang.

So, when the strange guy came by the Flemish coworker was on his break and not around and I was on the other side of the kiosk avoiding the stranger since he was wearing a suit and tie and was standing by the side of the kiosk instead of in front, which usually means he’s some salesman trying to sell us eco-friendly light bulbs or some other product that our corporate office could care less about.

The coworker who initially started talking to him was, unfortunately, one of the ones who has only lived here a year and is not incredibly fluent in Dutch. He couldn’t figure out what the stranger was saying, but he, for some reason, thought the guy was foreign and began speaking in English, first to the guy, then to me. The stranger then asked if there was anyone who spoke Dutch working and I sighed and went over, confused and not wanting to be bothered by another salesperson.

I asked if he was selling something and he replied that no, he was actually from NMBS (the organization that runs the trains in Belgium) and he’d come by to check on our kiosk because there’d been complaints that our employees don’t speak Dutch well enough.
I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that. I’d say most of us working in the kiosk are fairly fluent in Dutch. Not perfect, certainly, but very good. Yes, there are a few who should probably be better in it, but what it boils down to is simply that my manager can only hire people who apply. If none of her applicants are native or fluent Dutch speakers, but she has to hire someone, she takes the best of what she gets.

So I explained that when we hire we try as best we can to fill the position with people who are at a certain level of Dutch, but that if we’re very short handed, sometimes we have to make do with the people who still needed to work on their Dutch.
The controller then told me my Dutch was good and asked what level I was considered. I told him that I had passed level five of the six offered through Gent University and granted, I hadn’t written an essay in a long time, but otherwise I did pretty well in conversation. He then said (in front of the 1 colleague that had spoken in English) that my Dutch was just fine for this job, but that my other colleague’s wasn’t.

Again, what the hell am I supposed to say to that?
First, I didn’t hire the guy. Second, I found it incredibly rude that he spoke like that in front of my coworker. And third, it’s not like I could say,’ “You’re right, this guy has really bad Dutch, I’ll be sure to have him fired for you.”

So instead I offered the controller the number to call my manager if he had any concerns he wanted to follow up. He said it wasn’t needed as he’d already spoken to our regional manager (who, so you know, speaks absolutely no Dutch) about it. I shrugged, said okay and went back to making drinks.

When my Flemish colleague returned I told him about it, just so he knew what had upset my other two colleagues (who were now pretty stressed about their job security). He wasn’t thrilled, but like me, there’s not much he could do about it. Eventually the dust settled and the shift ended, but it left me thinking.

I’m really not sure what to make of this, in general. Obviously language isn’t a threat to my current job security, although it certainly hinders me in getting some other jobs in Belgium. It was such an issue for me at first, despite all the effort I put into learning the language, that I tend to become instantly defensive and hostile when speaking Dutch becomes an issue with employment, even if it hasĀ  nothing to do with me.

My coworkers, for the most part, work hard and earn a salary and pay the taxes that go to Belgian pensions. The ones that aren’t fluent in Dutch are mostly in classes and trying to learn the language. There are plenty of unemployed Flemish people who are more than happy to receive their unemployment checks and look for something “worthy” of their time as a job, rather than take the crap jobs that the foreigners end up taking, but they’re also more thanĀ  happy to complain or treat those foreigners doing the jobs they don’t want as something less than them.
Why do we not have Flemish people working at my job? Because no Flemish people apply for it! They can make almost as much as I make a month with an unemployment check. Why work in a sweltering kiosk in cramped working conditions serving tourists and commuters coffee when they can make almost as much “job hunting” from the comfort of their home?

But at the same time, I truly do agree that if you’re going to live in a country you should speak the language spoken there if you want successful employment/integration. It’s true, we should only be employing people who are fluent or at least very good in Dutch to work in the kiosk, since it is customer service. If I got to get food or a drink in America, I expect the person taking my order to understand me and be able to answer questions in English. Not perfect English, mind you, but decent English. So yes, of course, Flemish customers should expect us to speak decent Dutch.

But I’ve been on the other side of it. In some ways, I still am. I know how hard it is and how hostile some people can be if you simply don’t know a word they’re using and it’s throwing your whole comprehension of the sentence off. I know how it is to have a mental block and mix up two words constantly* only to realize later that I must’ve sounded like a total moron. I know what it feels like to desperately need work in a country where no one wants to bother with you unless you’re excellent in their language.
It’s difficult and can make life feel impossible and sometimes you just need that one person to cut you a break and let you learn as you go.

