Saturday, November 02, 2013

Adventures in Expatriating: Day 1

I arrived in Brussels this morning for my 3-month stint. The day was pretty rough. I was only able to sleep about an hour and a half on my flight from Chicago to Brussels and arrived completely exhausted. Last week, T-Mobile assured me that my plan was fine and I would be able to text internationally, so that is how I planned to connect with the person to let me into our temporary apartment. But when I landed, my phone wouldn't connect to any network. Panic. Found a payphone in baggage claim, tried to call, no answer. Left a message, got my bag, and took a cab to the place. Nobody here. I stood on the street for about 5 minutes freaking out, knocking and ringing the broken doorbell every 40 seconds or so in hopes that somebody would materialize inside. I figured that either I used the phone wrong (totally possible) or dialed the wrong number, so standing outside would do no good. I dragged my two suitcases up the street hoping to find something—a cafe, a pay phone, a magical wireless hotspot. At the end of my block I found a laundromat, Quickly Wash, with what I thought was a pay phone inside. Not a pay phone. More panic until I saw the free wifi sign. Used my computer to call the girl to meet me. She heard me for the first 2 minutes but then could hear nothing more. I called back, yelling into my computer in the laundromat. Still couldn't hear, but I could hear her say, "I'll be there in 2 minutes."

And this is how I spent my first hour and a half as an expatriate.

Many people have no problems operating on little sleep. I am not one of those people. I tried very hard to stay up as the internet had advised in order to overcome jet lag and decided that going out for a walk and visit to the grocery store would be a good idea. My first interaction was in a little food shop to get a piece of pumpkin quiche. In French. I took French in high school, and was really good at it then, but it has been 15 years since high school and I am not so good anymore. I can muddle through speaking ok, but I am having a horrible time understanding when people speak to me. Given my state of utter exhaustion, I smiled and nodded and pretended I understood most of it, but really I just wanted the goddamn food. It was good.

Then the grocery store. I remember walking into the market in Tokyo and being completely and utterly amazed. So many aisles, all of it perfectly organized. Of course, I realize I'm in Europe, not Japan, but I expected to be a little more excited by the strangeness of things than I was in the Place Flagey Delhaize. I spent 15 minutes trying to find milk. The eggs weren't in the fridge, but that's not unusual with farm fresh eggs. I gave up thinking there was some kind of strange milk crisis or a secret place you had to go to get milk. Yes, seriously. On the way home—after nearly getting hit by a car in the crosswalk, which I swear was not my fault—I stopped in a smaller market and asked the guy for milk. He pointed to the shelves next to him like I was an idiot. Milk. Lots of it. Not in the fridge, and in boxes like the ones I buy my organic chicken broth in. I also struck out finding steel cut oats. Multiple varieties of muesli, though. Muesli everywhere.

Demoralized, stressed out, and exhausted, I came home, showered, put on sweat pants, curled up on the couch, and turned on the TV. 2 out of 30 channels in English. I fell asleep watching cooking shows on BBC and slept for a few hours. I woke up feeling somewhat refreshed and decided to putter around before taking another shot at the outside world. I found an organic health foods store nearby thinking that they would have brown rice and oats for sure. Rice yes, oats no. On the way to and from, I discovered a street with 3 butchers and a fish market, and a weird little 99 cent-type store. Score. But so hungry. I wasn't ready for fries, so I went to Cafe Belga for a beer and some manner of food. Shitty grilled cheese sandwich and a gueuze. A gueuze on tap. And then Lou Reed started to play in the bar. It all made me happy for the first time all day.

My husband arrives tomorrow night, and I'm very much looking forward to having a companion.

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