Managed to withdraw and then pay some money into my new Belgian bank account using one of the smallest banks I have ever seen. As you open the front door there is just enough space for you to use the ATM. After standing around for a bit wondering where the actual bank was, my powers of deduction told me that it must be the door (the only one) right in front of me. As you open the (blacked out) door you are immediately facing the cashiers’ desk. My pigeon French worked a treat and with a ‘merci beaucoup’ and a smile I was out of there. Very useful though that branch, seeing as it is about 3mins walk away from our house.
My next mission was to return to the mobile phone shop and this time buy a phone. No more small talk. Damn, a different guy serving. Didn’t like the look of this one. I showed him the deal I wanted and then got him to answer a few of my questions. I understood a lot of what he said but was still perplexed by the fact that even though it was a ‘pay as you go’ (or pay & go as they call it here) phone, I still had to spend a minimum of 10E a month. Didn’t make any sense. We exchanged a few raised eyebrows and shrugged shoulders as I just stood there, probably looking confused, and with a very sweaty face, boiling in all my layers.
I then went over to choose which phone I wanted. This kind of thing really doesn’t interest me. I just want a phone that makes and receives calls and can send texts. I don’t care about video stuff, or recording crap, or cameras, or the internet. I’ve got a computer and a camera for all that. Philistine. Settled on the 49 E Nokia one. Partly because it was one of the cheapest and partly because it looked quite nice. I then hesitated about going back to the front desk as a queue was starting to form. In an ideal world, the shop would be empty bar me and him so I could happily practice my beginner’s French without fear of sounding like a tool in front of a crowd. I’ll settle for sounding like a tool in front of only one other person. But, mobile phone shops are pretty popular places and people kept coming in.
Finally I got served and we had another discussion about the merits of the different types of deals I wanted. Basically, I was still none the wiser and really didn’t understand this 10 E a month lark. This quickly became a three way discussion with the young guy behind me who very kindly offered me some advice (yeah, piss off mate. I’ve been waiting 10mins while you keep banging on about the same thing, over and over again. And by the way, your French is atrocious).
This was, however, a wonderful opportunity for me to practice my French and this probably went on for about 20mins, irrespective of the long queue behind us. Even the young guy’s attempts to practice out his English on me (he had lived in London many years ago and spent 6 months working in a restaurant) didn’t wash. I insisted on only speaking French and he was more than happy to oblige, despite me using English words whenever my vocabulary ran out.
Finally, we were all ready to proceed with me buying the phone and signing up for a deal that I still didn’t fully understand, but hey, I probably would have been none the wiser in a phone shop in England. And then the shop assistant said something in French, which I thought was: “do you have your bank card?” But, no he didn’t want my cash card but some form of ID. Merde. I told him that I didn’t yet have a Belgian ID card (god, if that was the criteria it’d be Christmas 2010 before I could buy a phone). A passport would have been fine he said. Did I have it on me? No.
And with that I left the shop without a phone. Now if this scenario had taken place in England I would probably have been pretty annoyed, calling the shop assistant a wanker under my breath, but only once I was walking away, and within safe distance of the shop. But as I was rather proud of my French speaking exploits, I left with a huge smile on my face. I also, as I was grinning and blaming “Belgian Bureaucracy,” remembered something that was proposed by the EU a few years ago which meant that all phone shops had to let the authorities know the name and details of every person who bought a phone from them (in the name of counter-terrorism, naturally). No idea if this has become an actual policy. I guess it probably has.
And with this newly found confidence I popped into the tourist information centre and asked them (en Français, of course) whether there were any websites dedicated to language exchanges for people in Mons wanting to improve their English in return for people like me wanting to work on their French. All the time being ever so paranoid that he’d be thinking that what I was really after was a list of internet dating sites. It seems that the universities (of which there are 3 I believe) will be the best places to start. Hopefully, there’ll be people advertising for such a thing on various noticeboards. I’m sure some of the students will know whether there’s a Mons equivalent to ‘gumtree’ or something similar.
Right, that was a long account of what probably seems like a very non-eventful day. But, trust me, any opportunity to speak French with a native is not to be sniffed at.
And of course I popped into my favourite supermarket (called Match, by the way) on the way home. I am also pleased to say that I have counted 4 chocolate shops so far in Mons.