Monday, April 26, 2010

A little Introspection

Indecision. I have to wonder if it plagues anyone other than me, though I know deep down that it does.

I am so torn between whether I am self-centered and selfish to a fault, or selfless to the point of sacrificing my own happiness for that of others (or, in some cases, just one other). How do I know which? Or is it both, each being spurred on by the other.

All of my life I have been plagued by indecisiveness. When asked to pick a stuffed animal or 2 to have on my bed, I had to have all of them so as to hurt no ones’ feelings. When asked what was my favorite day of the week, my answer was all of them for different reasons (assignment failed). When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I had 5 or more answers, depending on the day. I always thought that when I grew up, I would somehow know what it was that I wanted to do, whether it turned out to be veterinarian, marine biologist, concert organizer, writer... but the older I got, the more confused I became.

Every time I decided to focus on something new, I would make it to a certain stage, and then it would cease to be fun, or, what I had imagined it to be. Just like when I went to Sunday school at the local synagogue and quit the moment we started to actually learn Hebrew. I’m not sure if I lack the drive or focus, or if I just like too many things.

As it turns out, one of the upsides of this particular personality trait is that I’ve become a bit of a renaissance man (er, girl). I know a lot about a lot, just not enough about any one thing to be any kind of expert. I can tell you all about the parts of a cell, talk knowledgeably about taxonomy, quote many great writers, tell you all about music from the Middle Ages to what is playing on the radio as I type this. I can skillfully clean an espresso machine, snake a drain, train a cat, cook a delicious coq au vin. I can do all these things and more, but where does all the fit in on a CV/resume?

I feel that I have been trapped by Brussels. When people ask me how I, an American, came to live here, I find it hard to tell them the truth. I came here for my husband. I came here for him and for his job without a second thought to what I would do. Sure, I had TEFL certification, but did I really want to teach? No. It was merely a plan for something I could do until something better came along, though I still have no idea what that was supposed to be. I’ve lived here for 1 1/2 years, and I have never had both feet in the country. I have ideas like opening up an English language bookstore, or starting an English language newspaper, but I know those will take time, and I plan on being out of here in 2 years, maximum.

So what’s left for me here? I’m teaching a lesson or 2 a week, working part time (very part time) at a cafe and doing a tiny amount of baking (for said cafe), and I’m doing some babysitting on the side. Though I’ve applied for many an office job (at the US Embassy and NATO) I don’t really have the right skill set (or interest) for those kinds of jobs to make me all that happy. I don’t want to work for a big corporation, or a consultancy, and I really have no interest in public diplomacy. It doesn’t help matters that my French is barely functional. (I am really quite good at stating what I do not want and what I am not good at, but not so good at the opposite.) So, as it turns out, Brussels is not the best place for little old me.

But there I go, blaming Brussels, when, wouldn’t it be similar (if not just the same) anywhere I go? My indecisiveness would come right back to bite me in the ass, and I would be right back to where I am no, just at a different locale. What does this mean for my future? Am I doomed to work at jobs I am unhappy in (or, perhaps simply bored by) for the rest of my life? Should I just bite the bullet and get the non-ideal job, knowing that it does not have to be permanent, just so I have something to do with my time (not to mention an income)? Am I clinging too hard to my principles to let myself even have half a chance?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

1 Kiss, or 2? (Or maybe 3?)

As an American in Europe, I encounter all kinds of cultural differences and I try to adapt accordingly. These include everything from table manners (eating everything on the plate vs. stopping when full) to how direct to be when asking a favor (extreme American politeness vs. being straightforward to to the point). I have found problems with one, in particular, that until recently I remained silent about. Kissing people on the cheek. I have no problem with the custom, in fact, I think it's nice! No, my problem lies in the awkwardness of the nuances in that custom.

