giovedì, agosto 21, 2008

The dream is over, or at least adjusted to suit local conditions

I've been busy with Haiti and Monkey!, and thus this morning was my first real opportunity to take the theory exam, and also my last chance to take it before the 3-month point preceding my 30th birthday, and thus the last date on which to do it and still achieve my goal of getting my full license before inaugurating the beginning of my 4th fucking decade on November 25th, baby. No dice. Instead:

-15 minute bike ride downhill through industrial district
-found office
-sat down to wait my turn
-DMV worker yells 'there's no theory exam Fridays!'
-I say 'oh!'
-he yells 'there never has been a theory exam on Fridays! It doesn't exist!'
-I say 'what days?'
-he yells 'Tuesday to Thursday!'
-30 minute bike ride uphill to the office, 15 minutes early.

At least I didn't fail. Oh well. Will have to adjust the goal to getting my full permit before turning 31.

By the way, this incident is a prime example of why Belgians have a reputation for being morons, despite, if I'm honest, being no more organizationally inept than any non-Dutch Europeans. Things are at least a little inconvenient all over the continent. But here, when faced with a deficiency in the system, participants tend to say something like 'it doesn't exist'. When obviously, if you have a modicum of imagination or education, you know it does. Just not in this shithole. The same thing happened to me last night at the petstore when I wanted to buy a toothbrush for my cat. I admit it sounds like a made-up thing, but Sugarplum and San Francisca both have had good results with them, and I knew the petstore stocked toothbrushes for dogs. So I asked a lady who worked there, who looked baffled, and who asked her manager, who insisted that such things didn't exist.

What do you say to that? Nothing. That twitch that's starting over my right eye when I get annoyed is just the cost of doing business here.

mercoledì, agosto 20, 2008

Mistress Aware of Vacuity

Again, too busy to blog. Too much Haiti to edit for the Quakers. Just two questions.

Number one: if I had spent my childhood glued to the television watching reruns of Monkey! instead of Magnum PI, She-ra, and The Dukes of Hazzard, would I be any closer to enlightenment now?

Number two: at what point did watching reruns of Monkey! now stop being about humouring the Australian F-word, who did watch it as a child instead of Magnum PI, She-ra, and The Dukes of Hazzard, and be about Monkey! being fucking awesome?

Check out the theme music. I think it's up there with Doctor Who's and, speaking of, Magnum PI's.

martedì, agosto 19, 2008

Too busy to blog

And not even with my driving exam yet. Everything else. For a lazy person, I sure am fond of overstretch. Just wanted to write one thing: I fucking knew it.

lunedì, agosto 18, 2008

Writing about banks and naming names, bitch

Fortis is still a thorn in our sides. Looks like the beginning of the problem was one lone idiot there and then a crappy system around her that's proved itself incapable of dealing with the consequences of her idiocy. Oh well. Maybe someday Fortis will stop fucking up and I'll be so happy I could cry. See? I'm accentuating the positive and it's not even here yet! And then at the end of our contract, I'll rush to another provider so fast my head will spin. I lay into Belgians, I know, but besides some minor trouble last December (which they compensated me for) I've had no problems with ING -I've even been very happy with what I've got, considering I pay basically no fees. And while my colleagues, who almost to a man do business at KBC, are annoyed by the high fees and crap service, they've had no remarkable problems there. Fortis seems to be an especially incompetent institution (and an expensive one too - their rates are high). If you're ever in the position where you must live and bank in Belgium, I strongly advise against Fortis, and in the same vein reccommend ING.

But then the problem with Belgian banks is that they're very branch-based. I have a feeling all banks everywhere used to be like that, like when my grandfather was in the biz in northern England - he retired about 40 years ago. Back in the day when you talked to your neighbours and the bank manager could make decisions instead of a centralized computer saying yes or no, that made really good sense, I think. The bank was some sort of part of the community and has some familiarity with it. I'm making it sound very idyllic - I'm sure it was frustrating as hell at the time, but back in the day branches being the base of the system made sense.

Today it makes no sense. When your eligibility for a mortgage is calculated using defined evaluation tools, when people are tearing all over a city getting money from dozens of different machines, when everybody has a telephone and half the people have a computer in their home to allow them to reach some sort of centralized authority, and most importantly, when you've stripped bank managers of their non-petty power and when the branch is no longer part of the community - just another office people commute to - it makes no sense at all to force customers to have a 'home' branch. All that results in is situations like ours, wherein we had the bad fortune to use the Rue de l'Hotel des Monnaies branch of Fortis and be served by a bloody idiot who continues to fuck things up named Sonia Declerck, simply because our landlord took us there to create our deposit account. And now we have to clean up the problem with the same incompetents who caused it. Who knows? If we used another Fortis branch, things could have been different. We'll never know, because we'll never use Fortis again in any circumstances.

