Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Deported's Tips on Immigration - Lesson One: Finding and Completing the Visa Application

By way of legal disclaimer, let me just say, up front, that people seeking visas should not take advice from someone who has been deported. Ever! You would think this would be a no-brainer, but considering that there is a warning on a baby stroller that reads, "Remove child before folding," I'm not taking anything for granted. Live and learn. Live and learn.

After copying my visa application packet for the fourteenth-gazillion time, it hit me that I know very little about the actual process for those seeking visas to enter the US. Like the good global citizen that I aspire to be, I tore myself away from the disaster I know as my own immigration crisis to check out the differences between the US visa application and the Belgian one. (The truth is I wasn’t so much interested in the differences, as I was which one was the easiest. Belgium wins - hands down!)

To find the Belgian visa application, go to www.diplobel.us and click on "traveling to Belgium" and walk through the drop-down menus. The whole process will take less than 10 minutes, even for those whose children are beside them, nicely folded in their strollers.

To find the US visa application, go to www.unitedstatesvisa.gov, click on "what is a visa", then click on "visa applications forms." Now, guess as to which of the 16 different forms you should complete. Alternatively, you can click on "nonimmigrant visas" or "immigrant visas", both sites which will redirect you to the website for the US Secretary of State. Or, you can click on "visa classifications and categories," and be redirected to the Immigration and Classification Services of the Department of Homeland Security's website. I can't provide a time estimate for the process, as I gave up after 25 minutes. I figured that I could just hire someone from one of the pop-up sites, now infecting my computer, advertising "live and work in the US legally" or "get your US visa today."

The Belgian visa application is 25 questions long, the hardest of which is number 15 - "border of first entry into the territory of the Schengen states" - because it required me to find out what exactly is a Schengen state. Once that problem was solved, the application was fairly straightforward.

Still unsure as to which US visa application should be completed for comparison purposes, I pulled up Form DS-156. It is 41 questions long, not including, of course, the subparts. Following are REAL (i.e., I swear I did not make these up!) questions copied from US Visa Application Form DS-156, to which the applicant is to check either Y or N:

  • Do you seek to enter the United States to engage in export control violations, subversive or terrorist activities, or any other unlawful purpose?
  • Are you a member or representative of a terrorist organization as currently designated by the U.S. Secretary of State?
  • Have you ever participated in persecutions directed by the Nazi government of Germany; or have you ever participated in genocide? (If you are smart enough to know the definition of "genocide", it pretty much stands to reason that you are smart enough to answer "no" to the question. Hell, even if you can't tell the difference between genocide and pesticide, you'd think context clues would kick in. Nazi = no! We call this question a "give-me" or a "freebie.")

My personal favorite is the "are you a member or representative of a terrorist organization as currently designated by the U.S. Secretary of State?" You may be surprised to learn that finding a list of designations on the US Secretary of State's website was almost as easy as finding the correct visa application to download.

Even with a fairly good command of the English language, some decent computer skills, and broadband access, I had trouble locating the "designations" on the Secretary of State's website. My search of the site for "terrorist designations," returned 500 hits, but no list per se.

Not one to give up easily, I returned to the US Secretary of State home page and clicked on "issues & press." Not seeing what I wanted, I clicked on "more" and finally found the heading "counterterrorism." After clicking on "counterterrorism", I went to "releases" and clicked on "terrorist designation list." I then clicked on the link for "foreign terrorist organizations list" and, voila, found the list. It was dated October 11, 2005. Does that make it current?

Seriously, if you are answering “yes” to any of the above questions, someone should be measuring the depth of your gene pool, not processing your application.

On that note, I'm off to offer up my daily sacrifices to the immigration gods!

© 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

An Ex-Expat's Secrets for Recovering From Deportation

When people learn that I have been kicked out of a foreign country, the response varies from, "good! come home" (parents) to "this is not good, this is not good" (Belgian neighbors) to "oh my God, you're kidding, right?" (acquaintances/strangers) to "doesn't surprise me at all!" (friends).

Without fail, the follow-up response is something along the lines of "you certainly seem to be handling it well." Geez, people, what did you expect? Just because I went into a veterinarian's office and asked to be treated by a neurologist does not make me unstable. Stupid, yes. Unstable, no.

