Today I have the day off, I can’t remember ever taking a day off to “just” stay in Brussels and not do anything “special”. However, I did have a lot of things to do: at 9 o’clock I went to the doctor (Dr Hellgren – he’s not Swedish but his grandfather was!) for my 2nd hepatities vaccination (3rd one in 5 months), then I had breakfast with my new Austrian flatmate T.
It’s not easy when you are new in a country to figure out banking, insurance etc on your own and maybe in a language that you don’t fully command so I had offered to help T. We walked to the bank (ING, it used to be called BBL when I moved to Brussels and I was so proud of the fact that I still had the green BBL bank card until a few months ago – it was the proof that I was a veteran in Brussels!) as I had some bank errands too; getting the document that my landlord needs to sign to release the guarantee for the apartment (800 €), cancel the home insurance and ask for internet banking so that I can access my bank account when in Puerto Rico. T got an appointment with an English-speaking banker for Monday so that he can get a bank account, credit card, insurance (the banks provide home insurance, very practical) and block the guarantee for the apartment (it’s blocked in an interest-bearing account in your name and can only be released with the signature of your landlord).
When I arrived in Brussels in June 2002, I had to do all the administrative errands on my own and even though I spoke French, I felt a little lost. I remember sitting in the bank signing paper after paper, not really understanding what it was all about. Nobody asked me if I wanted the documents in English and I was very surprised when I noticed a few years later that a lot of people even have their bank details in English when they use the ATM’s! Oh well, I guess that I always felt that I should make the effort to speak French and not English but how much easier it would have been!
We walked around in the neighbourhood and I showed T where the municipality is – he needs to go there next week and register. He will get a temporary ID, and then once the police has been to check that his name is on the door and maybe even a check in the apartment that he really lives here, he will have to go to the police station – show the lease contract (which he will already have shown to the municipality), they will ask him stupid questions that they could learn from reading the contract… and then he has to go back to the municipality and he will get a beautiful Belgian ID (for foreign nationals) valid for five years (hoorray for the EU!). I’m being a little sarcastic, the ID is not beautiful – it’s approximately two sizes bigger than a credit card so it doesn’t fit in your wallet (and you are supposed to always carry it with you, which I don’t – I have my Swedish driver’s license…) and looks like my mother’s first driver’s license from 1969! It’s not even plastified (is that a word?), and the photo has been stapled to the card with a 1960’s system of making holes with some kind of a stapler! Oh, and the text is TYPED, not written on a computer…
We also managed to transfer my phonenumber for the landline to his name so he doesn’t have to pay an extra fee, and discussed the internet price. Belgacom, the Belgian national phone company, offers ADSL for 42 € a month (first three months for free though), which T thought was expensive but I have spoken to a few friends and they say that internet is expensive in Belgium in general. O’s company has been paying for our internet and it’s over tomorrow 😦 so this might be my last posting in a few days until I move to my friend’s place on Tuesday.
Our little walk was finished off at the best pita-place in town (according to O, P & A, they should know – they are guys after all!) (in Belgium you don’t talk about kebab, you talk about pita which for me is just the bread but oh well!). I had a falafel with Andalouse sauce (a Belgian classic for your frites) yummy – and T had his first Belgian pita! This afternoon I have been to my favourite hairdresser for the monthly colouring of the roots and a haircut. Quite a productive day!
Tonight we might head to Place Luxembourg for a drink or two. Tomorrow we need to go down in the creepy, dark and dusty basement to read the meters for the water, gas and electricity and the landlord will come to sign the contract with T and then I’m officially without a rent for the next 15 months or so – can’t say that I complain!!