Friday, October 27, 2006

Belgian company structure: hierarchic management without responsibility

Having studied, worked and lived in Belgium for over 10 years, I’ve grown quite familiar with the culture and customs of this peculiar country. When it comes to the private sector (I will not get into the public sector today – it would require a special mood which I’m not in) I’ve gained a general insight into the operations of the system, and the company I currently work for is one of the most Belgian companies I’ve ever encountered.

When I first started here, I was not introduced to anyone. The structure of the company was not explained to me, I was not shown around and the person who hired me did not give away any information on how things actually work. I was given a desk, a phone and the basic instructions “take care of anything that comes your way”. Over this past year I’ve somewhat figured out who is responsible or part of the managment, but I’m actually not entirely sure; especially not after the coffee machine incident last week.

Apparently there have been complaints regarding the coffee for a long time, and eventually this April we found out that 2 candy machines and a new coffee machine had been ordered and would be installed in June. Because it was a fancier brand, the coffee would no longer be free but cost 10c/cup. Last week (yes, end of October; another Belgian custom that never fails to stand out) the new coffee machine was installed (no sight of the candy machines yet though). Already the next day, the company had to come back because there was a problem. People had immediately started reporting that this coffee was much worse than the old one, and that there must be something wrong with the machine. I don’t drink coffee but I do like a cup of hot chocolate now and then, so I proceeded to try the “chocolate de Luxe” which I indeed, had I not seen the label, might have mistaken for “burnt water de Luxe”; it was terrible! There wasn’t something wrong with the machine, however, and eventually INGE, this lady that I have still to place on my hierarchical chart (I know she is NOT part of the management however), had a tasting session that ended in the typical comment “het valt mee”, which basically means that “it’s not bad”, or “it’s all right”, whereupon everybody shrugged their shoulders and returned to their desks. So on this verdict, the coffee machine company left, and here we are now: we have a coffee machine with worse coffee than before AND we have to pay for it. Nobody is taking on the task of rectifying the error because well, NOBODY is responsible.

By Lovain

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Men simply get sicker than women

As I was starting to feel better over the weekend, the Husband got sick; a light throat infection followed by a cold. Being a man, of course, he immediately got 100 times sicker than I’ll ever be (including the time when I was pregnant and got pre-eclampsia and bile was leaking into my bloodstream because my organs were shutting down) and suggested that he has a lung- AND sinus infection. Last night he administered himself an overdose of Nyquil followed by, purportedly, 12 hour of sleep. I think he’s going to make it.

My Swedish friend U.’s boyfriend was sick last week, a cold as well, and he certainly outdoes the Husband when it comes to self-pity: My Swedish friend U. told me that he laid around the house talking about his upcoming death and ran down to the pharmacy for new medicines every day. He too, however, has got better.

By Lovain

A baby smile just made my day!

On Tuesday our friends A.& W. (see my post on Friday, March 03, 2006) had a little baby boy named Joachim William. I have not yet spoken to them (The Husband talked to the proud father W. on the phone yesterday) but they should be able to come to our Halloween party on Tuesday. The prospect of holding a new-born baby in my arms makes me smile, and enhances the excitement over the party.

My Polish colleague G. who had a baby last month was taken to work this morning by his wife and baby. I got to hold Rube in my arms for a few minutes and experience one of the most wonderful sights in the world; baby Rube smiled at me. I don’t care how tacky it sounds or how sappy it is; a baby smile can totally make my day!

By Lovain

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Illness give you time off from work but not from motherhood

As I’ve explained before (my post from Monday, March 13, 2006), if you work here in Belgium and you get sick; you go to the doctor and get a note, and the company covers your sick-leave 100%. This is important for us since I otherwise couldn’t afford to be sick.

Last Wednesday I woke up with a throat infection and have since been absent from work until today. When I finally returned to my desk this morning, my Brazilian, single, Madonna-fan colleague greeted me with a cheerful “Welcome back! Did you enjoy your holiday?” I still don’t feel 100%, I’m tired, stressed and lethargic; I couldn’t help but suppress his joke with a short lecture on parenthood: The doctor can very well write a note that lets me stay home from work, but the mother in me can’t call in sick – the boys still need food, clean clothes and baths, a ride to and from school - only to mention the essentials. Nobody else is going to take over these tasks while I’m sick; hence being sick while a mother is not a holiday. My Brazilian, single, Madonna-fan colleague will probably never have any children (he's a Brazilian, single, gay, Madonna-fan); however I think he got my point. Everything is different when you have kids.

