Monday, September 15, 2014

Because.....You're Just Supposed To Know....

.......The longer we are in Belgium the more I'm realizing that this is the way it is here. Forget clear signage, instructions or directions (in any language) directing you on how to find an item, how to complete a task or where you can locate a site. These guides seem to simply not exist with any consistency in our little part of Belgium. Rather, you are just suppose to know how to do it. Some days this lack of clarity is frustrating while on others I simply shrug and embrace it for what it is--Belgian life.

Perhaps I am still too accustomed to the American way of labeling--even over labeling-- everything. In America signs inform you of an impending turn miles before it actually appears; here in Belgium the sign, if it even exists will simply tell you to turn now. If you are in the wrong lane or unprepared, well, that is your fault. Or signs might lead you through several intersections before disappearing all together at others leaving you to wonder where you should turn next. Exact addresses are equally vague. Yes in urban areas there are street numbers, if you can see them, but more often than not billboards will simply tell you to take a certain road in one direction (in our case either towards Paris or Brussels if we are on the main highway) then to turn onto a specific road. After that you are on your own so you had better be on the lookout for your destination since it may be a few yards or a few miles down the road. When out driving through the country street numbers seem to disappear and you must rely on a sense of what is right or in my case all too often, wrong. And if we are lucky enough to have an actual street name and number, more often than not our newly updated GPS doesn't even recognize it. We've taken to studying Google maps before leaving home then looking for familiar sights along the way. Sometimes it works; but then again other times it doesn't. Of course, once we figure out where we are going it is very simple making me feel foolish that I was confused in the first place.

But my problems aren't limited to the roads. Take stores for example. I've always carried my own grocery bags with me so it was never a problem, but here in Belgium you must either bring your own or purchase reusable ones at the cash register. There isn't a sign telling you this; rather if you are so unfortunate as to end up at the register without your own bags and don't want to spend the money on buying them, you are forced to dump everything back in your cart and push it out to your car. So if no one prepared you beforehand, you could be in for a rather messy or heavy surprise. But beyond the bag issue, in most larger stores in general I have found there to be a definite lack of signage. Even knowing how to say something in French doesn't really help me much. I've learned that the key to survival is forgetting my American logic of where something should be and taking the time to learn the layout of each particular store. In the mega sports store, don't expect shoes to be in a single section. Rather soccer cleats for athletes of all ages are in the soccer section, running shoes in the running section and bicycle footwear in the bicycle section. There is a certain kind of logic to it all but I have yet to figure out where  everyday, non-specialized sport, sneakers are located. And when I asked? My question was met with a stare, shrug and sputter of "non".

Even on SHAPE, an international military base that I (somewhat naively) assumed was organized with military precision, I find myself running into confusing situations where I am "just supposed to know" what to do. Who knew that the directions for submitting a claim for a VAT (tax) refund, which are clearly laid out on the base's main website, applied to everyone except the Americans? They certainly don't tell you this on the site. We apparently have another set of rules, forms to fill out and procedures to follow. They aren't hard but how are you supposed to know what to do? Wait, that's right. You are just supposed to know...........

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