Thursday, January 13, 2011

Things can get complicated

After spending the better part of the last two and a half years back in the States, I've forgotten how difficult and (often needlessly) complex certain tasks and processes can be overseas.  I've also been reminded of some of the luxuries we enjoy and perhaps take for granted.

1. Hot water.  There seems to be no end to our hot water reserves, and when we want it, we get it fast.  Even among my 5 siblings -- in a house of 8 people -- four or five of us can take steamy showers all in row before the hot water starts to become tepid.  Not so here.  Even in my host family's brand new, state-of-the-art shower, it just never gets hotter than 90 degrees.  Most Jacuzzis are set at 104-105 degrees, so although 90 isn't especially unpleasant, it's not the ideal experience that I enjoy back home. 


2. Mail.
  We in the US can pretty much count on getting all the mail addressed to us -- even the junk mail we don't want. And it usually comes in a timely manner as well.  That's not the case everywhere.  In addition to having a US Postal Service system in place that works better than most national systems, we have post offices with regular business hours and the ability to meet all our packaging needs.  FedEx & UPS  are even more comprehensive and customer-service oriented.  I love walking into a FedEx/Kinko's to print, copy, laminate, buy packaging, wrap my package, and send it all in 30 minutes with the peace of mind that it will arrive on time and in one piece. I'm disappointed to say that this has never been my experience overseas.

While I was living with my aunt and uncle in South Australia we moved across town and had the most difficult time getting our mail forwarded.  Then we were summoned to pick up a package but the package center was only open something like 10 hours a week, at the strangest times.
Yesterday I tried to mail the painting I bought for my mom to Oregon. What an ordeal!  I arrived at the post office, took a number, and proceeded to wait for my turn at the caisse.  There were no boxes or envelopes on display so I was praying they might have some behind the counter for sale.  It was not a very friendly place.  The postal workers are enclosed behind large panes of thick, tinted glass, with a hole smaller than my fist at the bottom through which to pass money.  In the center of the wall of glass, there is a 2-door chamber through which customers may hand over their packages to be mailed.  Unfortunately the biggest padded envelope was 1.5 centimeters too small, and the bonne femme behind the counter offered me no solution. I am not a content customer, and I am mourning the fact that both FedEx and UPS serve only corporate clients in Belgium.

3. Internet.  I am very lucky that my host family has wifi -- this is definitely not the norm here -- which allows me to work on my thesis, talk over Skype with my family and friends, and use email to clarify last-minute details of my internship with the State Department at any time.  
Even with the luxury of wifi, however, there are some things I just can't do.  I was extremely disappointed to discover that my favourite internet radio, Pandora, is inaccessible in Belgium due to licensing restrictions.  So is Playlist, my second-most-visited online music site.  And so are the ABC Network's free online episodes.

My list of things I love about Europe is still to come, so don't be discouraged: I'm much enjoying my stay here.  I hope you'll mail your packages, take a nice hot shower, listen to some of your favourite tunes tonight, and smile because you are blessed to live in a country of untold luxuries.

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