And with ING, I remember I had a problem with my card whilst Christmas shopping last year and popped into the branch at the top of Avenue Louise (Saint Gilles-Porte Louise branch) where the teller refused to help me in the flattest, rudest terms I've ever heard from a white collar worker in the private sector. Luckily I was just a 15 minute walk from my home branch, Bruxelles-Jardin du Roi) where they are all beautifully polite and helpful. But it did make me wonder if I'd be all 'yay, ING!' if I had to deal with the bitch at Saint Gilles-Porte Louise on any sort of regular basis. San Francisca, who also banks at ING, I think out of loyalty to her Dutch husband, used to bank at another Avenue Louise branch. She found it so dreadful that she switched to mine. She is from the States and does have rather slavish notions about customer service, but she's very happy now.

domenica, agosto 17, 2008

Acc-en-tuate the positive

This weekend was just the ticket, though not a rest. . . too much to do, like study for my driving theory test (was going to do it this morning but still flunking the practice tests so it will have to be tomorrow), proof another country report, cook, clean, etc. . . but on Saturday the F-word succeeded in kicking my ass sufficiently to get us out to the Ardennes with a group of friends and acquaintances to kayak down the Lesse river.

Very much kayaking à la Belge, which meant the 'rapids' were very slow indeed, there was only a 5% chance of falling out of our big plastic shells, and we followed the direction of the current from point A to point B - when we felt a bit tired all we had to to was steer away from the gravel banks and the flock of incompetents who'd descended on the river. Doesn't matter. There's an incredible fucking charm to tiring yourself out by propelling yourself over the water - even more like flying than cycling - and it was very, very beautiful down there in the Furfooz-y area. No Canadian savagery or even British haunted broodiness, but lots of trees and staggeringly big cliff faces, lots of 'holy fuck would you look at that'. And of course, since this is Belgium and everybody is an organizational idiot, no life jackets or loud warnings or other intrusive safety features - just the sun (thankfully, amazingly) and wind on the skin as we merrily rolled along.

Which is tied to a realization on Saturday morning as we went to meet the group. Yes, I live in Belgium. Yes, these people are incompetent organizational idiots with absolutely no fucking notion of how to do anything in a reliable and systematized manner. And yes, that's going to annoy the fuck out of me time and again and again and again. Yesterday it was Fortis, awhile ago it was Belgacom, before that the maison communale, before that ING, before that Fortis on a different occasion, and tomorrow it's going to be the people I have to deal with to get my driver's license. There'll be no end until I leave, and Belgium being Belgium, I fully expect a year or two of hangover annoyance after I leave . . . they'll find a way, the fucking cunts . . . this place is like a Roald Dahl short story.

And, just like I enjoy Roald Dahl short stories, I have to enjoy Belgium. Part of that enjoyment will have to be negative in its nature, as my boss instructed me when the Fortis fiasco almost had me weeping with rage on Wednesday - I must simply accept the stupid things they do here as the status quo, and then be very happy, even overjoyed, when they manage to pull their thumb out and something goes right.

But another part will have to be, since we plan on moving back to a litigious, Anglo-Saxon, stick-up-its-ass society, that I need to enjoy the irresponsible, unregulated fuckery that Belgium is to the greatest extent possible while I can. And the driver's licence is a case in point; here, it will take a minimum of three months, while in Canada or Australia I'd be looking at a minimum of two fucking years. Unpasteurized dairy is another case in point. If I wanted raw milk in Canada or Australia, I'd have to set up some sort of illicit operation with a farmer; here, I walk to the street market and point. With the corollary that I can buy delicious cheese that smells like Death Herself and tastes like blue heaven at any supermarket, while in Canada or Australia it's all sanitized to the point of tastelessness.

And if I wanted to kayak in Canada or Australia, even in a river that I could wade along for its entire course, I'd have to have a life jacket; here, I can spend the entire day on a river with about 200 people without seeing one. Rock. And. Roll. I think I'll take Friday off and that we'll head back to the area - the park looks incredible, so it'd be good to spend a day there - running up and down the Roman ruins, playing amateur archaelogist, and spelunking in an irresposible, dangerous, and oh-so-Belgian manner. Wheeeeee!