Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Quirky things about Belgium: unpredictable efficiency

For weeks now, I've been meaning to blog in impressed tones about how well Belgium has coped with this unusually cold winter.

Impressed tones, but slightly wistful ones nonetheless: there was something truly lovely last year about looking out on sugar-coated London gardens from deep inside a centrally-heated bedroom, safe in the knowledge that no one expects to you get to work in such - shuddder - freezing weather.

No such nonsense prevails in Belgium, though. I'm told there is a law effectively banning "snow days": you are not allowed to skip work for such ridiculous reasons as a journey time of two hours in each direction on treacherous roads. The trains still run (with no more than usual delays). Life, believe it or not, goes on.

Here, when it snows, you put just add an extra layer, curse Skechers for being unable to make boots that last longer than a month, then keep calm and carry on. As you might in Russia, in fact.

In Russia, I would expect these kinds of cultural differences. Yet it seems that even after nearly a year here I can still be taken by surprise by how different my two homes are despite their geographical proximity. As a Brit, everything in me screamed, stay at home! Snow day! Nothing will be working! And one of the many joys of the self-employed is in fact the free exercise of such choices. So you'd have thought... But no. When in Rome, and all that.

So, off I went this morning, mildly irritated when my first student called five minutes into my journey to cancel her lesson: the buses weren't moving, she said, and she was understandably fed up with waiting in the cold. I should, at that point, have listened to my British instincts, and come straight home to be - erm, I mean to write my novel, but I reasoned that since the bus had always run so far, even on the snowiest of days, it would surely be fine by the time I needed it.

Oh, you of such great faith.

No buses; none. At least non on the 47 bus route, which constituted the last ten minutes of a journey which takes an hour and a half. So close, yet far enough away to get back on a tram, back on a train, and come home to have my heart as well as my body warmed by the season finale of the Gilmore Girls over a plate of pasta and pesto.

The train, of course, ran more or less on time, and here's my point: make your mind up, please, Belgium. Either be hopelessly inefficient (as I've come to expect, even to find endearing at times) and allow me to take one look out of the window and stay at home, guiltlessly confident that no one will mind because it's impossible to get anywhere anyway.

Or surprise us all with your sudden and uncharacteristic inefficiency.

But please choose one, and stick with it. I'm not sure your unpredictability is any more endearing in you than it is in a hormal woman.

1 comment:

yasmine said...

I agree with your article. There is this kind of inconsistency about Belgium (in)efficiency. As they expect you to strictly adhere to the line waiting for something small to be done for you, and you see that no one around u is complaining of the long waiting time, standing on your feet, u finally get to the front of the line to see a very bored unfriendly clerk, usually a woman, who wouldn't give u your waiting-time's worth kind of service. So, you're strictly expected to abide by the rules, but you shouldn't anticipate the same in return.