Some people kiss on 1 cheek. Right or left. Some kiss on both, right then left, or vice versa. Then you get into the 3 kisses, right left right? Left right left? Which way you go and how many often depends on the nationality of the person you are dealing with. But then, if a French person meets a Dutch person, whose style gets precedence? As an American, do I get a say in the style? If I start going left, does the other person have to go left? What if we both go in the wrong direction and bump noses (or worse, lips?)? What if I go for one, they go for 2, and I look like I don't like them, because I can only stand for 1 kiss? Or what about the opposite? If I go for another kiss and come on too strong? Or what if they don't do the kiss thing at all, and are really just going for a hug and I get it all wrong? Oh, the anxiety!

And then there's the kind of kiss. There's the actual full contact kiss on the cheek, the cheek touching and kissy noises (but no actual kissing), there's the cheek touch, but no kissy noises, the air kiss with no touching of the faces... I'm sure there are more, and all add to the anxiety fo these social encounters! So what if I go for a full on kiss on the cheek and totally offend someone who wants nothing to do with my lips on their face?

And then you get into how soon do you kiss people? Normally there's one meeting with just a hand shake and then after that kisses are fair game. But what if this is a business associate? A client? A friend of a friend? How many meetings does it take to get to that level of familiarity? Do people get offended if I get it wrong?

Perhaps there should be a standard way of doing it? Or if that is no good, what about a list of guidelines for the outsider (erm, me) so I don't feel so flustered every time I say hello or goodbye to someone and end up feeling completely awkward!

Though I have to say, I feel better knowing that this is a problem for others, including other Europeans! The Irish, the Germans, the French, the Dutch! I'm not alone! Still, though, I would love to have a version of the kiss greeting to stick to that could at least be somewhat universal. Anyone else?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Newspapers in Belgium

To whomever reads this in Brussels, or really, anywhere in Belgium...

I know there are daily newspapers like Le Soir and De Standaard online as well as the less regular Bulletin and Flanders Today, but do you feel the need for a more regular local newspaper in English? I find that I settle for not knowing what is going on around me rather than look online or try to decipher newspapers in other languages. Yesterday's incident made me realize that if the incident had not happened so close to me, I doubt I would have known about it at all. It really made me realize how little I know about the goings on in the country I live in.

So here's the question: If there was an English language free daily paper, would you pick it up? Read it? Even get it delivered? I'd love to hear any opinions.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Armed Robbery, 1 Dead, 2 Injured

There are so many things I've been wanting to write about lately, and I will get to them. First, though, I have to address something that happened today very close to where I live in Brussels.

I live on Rue Saint Boniface, which is a very "up-and-coming" neighborhood with lots of restaurants, cafes, bars, etc. It also blends with the Matonge, which is the Congolese quarter. Many of the buildings are beautiful and boast Art Nouveau architecture. This area is also a real mixing pot of all different cultures, inhabited by immigrants, expats and even a few Belgians! It may have its faults, but I have really enjoyed living in such a dynamic and lively place.

Today, though, something happened that is making me consider moving to another area. I was just finishing lunch with Miguel, our friend Laura had just left with her little dog, Wilson, in tow. It was nice and sunny outside, so we had the window open. That's when we started hearing sirens. More and more sirens, prompting us to look out the window. Traffic was being re-directed, there were lots of police cars and some ambulances, then a helicopter circling. Miguel was about to go back to work, so he said he would check it out and let me know.

About 10 minutes later he called to tell me someone had been shot outside the jewelry store on Chausee de Wavre (just about a block from our apartment). He said they were blocking everything off and treating someone on the street, someone may have died. I went down to find the situation unchanged, I couldn't see much, but the helicopter continued to circle ominously.

I later came across this article (which can be translated via Google translate).

I'm still rather shocked about this. I know violence happens in cities, as do robberies, drug use, etc., but to have a violent crime happen just a stone's throw from my front door makes me uneasy to say the least.

UPDATE Both robbers in the Chausse de Wavre case were apprehended. Now, Brussels is dealing with another jewelry store robbery in Schaerbeek in which one of the assailants was killed and the other wounded by the shop owner. There was also a fatal shooting on the ring road as well as riots in Saint-Gilles.