Been away the last week and a bit. To get married. But anyway, today was the day I'd earmarked for going along to the tax office, merely a few hundred yards from where I live, with my end of year tax return form to ask for advice. Preferably for them to fill it in for me. The Belgian tax year runs from January to December and everyone has until 30 June of the following year to submit their forms.
I was clearly not the only one in need of help. There were already about 50 odd people queuing outside at 9am. Everyone clutching hold of their forms. I assumed this was the queue I wanted to be in so I joined it and listened in on peoples' conversations so see how much French I could understand. Apparently, the forms this year have been the hardest yet to complete. Few people could understand them. Their family couldn't even help them with it. They had no choice but to come to the tax office. "Bof, what else am I meant to do on a Friday morning? Work? Please!"
I eventually got to the entrance to be given a ticket like everyone else. I asked the young guy handing them out if anyone spoke English inside as this kind of thing was far too technical to manage at my level of French. Yes, of course he said. Absolutely. Of course there wasn't.
I followed some people who (seemed to) know what they were doing up some stairs, to be greeted by another queue. Once I got to the front, a woman took my form, took out all of the additional sections from it, the how to fill in your form bit, binned them and told me sit and wait outside one of the offices. This procedure was done for everyone.
I quickly learnt that the tickets did in no way correspond to an order for who is to be seen when. It really was a free for all. So, it was a question of let the people I thought were in front of me go in first, then follow them afterwards. When it was eventually my turn (probably) I looked around me, got a couple of nods of approval, which I took as my lead to go in, and entered an office with two people, one of whom was playing patience on his computer.
After waiting for a few minutes a woman came and spoke to me and after realising that I was in Belgium working as an independent/freelancer, told me I was in the wrong office and directed me to another one. Luckily, there was only one person in front of me so it was easy to work out who was next. Even for Belgians. Over the last couple of months I've been mentally compiling a list of things that I believe are imperative as part of a 'civilised society.' Queuing, British-style, is definitely one of them. The Belgians struggle with this.
My chat with the very friendly and smiley woman in the tax office lasted a matter of minutes. She quickly worked out that I had been posted the wrong form all those many weeks ago, saw the invoices I had received for the very little work I actually did in Belgium in 2009, filled in the correct form for me on her computer, and I was on my way. Easy. They may not be able to queue, but they're a damn friendly and helpful bunch these Walloons.