So where do you draw the line?
When no native speaking people want the job and your main job pool is foreigners, how do you know when to cut that break for that person who truly wants and needs the job, versus turning a person down because they simply can’t communicate on the level that native speakers expect?

*I had to file a police report once on missing money and was constantly confusing the words bedrag (amount) with gedrag (behavior). I still have to think extra hard to remember which is which.

Got to Get to Work on Time

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I worked for the first time in about 10 weeks last night.

None of my colleagues could believe I was being told to go back to work at this stage of the game (30 weeks pregnant), but at this point I’ve gotten stubborn. I had very legitimate back issues when I was written off sick at the end of January. I couldn’t stand up straight, sit or even sleep without pain.

Obviously since I haven’t been working I haven’t had to stand for such long periods of time and the pain has, for the most part, eased. That makes sense, but the part that doesn’t make sense to me is that now the physicians and the gynecologist seem to think that since my back pain is much less that I should be able to go back to doing what was causing the pain before: standing for several hours with no place to sit. Thing is, when I was 20 weeks pregnant, I was also a bra cup size smaller, about 15 pounds lighter and the baby wasn’t 3 and a half pounds of very active child.

I’ve been told to go to the work doctor by the other doctors but basically been told by everyone else not to go that route because it’s very difficult to get a work doctor to write someone off of work. This, from what I gather, is because if I’m written off sick my health insurance takes over paying me (at 60% of my usual wage) while if I’m written off due to work conditions not being good for me, my employer has to pay me 100% for the time I’m written off. So obviously, work doctors aren’t in a hurry to tell people to stay home while their company pays them like they’re working full time.

From what I understand (and from what I’ve seen with my two other pregnant colleagues), in the case of pregnancy most doctors understand this and simply put pregnant women in work situations like mine on sick leave till the start of the maternity leave. Obviously, none of the doctors I’ve seen follow this philosophy. Piet very much wanted me to try to find a doctor who would keep me on sick leave until my maternity leave automatically started (May 23) but I’m done playing musical doctors. I decided to go back to work and work the 5 weeks until I could officially start maternity leave (May 23) and if my back starts up again I’ll go to the work doctor, hopefully with a note from my manager saying the work concitions simply aren’t fit for a pregnant woman almost halfway through her last trimester. Otherwise I’ll be working until the 23rd.

So how did it go last night?

Not bad. It’s been sunny and very warm here the past week so business has slowed to a near halt. It gave me time to sit extra and my coworkers didn’t seem to mind that I was sitting extra. In fact they encourage me to, while I sat there feeling guilty. My back started getting crampy and achy towards the last 2 hours of my shift, but it wasn’t anything debilitating. My feet are killing me, not only because I haven’t stood that long in a couple months, but also, like I said, I’ve gained a significant amount of weight and it’s a lot more pressure on my feet that it was before.

The main issue was actually that only the skinniest of my coworkers can get past me in the kiosk. One side of the kiosk is very close to a wall in the station and the door only opens halfway and I discovered I no longer can squeeze through that door, so I can only go in and out through one side. Both of my coworkers, although they were being as careful as the could, were bumping into me constantly and for one I was constantly having to press my stomach into the counter in front of me to let her past and it wasn’t easy. We got stuck several times.

I really want to do my best and try to make this work as long as possible. I’d hate to come back for a week and then leave again, even though I’ve already been replaced until October or November. I didn’t mind the customers last night (2 months is a long enough to have made me less jaded I guess) and I really liked smiling and laughing with some coworkers again.

I’m just not sure how long I’ll be able to fit in the kiosk with them.

So, What Did We Make?

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Today wasn’t the first time, nor, I’m sure, will it be the last time that I wonder what type of person is currently basting in my gut.