Perhaps it is because I am still in the early stages, but I refuse to let this get me down. I know I will beat the odds. I will defeat deportation. (I would add “will write best-selling book describing painful ordeal that makes Oprah cry”, but I’ve been told that I can’t write! See, “Speaking of Goals and Lofty Ambitions”, March 2005 archives.)

Fortunately, my friends and family have been a constant source of support throughout my battle. Any day now, I expect my friend Grace to design a “Fight for the Visa” ribbon; Elana to organize a three-day walk; Rach to donate money to research; Wags to stage a protest; and, Mojo and Joni to buy drink tickets at the fundraisers.

Although I may be “handling it well” now, this was not always the case. Here are some of the steps taken on my road to recovery:

MEDICAL ATTENTION: I sought emergency treatment at a facility (ok, spa) near my home. The initial diagnosis was critical, but after several treatments, there was slight improvement. I was released with instructions to drink plenty of liquids, undergo therapy, and follow-up with my counselor as soon as possible.

MEDICATION: Concerned that I may be suffering from dehydration after the fourteen hour flight home (I’m told that can happen), I immediately went to the local pharmacy (Miguel's) to have my prescription (ok, pitcher) filled. Plenty of liquids - check!

THERAPY: The next day, I woke up feeling a little out-of-sorts (ok, hung-over), so I decided to give therapy a try. After five grueling hours of retail therapy, I was beginning to feel a little less deported.

COUNSELING: Two days later, I took a turn for the worse. I called my counselor, Jason Brandler, and begged him to squeeze me in as soon as possible. I have been seeing him ever since he opened his downtown office (Crimson Chic), back when downtown was dangerous, not trendy. Detecting the desperation in my voice, and, like the true professional that he is, Jason agreed to work me in between appointments.

As a Brit who has lived, legally, in the US for the past 18 years, Jason has cut his way through the bureaucratic red-tape. After two hours in his chair, I felt, and looked, like a new person. As they say, change your hair, change your life.

DRUG TRIALS: After my counseling session with Jason, I attended group therapy. Seven of us got together and put the whole “laughter is the best medicine” to test. Initial trial results indicate that it is effective in treating the symptoms, but, unfortunately, it could not stop the progression of the underlying deportation.

ALTERNATIVE TREATMENTS: Between therapy sessions, I researched alternative treatments to deportation, including contacting the Belgian Consulate, the premier authority in the US on the condition. I have an appointment in Los Angeles next week to be evaluated by a specialist. Hopefully, I will be on the accelerated recovery program and be back in Brussels within a month.

Deportation is a serious condition. The road to recovery is not easy. The Belgian Journal of Immigration indicates that it could take months before you are feeling legal again. Sadly, in some cases, there is no cure. For those in high-risk categories, I urge you to check your application process regularly. Don't wait until it's too late. Early detection can save you from deportation.

©2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

My Open Letter To Anonymous

Dear Anonymous (You know which one you are),

Please close you eyes. Now, take a deep breath, hold it for three seconds, and slowly exhale. Inhale. Hold. Exhale. One more time - inhale, hold, exhale.

Now, slowly open your eyes.

Take your right foot and slowly slide in backwards about 3 inches. Inhale. Hold. Exhale. Great. Now I want you to take your left foot and slowly slide it rearwards until it is even with your right foot. Inhale. Hold. Exhale. Perfect. Keep taking steps backwards and breathing deeply. You're doing just fine.

Now, repeat after me: "Bureaucracy, by definition, is red tape."
Once more: "Bureaucracy, by definition, is red tape."


Thank you for taking the time to post comments to my blog site. I have to admit, while I find your position on Belgian bureaucracy to be, shall I say, novel, if not somewhat disturbing, I am not comfortable posting your comments publicly. I'm sure you understand why.

Perhaps now that you are safely back inside the window, you can take a moment to reflect on your position. Isn't it possible that the Man is not that interested in orchestrating a covert attack on individual sovereignty? Can you at least entertain the idea that governments are run by people and computers, both of which can make mistakes?

Take your time. Give it some reflection, and, if you want, feel free to resubmit any comments, preferably without the profanity.

In the meantime, keep the window firmly closed and inhale, hold, exhale. Inhale. Hold. Exhale.

