Thursday, May 26, 2011

Thurs 26 May - Sun, Sun, Sun

We've had weeks of the stuff. Very much like last year, the weather has been picture perfect since the beginning of March. Almost every day has had hours upon hours of brilliant, near unbroken, sunshine, accompanied by wonderfully cloudless blue skies. I'm in heaven. Can't ever remember having such a long, sustained period of fine weather in England. And this after being forewarned before I moved out here that it rains rather a lot in Belgium. Well, apart from my first month here (back in Nov 2009), it's barely rained in 18 months.

Indeed, it was confirmed yesterday that it has been the driest and sunniest spring in Belgium for 118 years with over 652 hours of sunshine recorded.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Wed 4 May - Half Time

I've reached the half way stage. 18 months in Belgium and still standing. Living abroad really is rather cool. I'd recommend it to anyone. And it shows you that you don't have to be living in the cultural capital of the world to enjoy yourself. Yes, there's very little to do in Mons, but I'm really not complaining. I have my Grand Place, my friends, my European excursions, and the never ending journey that is learning a foreign language.

I can pretty much make myself understood in most scenarios now, but the comprehension part is still lagging behind. Sometimes I find myself understanding very little, other times I understand loads.

My view of Belgians hasn't really altered much: fun, friendly, helpful, down to earth, but the most unreliable people I've ever met. I do also think that there's something quite anarchical about this place. And I'm not just referring to the obvious government-less bit. I think laws and rules here are simply things passed for the sake of looking busy, as opposed to things to be followed. The police don't ever seem to be concerned by the dangerous and speeding drivers (often one and the same), or the drunks who piss in the middle of the street, or the guys who wander around smoking weed, or the people who hold up traffic whilst they unload furniture from their house on a main road.

These are just tiny snippets. It's not easy to describe, but when you live here, you really do get a sense of living somewhere where you could probably get away with doing most things. Not much seems to bother Belgians. They seem more than happy to live their lives at a plodding, almost comastose, pace. In that sense, what better place not to form a government.

(I should say that from now on, and in fact on most occasions, when I speak, and have been speaking, about Belgium and Belgians, I am referring to Wallonia and Walloons. From the moment I set foot in Flanders, and to this very day, I regard Flanders and the Flemings as a totally different country, with different people. And because I live in Mons, and most of my experiences come from Wallonia, this is the Belgium I'm talking about.)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tues 3 May

Had to pay a visit to my bank's main branch today as my bank card was swallowed up by one of the ATMs in Mons yesterday. The screen got stuck at the "one moment, please," bit. I actually managed to stay pretty calm about it. Even when I realised there was no one around to ask for help. It was of course 4pm. Why should anyone be around at such an hour? Even with a 90mins lunch break factored in at 12.30pm.

I did however catch a glimpse of someone working in the office at the back. So, I pressed the buzzer, but was told in no uncertain terms that there was nothing they could do, and to ring the number on the screen to report what had happened. There then followed one of those conversations that only someone who lives in a foreign country, and has yet to fully master the language, has: I start chatting away and think I've made myself clear. She asks me something which I don't understand. I repeat what I've just said. She then asks me something else which I only half understand. I then ask for help. She says no. I ask for advice. She repeats herself. This time I understand her. I say thank you. She hangs up. My card is still stuck in the machine.

So, I pressed the buzzer again, demanding that someone come out and help me. My main worry was what would happen should the machine eventually spit out my card. I'd be waiting for about 15mins now. I couldn't hang around all day.

The woman who came out was rude, unsympathetic, and no help whatsoever. We ended up having the same conversation all over again, only this time I was able to understand her. They can't access the machine themselves. Why should they? It's only a cash machine in the place they work in. I know that I would probably have got a similar response in England. Only more sympathetic, slightly condescending, a few sorrys, but equally as useless. Oh banks. There just aren't enough swear words.

In the end, my visit today resulted in me being given a temporary card whilst I wait 2 weeks for the new one to be posted. All pretty straighforward, and a bit bizarre, as I spoke in French, whilst the man behind the counter spoke in English. At least he understood me, and I certainly understood him.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sunday 1 May

No government. Who cares. Certainly not Belgium.