Follow by Email

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

From Grits to Frites, Season Deux

  After almost a year of writer's block, travel and just plain laziness, I'm back.  In the meantime, we've had a couple of trips back to the United States, several trips within Europe, gained and lost the same ten pounds, and have a new granddaughter, little Layla.   There has been little (well, almost none) improvement in my French.

  We flew back to Brussels just after New Year's.  After we landed, a bit sleep-deprived and probably a little drunk (from the compulsory First Class wine service), we walked the looonnnggg hall to passport control.  An official Dutch speaking lady checked my passport and asked me in English, of course,"How long are you going to be visiting?"  I replied that we lived here and then she asked for my Belgian identity card.  (The Belgium government keeps a firm grip on the affairs of the "etrangers" by registration at our local commune.)  Since I'd been in the United States for more than three months, my card had expired.  Miss Passport Control immediately noticed this.  I explained  why and she very pleasantly said, "Well, sometimes this can't be help."  Whew, okay, so I can go now?  I promise I'll register on Monday as soon as the office opens, okay?  Well, evidently not.  She calls her colleague who tut-tut  disapprovingly over my expired ID card.  "Please follow my colleague," she tells me.  And she keeps my card!

    Her colleague was a Germanic-looking dude who escorts me to The Room.  The Room was a very large room with two soft drink machines, and rows of black chairs around the periphery.  (They had told Brett to go get our luggage so I was alone in this room with no Euros for the soda machine.)  It was clearly a police station.  They asked me a few questions and left me sitting in The Room.  That's when I notice cots in one corner and was struck by the fear that I would be spending the night on a foldout cot in The Room.   Then, I noticed a box of toys. A nightmare--a night in The Room with kids?  Noooo!

   After about twenty minutes, the police dude brings me a piece of paper outlining the protocol to become a law-abiding registered citizen of Belgium.  Although I was out of there before Brett had received all of our luggage, I have more empathy that ever for the plight of undocumented aliens. 

   The next Monday, we gathered all the paperwork (sort of like a mortgage application) and made it to the Commune Office, took a number and a seat on the same ratty chairs and read the same French magazines that we tried to read six months earlier.  We picked up the card a week or so later but in that week, I kept a very low profile.