Illegally yours,
Cindy Lane

© 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A Day In The Life of the Dearly Deported

It's now three days into the deportation and the shock is starting to wear off. Sitting comfortably in the San Diego sunshine, I don't feel nearly as numb, which is not surprising, given that it is a beautiful 72 degrees. (I refuse to apologize for the numerous "just-another-beautiful-day-in-paradise" references. Hey, if you kick me out of your country, then, at the very least, I can go "nan-a, nan-a, nan-a" when I see that it is a shitty 52 degrees and raining over there!)

I checked my voice mail, hoping for the news that an Ordre revoking the OQT has been handed down. Unfortunately, the only message I received was from my friend, Rod, posing as an INS officer, informing me that the US had kicked me out as well. (Anyone up on Mexico's immigration policy? Any tips on how to scale a 20 foot fence? I hear they have some great food down there ...)

I spent the morning walking with my neighbor and catching up on the latest news in the 'hood. Since the birth of her son five months ago, she has been incommunicado when it comes to my blog, so it came as a complete surprise to her to find out that she was associating with a known "deportee." She was freaked out with concern --- about being seen with me. You know how neighbors talk!

I then headed to the local library to check my email. (Fortunately, Dan found out that it has free wi-fi, so I don't have to traipse down to Starbuck's and contend with Stalker/Friend Joey.) I had an email from the relocation expert, providing me with a status. So far, things are progressing nicely, which means, no Ordre as of yet. Hopefully, we will know something more on Monday, after he speaks with someone at the Ministry. All freshly manicured fingers and toes are crossed -- and tanned (jabdip #2).

A highlight of the gorgeous afternoon (jabdip #3) was when the Security Guard busted me for having a bottle of water in the library. I pretended like I didn't understand what he was saying, a tactic that is not nearly as effective in the US as it is in Belgium. Maybe I was missing something in the delivery, because I had to put the water away.

The librarian shot me the dreaded raised eyebrows when I laughed out loud after comparing San Diego's ten day forecast to that of Brussels (jabdip #4). In case you are wondering, it will be sunny and 62 degrees for Saturday's afternoon baseball game (jabdip #5).

Having finished at the library, I made a swing by the Pacific Ocean, to see all the tourists and locals enjoying the unbelievably glorious weather (jabdip #6). Surf was not great, only 2-3 foot swells with the occasional larger sets, but, by my calculations, that is still 2-3 feet higher than what the surfers are riding in Brussels (jabdip #6)! Have I mentioned that the water temperature is 67 degrees (jabdip #7)?

For dinner tonight, we will be eating shrimp-stuffed jalapeno poppers and nachos at South Beach, as we watch the sun dip into the horizon on the Pacific Ocean (jabdip #8).

Stay tuned for tomorrow's post for an update on my conversations with the Office of the Belgian Consulate in Los Angeles!

© 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Don't Cry For Me, Belgium

After fifteen hours of flying, I landed safely in San Diego late last night, having been subjected to only one "random" secondary inspection search. Fortunately, deep cavities were not involved!

Upon arrival, Dan met me at the airport with a huge bouquet of flowers (Can you say, "guilty conscience"?) and we went straight to Miguel's Cocina, the Mexican restaurant down the road from us. I'm convinced that Dan and I played a huge part in financing last year's renovation and I think they should name a banquet room, or, at the very least, a table, after us. Nacho, the bartender, greeted us with a great big hello, followed by a pitcher of 'ritas. The pollo asada never tasted better. Oh, the comforts of home!

It's weird being back in a place where everyone speaks English. I caught myself, saying, "si vous plait," to the waitress, who looked thoroughly confused. I guess French is not commonly heard in Mexican restaurants in SoCal. It's a little strange coming back to your own home and having to remember where the light switches are, but, otherwise, the adjustment has been seamless.

I have to admit, it's hard to be bitter about being deported when you come home to a city nicknamed "America's Finest." The weather today is a beautiful 68 degrees, with no sign of rain in the forecast.

© 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

All Aboard the De-Porty Train?

My, my, how time flies when you only have five days to get the hell outta Dodge.

Wednesday, the day I got the notice, was spent in a fog and a flurry of frantic phone calls.

Thursday and part of Friday saw more calls and emails, but less fog - more dark cloud. Having lunch with Veronica, my first American expat friend in Belgium, really brought home how surreal the situation was.

