Just let that sink in a moment…
We’d visited Leuven, our new university town in Flanders. We knew from friends that the Belgian social security system treated international students and their families well. After a hasty application to a doctoral program, a tangle of convoluted bureaucracy, and even more puzzling moving logistics, we were ready for…
Stage One: The Honeymoon
Yay, Europe! Trains! Everything’s in walking distance, and there are bike paths everywhere.
Open-air markets! And charming little pharmacies on every corner where they mix their own medicines? Ah hey, look, stores keep moderate hours so that workers can go home and be with their families. That’s nice.
There are beautiful monasteries all over town, and the university campus includes a 16th-century castle!?
Europe is so cool.
Maybe I’ll learn Dutch!
Do you see how the servers here don’t hover anxiously around you? I feel like we could just sit at this sidewalk cafe all day and no one would mind or even notice us… These tiny coffee cups are cute!
Mmmmm… french fries…
Stage Two: Anxiety
So how does the train schedule work? That’s not the time I read on the web site, Oh, maybe I screwed up the whole military time thing again…
Whoa! Mopeds can go on the bike lanes!? Doesn’t that seem a bit dangerous?
And where are you supposed to find fresh milk? This ultra-pasteurized stuff tastes scuzzy to me.
Wait, they only sell Tylenol at the pharmacies — not the convenience stores? What are their hours again?
So, Dutch is hard.
Seriously, where’s our waiter? I wish we could get some free refills; these coffee servings are tiny.
And they eat their french fries with mayonnaise. (I hate mayonnaise.)
Stage 2, cont.: Anxiety Turns Ugly
Oh no. No-no. That’s the second bike we’ve had stolen!
And those goddamn moped riders are gonna KILL US one of these days! They have MOTORS, for Chrissake! They should be on the street!
Why can’t we find a decent bagel in this entire continent? And why are chocolate chips so expensive — not to mention maple syrup! Aren’t there any maple trees in Europe!?
Oh NO! We forgot to get children’s Tylenol, and the pharmacies are all closed for some weird holiday, and I can’t figure out which two in this whole city are supposed to stay open today! Where’s a freaking CVS when you need on?
Europe is stupid. And Dutch is stupid, too. Who puts prepositions at the ends of sentences!?
AND WHERE IS OUR DAMN WAITER? I feel like we’ve been sitting at this sidewalk cafe ALL DAY, and no one has even noticed us.
You know what!? Not only do they eat fries with mayonnaise, but, just like Vincent Vega said, they (like the Dutch) drown ’em in that shit. Then they give you a worthless tiny plastic fork with which to fish them out… It’s downright insulting, it is.
Stage 3: Adjustment
You know, those baby bike seats sure help a momma get around. Hey, maybe we should take a train to see the Dutch tulip fields in the spring…
Oh, I found the dairy stand at the open-air market! Fresh milk in charming little glass bottles. We just have to figure out the best way to get them home… Maybe one of those bike wheel bag thingies?
Can’t forget to stop by the pharmacy on the way home! Tomorrow’s Belgian Independence Day.
You know, once you figure out the sentence order, Dutch isn’t really so bad…
Sure, let’s get some fries, but make sure they put the mayonnaise on the side, ok? Whenever you see the waiter…
Stage 4: Acceptance
Good thing the kids’ school and day care are both within easy biking distance! Free preschool is the best.
Now to tidy up, swing by the market and check on our garden plot near the abbey…
Oh, there’s Lotte’s mom! “Goede voormiddag!”
Maybe there will even be time to lounge at a sidewalk cafe with a book and a tiny coffee until school’s out.
You know? Belgium’s alright.
…But I still hate mayonnaise.