First I wondered if we’d made a boy or a girl (although I guess Piet determined that, not me). Once we knew that I started wondering what he’d look like. Piet, his sister and his sister’s younger daughter all have Piet’s dad’s eyes. It’s definitely a trait that distinguishes his paternal side. Personally I think the rest of Piet’s build and features are that of his mom’s side, but the eyes are definitely his dad’s. I’m a general muddle of features from both sides; my eyes are my mom’s but the rest of my face is my paternal Gram’s. Piet has light brownish blondish sort of reddish hair and blue-gray eyes. I have dark brown hair and brown eyes, but I have a grandfather who has blue eyes and a great-grandfather who was a red-head. Genetically there are tons of possibilities. We don’t get those fun 3-D ultrasounds with our obgyn, so I really have no clue what this baby looks like right now, just that all of his important parts are present, accounted for, and in working order.

So, since my gender question has been answered (two months in a row the doctor found his plumbing, so it’s a pretty safe prediction) and my physical appearance question won’t be answered until he makes his out of utero-debut, I’ve started wondering about something even more obscure: his personality.

I’ve often heard that opposites attract, which is definitely the case with my parents. My mom is the outgoing extrovert who goes and joins classes and teaches workshops and my dad is the quiet introvert who prefers to teach himself what he wants to learn and to tinker on his own projects in the privacy of his home.

With Piet and I it’s a bit different. He’s usually very calm, rational, logical. He’s the math guy. I’m more emotional, superstitious, imaginative. I’m the liberal arts girl.
When Piet tries to explain certain computer programs to me, even if I’m interested in the end results I can get (i.e. Adobe Illustrator), my eyes glaze over almost immediately because he likes to give a logical overview of each function in the program. I like to click icons that look useful until I figure out what I need to use to make what I want.
When I ask something whimsical like, “if you could go anywhere in the world, right now, where would you go?” Piet can’t give me an answer because he’s already opened his laptop and is calculating the airfare for certain destinations this season or the inclement weather or the kind of health insurance coverage we’d need for this hypothetical trip.

But we’re both extremely introverted people.
We’re both content to stay in an sit quietly watching a movie or cooking dinner or playing a computer game together. We’ve gone hours in the same room, Piet working on some data analysis for work, me reading a book without speaking, very comfortable in the silence.
As a child I was very shy. A lot of pictures from family events show me sitting in a corner with one of my teddy bears, sucking my thumb. I was also an avid reader from before I can even remember. I started reading before preschool and by the time I entered grade school I devoured books faster than I could replenish my supply.
According to my mother in law, Piet was also very quiet as a child and spent hours in his room building things from Lego blocks. She says he never followed the directions or images from the box, he always made his own things.

So I wonder then, the little boy who’s due to make his appearance in ten weeks, will he be a doubly intense introvert? Because if that’s the case, he might turn out to be mute. Will he be artistic and creative, delving into books to feed his imagination? Will he be logical and industrial, constructing something all of his own from the pieces he finds around him?

Or will he be a complete genetic hiccup and be a gregarious, extroverted athlete?

I guess there’s no telling on that one for a while.

But I’m dying to know anyway!

Back in Business

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…and sadly, having to write a disclaimer that I really never thought I’d have to write.

When I actively started using Facebook to keep in touch or get in touch with friends back in the US, I also decided to use the WordPress function that publishes my new blog posts to Facebook as well. I thought that it might be interesting, not only to see if my traffic increased, but also to see if any of my friends would read it.

And it worked on both fronts.
My traffic shot up about 50% and I’ve had more than one message to me via Facebook from some friends who enjoy reading what I write.

Amazingly, I remain free of trolls or nasty comments, so I’ve never had to bother with any sort of real disclaimer.

However, there have been occasions where Piet feels that rather than talk to him when I’m upset, I blog and talk to my readers. While I see the validity of his concern, I have told him that I often sort my thoughts better when I sit and write about it than when I’m under his scrutiny, feeling like a wreck and searching for the reason I’m upset or anxious, only to come up with a tangled mess of thoughts that I just can’t pick through coherently. Not only that, but when I first started keeping a regular blog, almost 5 years ago, it was Piet who encouraged me the most to keep writing during my idle periods.

There have also been occasions where family members or friends of Piet have read my posts and emailed him out of concern, confusion or offense, which causes him stress and has made me question the continuation of blogging. Due to this I avoided adding his family to my Facebook. It simply wasn’t worth the tension that it occasionally caused between us. However, I never avoided adding some of his friends to Facebook because I occasionally socialize with them too and it’s handy to communicate about getting together via Facebook.

