I know I should be grateful that the company where I teach twice a week pays for a taxi home. And I am. Really I am. There’d be no other way of getting there otherwise – public transport in these parts being what it is – and I’d be missing out on a lot of easyish money.
But oh, Belgian taxis. Firstly, they are never on time. Well, not never, not exactly, but when they are late, they are properly late. And there is never an apology. We Brits are compulsive apologisers, and it grates to live in a country where saying you’re sorry is optional at best. Like the woman at the taxi firm’s office who stated that she took no responsibility for the mix-up which had caused her to cancel a taxi which we had not asked for her to cancel. That it was actually her fault entirely is almost insignificant: in England I like to think she would have said “I’m sorry about the inconvenience” or at least “I’m sorry, but it really isn’t my fault”, even if she hadn’t meant it. And not hearing “sorry” makes me cross, even crosser than I already am when I’ve waited forty-five minutes for a taxi.
And then when it arrives, you ought to be grateful, or at least relieved, and you try to be, you try to tell yourself that you are imagining the smell of stale cigarettes impregnating every fibre of the car. But you are not imagining it: it is every bit as real as the no smoking stickers on every door. At least today they haven’t sprayed the odour-eating chemical which only serves to increase the nausea and headache brought on by residual cigarette smoke.
But even without all that, you’d still feel nauseous: there’s the stop-start driving, the swerving round corners, the fear when the driver keeps turns most of his attention to the form he is filling in. (“Don’t be so nervous, Madam, I do this all the time,” he says when you ask him if he wouldn’t mind waiting until the car has stopped.) There’s the screeching to an abrupt stop a few metres past the red traffic light then reversing back up the main road to rectify his position. (Again, of course, no apology; no acknowledgement that any of this is anything other than a mundane everyday occurrence.)
It’s only a ten-minute drive, but it’s the most stressful minutes of my week, and it takes a little while to shake off the nausea. I’d complain if I thought it would make any difference. Instead, I update my Facebook status accordingly and vow to blog about it someday.