Friday, March 24, 2006


When I woke up this morning, my youngest son was in our bed, so hot I could barely touch him, wimpering "I need a drink of water". I got him a cup of water and he started drinking like there was no tomorrow. It all came right back up, all over me, all over the bed. Good morning!

It’s very obvious when children are sick. Everything about them tells you they are sick: the way they talk, move, or feel (hot, hot, hot!). They don’t just get a fever, they get a temperature of 39,5°C and you watch over them all night fearing that they will have a seizure any second. But they sleep and sleep and drink water and let you give them fever reducer. And then they get better.

By Lovain

Monday, March 20, 2006

Top manager á la Belgium

Belgian Television station VT4 is broadcasting “De Topmanager” and I can’t help but watching it. It’s the CEO of Capco that is selecting a manager out of originally 16 candidates; 8 men and 8 women. In the pilot, the candidates were divided into 2 teams, men against women, and every broadcast delivers a winner and a looser. The winning team gets a prize; a fancy dinner or an outing, while the loosing team is summoned by Mr. CEO and one of its members dismissed. The first 3 rounds have been won by the women, and 3 men have had to leave.

The show itself is not as interesting as the smashing way it completely confirms my stereotype of Belgian leadership. In my experience, your average Belgian manager will assume a position of authority, not communicate with his team, let the team take charge and hereby create chaos and when things go wrong, blame it on someone completely different. “Yes, we promised to deliver your parking permits upon payment within 3 days, but the printing company did not let us know that they would not be able to make the badges in less than a week, so I’m afraid you are going to have to wait”.

Last time, the mission was to buy low and sell high. The groups got 1000€ each, 2 days, and the group to make the highest profit would win. The men selected a project manager, spent most of the first day not agreeing on what to buy, none of the members cooperating, everybody pushing for their own ideas and eventually they lost, making nearly no profit at all. The whole time, the Project manager was trying to act like a manager but could direct the group in no way. When confronted, he blamed a 3rd party for the loss, and he was, of course, not dismissed.

By Lovain

Monday, March 13, 2006

Doctor, I'm sick.

I have a cold again; sore throat, runny congested nose, headache and a slight fever. I feel sick but not sick enough to go to the doctor.

If you work, and you get sick here in Belgium, you have to go to the doctor within 24 hours to get a doctor’s note. You give this note to your employer to verify that you are sick. This way you also get financial compensation. Even if it’s just a cold and all you need is a day’s rest, you have to go to the doctor for the note.

Of course the doctor can’t just write you a note. You are paying her 20€. She has to act as if you are there for an exam and a diagnose; She’ll give you a thorough check-up and then say “You have a viral infection. A cold, that is. Normally you should feel better within a couple of days.” I KNOW! It’s a cold, yes. I came for the note! Just give me 2 days in bed.

She will always suggest treatment. “I will proscribe you Aspirin and nose spray. Try to rest and drink water”. Well, thank you very much. I'll take the note.

by Lovain

Friday, March 10, 2006

A Desperate Househusband

I was at work when I got an email from the husband yesterday afternoon. We were going to have a small dinner party in the evening, and the e-mail was of the anxious kind, reading something like “the pesto turned out too bitter (too much basil), the house is a mess, the boys have destroyed their room, and I don’t know how to get the meringues the way you need them! Please hurry home”. The husband sounded like a desperate housewife.

By Lovain

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

No smoking, please

T. the Dane is going back to work in the shipping industry. After a few years of rest, he is ready to resume the busy life he once led. His stories from his past life are like those of sailors. Like the time when he and his team were invited by Philip Morris to a weekend in Amsterdam. After checking in to the hotel, they went up to their floor, only to find that there were ‘no smoking’ signs in all the rooms. On the beds, Philip Morris had left complimentary cigarette packages.

By Lovain

Friday, March 03, 2006

A catholic priest and two Rabbis once conducted a wedding ceremony...

Our friends W. and A. got married last year. W. was studying to be a catholic priest when he met A. and decided to leave the priesthood for a less celibate relationship. A. is Jewish. It was an interesting wedding, to say the least. Between “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, AMEN” we shouted “MAZEL TOV” as W. crushed a glass, and the ceremony was conducted by a Catholic Priest and two Rabbis under a Chuppa in a catholic church. I’m sure God has seen stranger things, although I don't know if I have. They are now a very happy couple.

At the party on Saturday, just as A. & W. were leaving, A. brought me over to our bookshelf and whispered “To what I am about to ask, you are not allowed to react or respond in any way. Do not say a word and do not make a sound”.

Then she pointed to my What to expect when you’re expecting and asked “Could I borrow this?”

My whole body must have reacted because she immediately went “Shhhhhh!!!! Not a word! Not a word!” And I said “But…?!” and she said “Sssssshhhhhhh!” again but I insisted “How many weeks?” and she told me she was 2 weeks over due but she seemed not to have taken a test yet to confirm, so it’s in no way official. Of course, everybody has been asking them, since they got married, when they were going to have their first baby, but so far they’ve said that they are waiting because W. is not ready to become a father (something about fear of not living up to the ideal). I guess he got ready.

I just wanted to say CONGRATULATIONS, but I will have to wait a bit.

By Lovain

Friends forever!

On Saturday night, I threw a birthday party for the husband. Friends came and lots of food & drink was consumed. The husband seemed to enjoy himself. However, on Sunday he started on a rant that has been heard before: “I don’t have any real friends” or “they all just came because you invited them” or “I don’t think anybody really likes me or finds me interesting – they all think I’m weird”. The husband does this every now and then and there is no reason to. Some of our friends are good friends with the husband: there’s Dr. J., the Canadian baseball player, who wrote his doctorate dissertation on Feuerbach, Texas-born M. who is struggling with his dissertation on Thomas Aquinas, and newly-wed R. who is a Kant scholar just like the husband – in short; there are good friends.

I know what’s bothering the husband: The friends might be good friends but they are not Affleck-T. who was here a few years ago. Affleck-T. and the husband were inseparable. Constantly arguing, never agreeing, hours, days and nights on end. They talked about everything and nothing. They still do. They can have a 4 hour conversation over the phone, and when they hang up I ask the husband “How is Affleck-T.’s wife?” or “How is the baby?” and the husband answers “I don’t know” because they talked about Barry Bonds the whole time.

Affleck-T. went back to the USA and lives with his wife and children in the Boston area.

Living abroad, you do loose some of your investment in friendships, because you’ll make friends with other expats, and they seem to move more than other friends. After you move, you remain friends (most of the time) but it’s the everyday friendship that you miss.

By Lovain

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Enjoying spring break in the winter...

This week is spring break here in Belgium. In Swedish it’s called sport break and in Dutch it’s crocus break.

I took 2 days off work to spend some extra time with the boys. On Sunday we went to the market in Brussels but there was no sign of spring: the fruit was still expensive and it was too cold to enjoy the ethnic food. Then yesterday it snowed all day so we went to the swimming pool.

I think perhaps the Swedes were right this year: this week has neither spring nor crocus; just sport.

By Lovain