After my last post and a huge blowout between Piet and I, it came to my attention that a friend of his felt offense at what I’d written. I’m not quite sure why that is. I’m not quite sure why his family and friends seem to take offense at my written thoughts. I have yet to receive anything but support from the people I know in the U.S. that read my blog and have been reading my blog for years.

As a result, I decided to temporarily make my blog private until I could figure out if I even ought to keep blogging at all, and if so, what course of action I should take if I decided to keep writing here.

I haven’t figured out a way to password protect or block my blog from a hand selected list of people via WordPress. If anyone knows how to do that, I’d appreciate if you could tell me.

I have figured out how to keep my blog updates from showing up on certain people’s Facebook. So that’s what I’ve decided to do for now.

To all of you who come and read and stay interested in my digital scribbling, I thank you from the bottom of my heart and I hope to keep seeing you around.

To those of you who sent me messages telling me you enjoy my writing or can relate to my feelings or asking my why my blog was private because you still want to read it, you all have basically convinced me to keep writing here.

To those of you who have read this blog and taken issue with it, I recommend that you stop reading. If all has gone well, you should not see my blog posts on your Facebook. You shouldn’t know if I’m updating unless you have chosen to check on this blog directly. If that is the case and you don’t like what you’re reading my answer to you is that you should stop reading.

This blog is my outlet for everything. It is my means of expressing my happiness, grief, reflection, sadness, day to day activities, my hopes and fears.
I am as candid as I can comfortably be and as open as I can be without using the names of anyone else. I try to keep everyone anonymous and references as vague as I can while also telling my readers how I feel.

This is my blog. It is important to some other people, but first and foremost, it is important to me. If you don’t like what I’m saying, just look in the upper right hand corner of your browser. See that little red “x”?

Click it.

Paving the Road to Hell

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Good intentions.

So many people say and do things with the best of intentions.

Like someone who recently made the comment about how long it’s been since I’ve seen my parents.

And I’m sure the comment was made with the best of intentions: out of sympathy, caring, concern, or simply something to create conversation (something I admit is hard to get me to do in my second language, with the exception of my mother and sister-in-law, those two I feel comfortable talking to in Dutch).

But all it did was serve to remind me that I haven’t seen my parents in person since early June last year. Nor will I see them again until late this upcoming June, one week before my due date. That’s more than a year without seeing my parents. No hugs, no smiles, no comforting smell of my dad’s cologne or chuckles at my mom’s quirky facial expressions.

For all intents and purposes, my parents will have missed my entire pregnancy. If I happen to deliver a week early, they’ll have missed the whole thing. Maybe some women wouldn’t be bothered in the least if their mother wasn’t around for their first pregnancy, but I am. This was something I had always hoped to share with my mother (and my grandmothers too, but one passed away when I was 22 and the other is now in the early stage of Alzheimers and I just won’t talk about that right now cause I don’t need to depress myself even more) and the best I’ve been able to do is keep her up to date by skyping and lately an occasional belly picture.

And I’m sorry, but that’s just not the same thing.

So, no, I haven’t seen my parents in almost a year. I won’t see my brother or any of my other family or friends until September, so that’ll be more than a year since I’ve seen any of them.
I don’t talk about it much, I try not to think about it much.
But when I do, it’s agonizing.
I feel so out of touch.

