Epic Belgian Email #21

This week’s revelation: I hate the doorbell.

Hello, friends and family far and near! Forgive my abrupt
introduction, but lately I’ve picked up the habit of saying
exactly what’s on my mind at a given moment. That’s the 17th
time the doorbell has rung today. I started counting. It scares
me every time.

This house is four stories tall, counting the basement. I am on
the main level and the doorbell is attached to the wall that
separates my room from the hall. Supposedly, the bell is loud
enough to be heard up on the top floor, because unlike more
civilized houses, we don’t each have our our buzzer. Sadly, it
is NOT quite loud enough to be heard all the way upstairs,
especially since my top-floor neighbors have the habit of
playing loud music. So unless I roust myself from my room and
answer the door for them, the person at the door might ring and
ring and ring the bell. No one here just gives up. Then, when I
get to the door, the visitor always looks really confused:

“Oh I’m sorry, I was looking for <fill in the blank>.”

“Uh huh. I know. But she’s either not home or she can’t hear
you, so come in, climb six flights of stairs and check for
yourself, or stop ringing my doorbell and go away!!”

Of course, at some point in this dialogue, we have to determine
that I don’t speak Dutch, which further confuses the matter.

Maybe I should learn to have that conversation in Dutch. I won’t
know anything else, but I could put on my job applications: “Can
get rid of unwanted visitors in four languages!” (Slamming the
door without a word counts as a separate language.) I know that
must be a valuable skill in some profession somewhere.

In other Dutch-language related news, I’ve been developing the
ability to listen to Dutch. This constitutes mainly attempting
to filter for English-sounding words, paying attention to tone,
and deciphering body language. I practice during mealtimes,
since most of my housemates have long since exhausted their
basic English conversational skills and therefore just pretend
I’m not around.

Once in awhile I’ll figure out what’s going on and add my own
comment, which inevitably causes serious confusion among the
people who didn’t realize I was listening.

“Since when do you understand Dutch?”

“Oh, I’m getting good at picking up bits and pieces…” Heh heh!
Nothing worse than letting people assume they can say whatever
they like without you having a clue. Not that I suspect them of
gossiping maliciously about me over spaghetti, but all the same,
I like it that they think I know a bit about what’s going on.

My particular favorite example was at dinner several weeks ago
when everyone was discussing (in Dutch) their plans for the
evening. It was still finals time, so everyone was worn out.
Marianne couldn’t seem to decide between a shower a going
straight to bed. I piped up and helpfully suggested:

“Or slaap in the douche?”

Three pairs of eyes turned to me with a look of something like
horror on their faces.

“What did you say?” Koen asks me (in English now).

“I thought Marianne could save time by just showering and taking
a nap at the same time?” I reply, feeling kind of dumb about my
blurt of Englutch.

“No, no! What you said before! In Dutch!” By now everyone is
laughing. Apparently my Englutch, said quickly, sounded a lot
more like legitimate Dutch than I suspected. It was an accident,
I assure you.

So anyway. It’s been a pretty uneventful week since I came back.
I haven’t been terribly productive, unfortunately. I emailed my
thesis “promoter” last Monday, saying “help help! It’s a week
into the second semester and I don’t have a clue what my topic
is yet!” He sent a reply on Thursday suggesting a time I could
meet him in his office to talk about it, which is not until this
Tuesday evening. Thus, I’ve been wandering aimlessly this week,
attempting to do something productive but without much idea
where to start. I’ve been reading a lot about the ancient city
of Ugarit (Ras Shamra, in the Bible), but what to do with that,
oh what to do?

I’ve also been productively tweaking away at my website, which I
must say, I’m reasonably proud of. I only have one page of
pictures up so far (a rather tedious and time consuming
project), but I’ll keep working on it. In the meanwhile, you’re
welcome to stop by and admire my chickens, who now have a page
devoted entirely to them. 🙂

And that’s about that. I fill in my other bits of spare time
plotting spring break (I just *know* there’s something morally
questionable about planning spring break before even making a
start on my thesis…) I think Italy is on the schedule. Mmmm.

I hope all is very well with everyone out there in the wide
world. Take care and have a great upcoming week. Hugs from
Belgium!

🙂 Laura

Ooh, PS: I got my grades earlier in the week. Turns out I passed
all my classes, which is rather remarkable considering how badly
a certain exam went… But you won’t catch me complaining. Fwew,
then. One semester totally under control, one to go.

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