By Lovain

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The things we learn from children

The following e-mail list came via my friend Texas-born M.'s mother from an anonymous Mother in Austin, Texas who must be raising boys, and I simply have to share it with you:

Things I've learned from my Children (honest & no kidding):

1. A king size waterbed holds enough water to fill a 2000 sq. ft. house 4 inches deep.
2. If you spray hair spray on dust bunnies and run over them with roller blades, they can ignite.
3. A 3-year olds voice is louder than 200 adults in a crowded restaurant.
4. If you hook a dog leash over a ceiling fan, the motor is not strong enough to rotate a 42 pound boy wearing Batman underwear and a Superman cape. It is strong enough, however, if tied to a paint can, to spread paint on all four walls of a 20x20 ft. room.
5. You should not throw baseballs up when the ceiling fan is on. When using a ceiling fan as a bat, you have to throw the ball up a few times before you get a hit. A ceiling fan can hit a baseball a long way.
6. The glass in windows (even double-pane) doesn't stop a baseball that was hit by a ceiling fan.
7. When you hear the toilet flush and the words "uh oh," it's already too late.
8. Brake fluid mixed with Clorox makes smoke, and lots of it.
9. A six-year old can start a fire with a flint rock even though a 36-year old man says they can only do it in the movies.
10. Certain Lego's will pass through the digestive tract of a 4 year old.
11. Play dough and microwave should not be used in the same sentence.
12. Super glue is forever.
13. No matter how much Jell-O you put in a swimming pool you still can't walk on water.
14. Pool filters do not like Jell-O.
15. VCR's do not eject Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwiches even though TV commercials show they do.
16. Garbage bags do not make good parachutes.
17. Marbles in gas tanks make lots of noise when driving.
18. You probably do not want to know what the odor is.
19. Always look in the oven before you turn it on .. plastic toys do not like ovens.
20. The fire department in Austin, TX has a 5-minute response time.
21. The spin cycle on the washing machine does not make earthworms dizzy.
22. It will, however, make cats dizzy.
23. Cats throw up twice their body weight when dizzy.
24. 60% of the men who read this will try mixing the Clorox and brake fluid.

By Lovain

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Busy times followed by sick times for a Swede in Leuven, Belgium

It was a busy week indeed. Last Thursday I went into Brussels for a job interview (yes, I'm tired of being underpaid), just to make it home in time for my oldest son's 5th birthday party and then the weekend entailed everything from a housewarming party to dress making. It was a productive week and things were looking good until I woke up Wednesday morning at 4 am with a throat infection. The pain was excruciating. My doctor took one good look at me and immediately prescribed 3 days bedrest. The Da Vinci Code, lots of medicine and the entire first season of Grey's Anatomy kept me on the couch as the Husband made lunches, brought the boys to school and managed the house.

As a mother and the wife of a thesis-writing doctorate student it is very hard to remain horizontally while witnessing the house quickly turned into something resembling the remains after hurricane Katrina. A throat infection leaves you no choice however - you just can't get up; you'll watch the boys turn the living room into a toy storage location/ breakfast cereal dump without moving a fin.

Today I finally got up. I've scrubbed the floors, washed clothes, wiped every surface and cleaned the kitchen. My throat still hurts but no enough to keep me in bed. I'm on the mend.

By Lovain

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Friday night dinner with best friends & good food - de-stressing indeed!

On Friday, the Husband was supposed to come up with something exciting for our Friday night dinner with our very good friends M&M, clean up the house/kitchen AND go shopping, but instead he impulsively went off to listen to a lecture given by Prof. Martin Stone at the philosophy institute, leaving me with 1 hour between coming home from work and guests arriving to clean up the house/kitchen (a mountain of dishes), prepare an interesting meal, and socialize with the boys I had seen very little of all week.

As I pulled up on our mini-driveway with 2 tired boys in the back, a Dr. Seuss quote came to mind “That [Husband] I am, that [Husband] I am, I do not like that [Husband] I am!”.

I did pull it off in the end. I found minced meat in the fridge and threw - while cleaning up and doing the dishes - together an, as it turned out, delicious minced meat pie and a salad. The Husband arrived right before our guests with steak & pasta, and quickly whipped up a fresh pesto made from herbs in our garden; as we topped this odd meal off with pumpkin pie (made the evening before), I could nothing but conclude that all is well that ends well. Texas-born M. ate himself sick as usual. We sat around the dinner table while the kids watched The Wizard of Oz, and chatted until way past our kids’ bedtime; although not extravagant in any way, it was one of those Friday evenings I know I will remember - one day far from here - from our time in Leuven.

