People ask me all the time, Now that the kids are in school full-time and you don't work, what do you do all day? As if the laundry, housecleaning, French classes and, ahem, endless coffee-drinking with friends, weren't enough to fill my day, I find myself spending inordinate amounts of time doing things that should take no time at all. Do all expats do this? Or is it just me?
For example, a simple trip to the grocery store to gather ingredients for the special Dutch pancakes Will loves might first require a visit to Google Translate to look up the French word for "buckwheat flour," because I certainly didn't learn that one in French class. Then, once at the store, after circling countless times for a parking spot out front, giving up, heading to the underground parking garage to attempt to squeeze my car into the miniscule slots they call parking places here, I traipse five miles through the sprawling hypermarché to reach the baking aisle. I then scour the shelves -- closely examining all 500 different types of flour -- for ones likely to be buckwheat flour.
At this point I discover that all the labels on the likely candidates are in Luxembourgish. Crap. Not even my friend, Google Translate, can help me now since it doesn't do Luxembourgish. Double crap. I'm just debating whether to waylay a friendly passerby to ask after "farine de sarrasin," when I see that some of the flour sacks also have German labels in small print at the bottom. This, Google Translate can do! So I use my handy iPhone to look up "buckwheat flour" in German (Buchweizenmehl, in case you were wondering).
And so, just two short hours later, success! Will was very happy. And I was too. After all, I have all day to myself so I'm thrilled to spend two hours tracking down just the right flour for my son's favorite treat.
And then the latest one. I needed to call the place that's hosting Will's upcoming birthday party to tell them how many children would be attending (and that they'd need to provide the cake because I am not risking any more trips to the baking aisle in the immediate future). Simple, right? Having already researched (again using my best friend, Google Translate) what I was going to say, I check their website, dial the number I find on the page -- and get a message that this number doesn't exist. So I check the website again and realize -- silly me -- that number was actually their IBAN number. Oops.
So I scroll down and find, in tiny print, the actual phone number. Feeling very silly for having made such a dumb mistake, I dial the new number -- and get a busy signal. Okay, no problem. I'll try again later. Which I do, every 15 minutes for two hours. Very strange for a business that is, according to its website, open right now. Then again, this is Luxembourg, and they could just be having an extra-long lunch. At this point, I suddenly realize that, despite the fact that this place is 15 minutes from my house, it is actually in Belgium, not Luxembourg. A whole different country. With a whole different country code. That would explain it.
Again, I feel like an idiot.
Of course, I don't actually know the country code for Belgium, so I once again turn to the Internet. After Googling "country code Belgium" I find this very handy website called howtocallabroad.com. Plug in your location and the country you need to call, and it tells you exactly what to dial. Perfect! So I dial the new number and, once again, get a busy signal. Though I feel that something is probably not right with the new number, I try again every 15 minutes for another hour. Then, in desperation, I start randomly deleting zeros since there seem to be too many of them. Success! Apparently there was an extra zero between the country code and the real number. Who knew? Not howtocallabroad.com, apparently.
So, there you go. That, my friends, is what I do all day. I have to wonder if all expats face this or if I am I just extraordinarily slow. Whenever I consider looking into getting a job here -- you know, to fill up all my free time -- days like this bring me right back to my senses.