Likewise, a couple people have asked us if we plan on baptizing the baby. Piet was baptised as Catholic, but separated from the church basically as soon as he was old enough to write a letter and tell them to “take him off their list.” He’s a staunch Atheist and has no desire to do anything religious with our child.
I guess the people who’ve asked us don’t always realize that it’s not a Jewish tradition to baptize, but I’ve informed them that we don’t do that. We’re also not circumcising, naming our baby in a synagogue or giving him a Hebrew name. The circumcision I’m okay with not doing. I’d rather not make that decision for my son. If he feels strongly enough he can always get it done later in life if he wants it. The lack of Hebrew name or naming in a synagogue… well, what can I say about that? I was raised Jewish and was very interested in theology and traditions of Judaism until I was 15 or so, but now spiritually I consider myself more of a Buddhist/Atheist.
But the traditions surrounding Judaism are still very much a part of my identity. The holidays, the kiddush cups, the mezuzot, the Hebrew language are all very tightly woven into my personal fabric. I mentioned kiddush cups to my mother and she said that our son could have one “but of course it won’t be the same.”
And she’s right. It won’t have a Hebrew name on it and it won’t be given as a gift for a bris or for being named in the synagogue.
A family friend gave me a mezuzah when I moved here. It’s still sitting in its box, waiting to be hung on a door post of a place I call home. I’m not sure if that says something about how I feel about the house we’re living in. I imagine it does. Or it could just be that I’m lazy. Or it could be that we’ve had two doorbells ripped off of our door post and I won’t risk that with something more important to me.
I’ve celebrated one single Jewish holiday since I moved here. It was Passover two years ago in Pittsburgh.
I’ve celebrated one single American holiday since I moved here. It was Thanksgiving, when my parents visited the first time, two and a half years ago.

Sometimes I feel stripped of most of my identity.

My Judaism, mercurial as it is, has no place here.
My “Americanism,” (as much as my country of origin often angers and disillusions me, it’s still part of who I am) is sometimes a source of embarrassment to me here.
My personal ambitions, beyond being married and having a family, have been put on hold, and on hold, and on hold.

It’s easier sometimes, not to talk about myself. Or to only talk about the here and now. It’s so much safer to sit quietly in the backseat of the conversation, stare out the window and mutely absorb what’s being said all around me.
Because the people trying to get me to talk about other things, the people with very good intentions, just make me think about the people missing in my life and the sometimes “blank” feeling I get about who I even am at this juncture.

And that’s a road I’d really rather not walk down.

Nightmare on Elmstraat

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Since the second or third month of my pregnancy I’ve been having very vivid dreams, almost without fail practically every night. I read that vivid dreams are normal for pregnant women, but I really didn’t think I’d have them so frequently.

Nor did I think they’d all be bad.

But unfortunately, while some moms-to-be dream of their baby, I seem to only dream about horrible things like Piet having an affair or me being stalked by a killer.

You know, fun things.

And the worst part of it is that sometimes these dreams are so realistic that I wake up actually confused about where I am and what is real or not.
One of the Piet dreams, for example, was one where Piet himself confessed to having an affair because he couldn’t stand lying to me anymore. He was crying and telling me how sorry he was and how he still wanted to be with me and could we somehow figure out a way to stay together.
Now, not that Piet has ever cheated on me, but in the dream the responses he gave and the things he said were so accurate that I woke up really not knowing if it had happened or not. Then I started sobbing, which scared the crap out of my poor husband who was jarred from his own sleep by me, weeping and begging him not to cheat on me anymore.

Or the one I had last night where I was attacked, raped and then buried alive in a shallow pit under a tree. I dug myself out only to find myself being threatened by this large, nerdy looking woman who looked harmless, but somehow I knew she would really kill me this time. I somehow figured out a way to get rid of her by cutting a picture of her or something in to pieces and throwing it away, but then, while I was cleaning up (I don’t know why I was so anxious to clean in the dream cause that’s definitely not accurate to real life), I started feeling nervous that the woman would somehow get me. And when I went to go check the garbage can, her arms were sticking out the sides as she tried to get out to kill me.
I started screaming, “What are you??”

And that’s when Piet shook me because I was apparently screaming out loud and had once again woken him up as well.
After a few minutes of soothing from Piet I fell asleep and promptly dreamt of having to sing Orff’s Carmina Burana for a synogogue youth group. Only I got lost on my way to the synogogue and ended up having to run and be all out of breath and afterwards I had to pay the youth group organizer money for the tram ride home, but he didn’t have change so I ended up with almost no money and unable to find the right tram to get home.

And people, this shit is almost every night.
I’m exhausted and sometimes even afraid to go back to sleep because I have no clue what deranged scenario my subconscious will come up with next. I just know that chances are high that I’ll wake up horrified or depressed, disoriented and unsettled. I’d hoped after Piet and I started sleeping in the new room, sans television, that the dreams would let up or at least be a bit less gruesome or worrisome in content but so far, no good.

I’m really not sure what to do at this point. All I know is the night time is becoming very unsettling for me and I’m getting way to tired during the day.