By Lovain

Stressful sleep and taxing dreams

2 nights in a row now I’ve been having exceedingly stressful dreams: I dream that I oversleep, I’m late for work and my bike is broken, at one time I was in a car with some people driving but they didn’t know the way and we were late for a conference or something, I get to work and forget to log-in to the system for like an hour (=I don’t get paid for that hour), I’ve forgotten to buy ham for the boys’ sandwiches, or juice, it’s pouring and we’re late for school… All various occurrences on the same theme: I ‘m either forgetting something or I’m late & stressed.

My oldest son is turning 5 on Thursday and I have a job interview in Brussels that very same day. Groceries & presents need to be bought, the house needs to be prepared for the party; cleaned & decorated, cakes need to be made (1 for school and 1 for the party), party food needs to be prepared and I need to prepare myself for the interview. All the wile I’m working 9-6 every day, trying to keep up with the every day chores. It’s a busy week. I wish I could rest while I sleep – I need it.

By Lovain

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Nobody is sick

While dropping off the boys at school this morning I ran into my friend Texas-born M. whom I had not seen for a couple of days, so I stopped for a minute and asked him how he’s doing. “All right” he said “busy” and then he added with happy but surprized and almost suspicious voice “nobody’s sick!”

Our kids (my 2 and his 2 = 4 in total) go to school every day and in school there are other kids carrying germs, potential colds, stomach flus and goodness knows. It seems like there’s always something going around, and last year they (and we) were sick several times.

Apart from the discomfort any infirmity brings to the family and the sick child in particular; since the Husband and Texas-born M. are finishing their doctorates, they’re not officially employed by anyone and hence should one of the kids get sick, they are the ones to stay at home with the sick child, loosing days of work. A simple three-day cold could mean up to 15 pages of thesis work lost, and at this pressing stage of the thesis writing, it’s an unkind loss.

For now however, nobody’s sick. Knock, knock.

By Lovain

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Google opened new offices in New York this week...

...and I want to work there! Look at the size of those cinnamon rolls. Free food for all employees. Drewl, drewl; cinnamon rolls...! (It's almost dinner time)

By Lovain

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Nobel Prize Announcements 2006; an American blast

The Nobel prizes of 2006 are currently being announced. So far, the 4 winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics and Medicine have been proclaimed and they’re all Americans. In 1866 Alfred Nobel established the United States Blasting Oil Company in the U.S. I guess he saw the potential.

By Lovain

The linguistic consequenses of reading blogs - I'm an isolated English speaker in Belgium on linguistic life support

I’ve been reading blogs. There are so many blogs out there and impossible to know where the good blogs or the blogs I would be interested in are. Still, I’ve done a couple of random searches, and a few blogs did stand out (see my links), but mainly I’ve read blogs that somehow relate to my own; my readers’ blogs, my readers’ blog’s readers’ blogs, my favorite blogs’ recommended blogs, and so on. I’ve found that the blogs I’m inclined to keep reading are the personal blogs written by people that either lead a similar life to that of mine, or a very different life however with some form of connection to me or my life.

The other day I stumbled upon this blog where Linka72 recounts her life as call-center slave. I found myself reading the one post after the other, just to find out more about her seemingly disgusting colleague "Belly" and what happened at her co-worker's FABULOUS wedding.

However interesting these lives are, in reading blogs you will end up with a lot of wording of questionable quality, not to mention useless information, however I find it sometimes acts as life support for my current English (or for my other majority language Swedish, for all that matters). Living away from the country where the majority language is spoken, I find myself linguistically isolated and my English has become obsolete and well, shabby. I can read all the Charles Dickens I want, I speak English at home; to the Husband, my boys and most of our friends, but the fact that we are stuck on this “island”, recycling our own words and, all modern technology aside, are not in the immediate loop, inhibits my linguistic development. I know; I just used the word “shabby.”

By Lovain

Monday, October 02, 2006

It's fall in Leuven

We’ve had a bit of an Indian summer this past week, and dressing the boys in shorts & t-shirts in the mornings I had forgotten what season it is, however this morning as I raced down the hill on my bike; the cold gusts of fall rattling the trees, making the brown, red & yellow leaves fly everywhere, reminded me that it is indeed fall.

The Husband has taught the boys a poem, and they recite it with such rhythm and delight, that every time I think of the seasons changing, I hear their pretty voices:

In winter when the fields are white

I sing a song to your delight

In spring when the woods are getting green

perhaps I’ll tell you what they mean

In summer when the days are long

perhaps you’ll understand my song

In autumn when the leaves are brown

take pen & ink and write it down

By Lovain