Saturday, February 28, 2009

Haven't Forgotten You

How 'bout them neglected blogs? Poor, sad neglected blog.

I haven't forgotten you, dear blog. I've just been a bit busy. And maybe even a bit uninspired. Not that there are no worthy subjects. There are plenty, like shutter obsessions, poop on the sidewalk, and so on. It's just that I think I've been generally happy and maybe just don't care so much about these things. After all, who wants to read a boring blog written by some happy person? Or maybe it's just that... no, could it be? I'm... Maybe I'm almost Belgian. Aaaahhh!!!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Extreme Shopping

From one extreme to the other, anyway. 

My wife and I recently returned to Belgium from a less-than-relaxing trip to the United States. We had a lot catching up to do. You know, certain food to eat, lots of people to see and of course, lots of things to buy. It's a good thing that American shop employees are so eager to help out a patron. So eager, in fact, that we were frequently forced to flee before buying a thing. We just couldn't take it.

I assume store managers told their employees that they really need to push for sales in these difficult times, but do they know how annoying they are? When you walk into a store, you're immediately bombarded with "Hi, how are you doing today? Can I help you find something? Be sure to have a look at our sales rack in the back on the left. Did you know about our socks? They're made by alpaca farming dwarves in Nepal and they're guaranteed for life. The socks, not the dwarves. We have a book all about it at the counter. Just ask for one when you check out. All you have to do is fill out a credit card application. Those are great shoes. Where did you get them? Belgium? Is that somewhere in Germany? I bet you can see the dwarves from there. Can I get your zip code?..."

For the other extreme, there's Belgium, where nobody really wants your money. 

Since I forgot my phone charger in the U.S. (oops), I stopped into the little local electronics shop to see if I could find a replacement. There were two employees there: one on the phone, one helping the only customer (by apparently teaching him how to use his iPhone) . Neither of them acknowledged my entrance. I looked at phones to determine that Sony still uses the same connector for at least some of their new phones. Then I investigated the shelf to see if there was a replacement available. There wasn't. That's not completely surprising because this is a small store with minimal inventory. They'd probably have to order it. So, speak to an employee, I must. I waited. I tried making eye contact. I looked annoyed. I left the store. I should mention that I'm not so arrogant that I expected the employees to drop everything else to help me, but an "I'll be right with you" or "I'll be a while - can you come back in ten minutes?" would go a long way. 

If only we could get American and Belgian shopkeepers to combine their methods, I'd be a lot poorer. I could keep ranting, but I need some socks...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

When Good Beer Goes Awesome

How can one have a blog about living in Belgium without bringing up beer? No credible blogger can. OK, I don't know what makes me credible, but I'm still going to devote this entry to beer. One beer in particular.

I recently had a conversation with Joe, a fellow beer geek (yeah, I'm a bit of a beer geek, dork, snob, nerd; choose your label, I just really dig beer) and author of Thirsty Pilgrim (go on, check it out!) about one of our mutually-favorite Belgian beers: Rodenbach Grand Cru. This is a fantastic tipple with a deep amber/brown color, fruity-oaky aroma, mild bitterness, malty-sweet and characteristic sourness on the pallet. It's this sourness that generally puts people off.

It's strange that this beer is pretty readily available, yet I haven't met a single Belgian who actually likes it. I know they must be out there. There was a time not long ago when the non-grand cru version (sweeter, less sour) was enjoyed by many, often with a shot of grenadine added. Maybe these people grew up along with their taste buds and enjoy the occasional Rodenbach Grand Cru when they want a hit of nostalgia. They just haven't revealed themselves to me.

Now back to that conversation among beer geeks... besides just drinking beer, we both really enjoy pairing food with beer (or vice-versa). That's how the subject of the Rodenbach Grand Cru was brought up. It's an extremely difficult beer to pair with food. I would usually drink it on its own on a warm summer's day, as it is a highly refreshing beer. It was on a recent warm-ish autumn afternoon when I decided to quench my thirst with a Rodenbach Grand Cru. I was also a little bit hungry, so I grabbed a bag of Hot Sweet Chilli Crac-A-Nuts (Crac-A-Nuts - a worthy subject on its own). Time froze and a glow from the heavens fell upon me. Thai food! Of course! The Rodenbach perfectly complements the florally-sweet/sourness of the tamarind and lime flavors while the beer's slightly roasted malty sweetness cuts through the fiery spice. I think Pad-Thai would be a perfect dish, especially with shrimp (Joe likes his Rodenbach with shrimp). I made a stir-fry seasoned with tom-yum paste that worked extremely well with the beer.

I can no longer imagine Thai food or Rodenbach Grand Cru on their own. To me, they should be enjoyed together. It's a good thing there are plenty of very good Thai restaurants in the Brussels area.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Stare

A very odd habit that I've observed among Belgians is what I call "The Stare". I notice it nearly every time I'm out walking somewhere. Inevitably, at least one person I cross will stare me down. They'll look me in the eye and the stare doesn't waver. The Stare usually starts a few steps away and will usually last just until I pass the starer. It's not just a glance and a look-away. It's a full-on stare with the head turning until I pass. No matter what I do, they seem transfixed. I've tried smiling, saying hello, staring back, but nothing stops The Stare.

I think I've noticed The Stare in Flanders more than other areas of Belgium, but I could be wrong. Maybe it's a European wide thing and I've only recently noticed it.

I'm not sure what else to say about The Stare at this point. It confuses me. I don't really have a theory as to why it occurs. Maybe there were times when I've had a giant zit on my forehead or something, but certainly not every time. Maybe I'm just weird looking.

Have you noticed The Stare? I'm curious about this one. Please comment.

Monday, October 6, 2008

My Fault, Up Yours

Driving in Belgium. Where does one begin? I suppose with a one-word description: madness. Seriously, every time I make it home safely, it's a religious experience. I really don't understand why Belgians are so rude on the road. They're nice people, but they seem to think that courteous driving practices like keeping intersections clear or allowing another driver a moment to move out of their lane will cause the universe to implode or something.

Rather than fighting against the madness, sometimes you just have to go with it. I still try to allow people to merge, especially if they make the strenuous effort to use their blinker, but there is one important Belgian driving strategy I've learned and will readily use when necessary. When you do something wrong and/or stupid, like go forward in a left turn lane, don't apologize to the guy honking his horn. Get mad. Gesticulate wildly and shout. It doesn't matter if the other drivers can't hear you. The more serious the infraction, the more animated the gesticulations need to be. The point is to make the other drivers think THEY are the ones who've done something wrong. By the time they realize YOU'RE the idiot, you'll be long gone. Brilliant! Give it a try. If executed properly, it works every time.