Saturday, having accepted that I am now part of a unpopular growing population in Belgium and, ironically, an even larger one in the US, I attended my own deportation party. (Thanks Sue, Sue, Graham, Chris, Adam, Doreen, Ron and the whole crew at the Highlander.)

Now it's Sunday and I don't want to go. At least, not this way. (For starters, I have an extreme aversion to deep cavity searches.) I walked down my street today, waving to Joseph at the bakery and Xinick at the tabac shop, something I've done since the day I arrived, and I wondered when I'd be back, and, more so, whether they'd miss me while I am gone. I thought about how much I have enjoyed becoming a part of this little community, in the center of the capital of the European Union, especially now that I am known as "Cindy," and not as "the American." (To Joseph, Abdela, Xinick, Emir, Moustafa, Jossein, Mareka, Sammin, Jannic, Francoise, Matt, David, Dominick, Patrick, Olivier, Jordan, FC, Benny, Patricia, Roger, Frederick and the Watchman -- thank you and I hope to see you soon!)

So, with one foot firmly planted in the US and one taking root in Belgium, I'm stepping on a plane tomorrow, realizing that Immigration is not an issue -- it's lives.

© 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Friday, May 19, 2006

I'm a Loser And You Can Take That to the Banks!

Ok, I just finished reading Martin Banks' article in the latest issue of The Bulletin (http://www.thebulletin.be/) detailing the problems of those sans papiers who are seeking asylum in various area churches. (Sans papiers would be those like me, without papers, except in much more dire straits.) I have to say, I'm more than a little upset.

His article highlights the plight of a guy who received an OQT, after living and working, illegally, in Belgium for 36 years. 36 years! Years, people, Y-E-A-R-S. If you consider that I spent 2 of the 3 months of my tourist visa outside of the Schengen states, at most, I have been (arguably) sans papiers for 6 weeks. And, during this whopping 6 weeks, my inscription has been in process! This guy flies under the radar for 36 years and I get nailed after a month and a half. There are people that live their entire lives without ever visiting a foreign country, and I have managed to get myself thrown out of one, and, apparently, in record time! I'm a loser, baby, so why don't you deport me ...

© 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

First World Refugee

As an attorney, I appreciate and support equal application of the law. That being said, as someone that has 3 days to leave the country, I find myself caught between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law -- with the clock ticking.

I think I have the spirit of the law covered. I don't want asylum. I'm not looking for a work permit. I'm not on the public dole. I am blessed to have a country that will accept me back, and a home to return to. I have sufficient financial means that allow me not to work while I am a guest in Belgium. I have Belgian health insurance and we pay rent (which, incidentally, is grossly disproportionate to the rents the locals pay for apartments in the same area, simply because we are "expats"). I'm not protesting Belgian laws or demanding anything. I just want to live with Dan while he works and resides, legally, in this country. We have taken steps to obtain the appropriate authorization for me to do so, but somehow, something has fallen through the cracks. As unbelievable as the situation may be, I realize that I am one of the fortunate ones.

But, according to the letter of the law, or, the Ordre de Quitter le Territoire to be exact, I need to leave. And, leave I will. It's a shame, really, because, even though I have been cursed at (in more than one language), forced to use the men's toilet, reduced to tears over 4 cents in a department store, tram-wrecked, evacuated by threat of bomb, laughed at, stalked, rained/sleeted/hailed/snowed on, propositioned by more than one dirty old man, deprived of Mexican food, insulted, forced to engage in road rage, beaten by an old lady with a cane, terrorized by the very spawn of Satan, and concussed, I was beginning to adjust to life in Brussels.

While many have suggested that I stay and fight the issue, I really do have to draw the line at being a first world-refugee. It's bad enough that I'm being deported. I don't want to hit refugee status, or, God forbid, spend any time in a jail. It just looks bad on future Visa applications.

For me, it's not a political issue. It's merely a bump in the road. Hopefully, everything will be straightened out soon. I'll keep you posted. (Thanks for all the kinds support and the great emails, sent publicly and privately.)

© 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Skinny With the OQT

Since moving here, I've wanted to become involved, in some way or another, with the Belgian legal system. In my wildest dreams, I would have never thought it would be in the way of my own personal immigration crises. I was actually thinking more along the lines of interning with a governmental agency or volunteering with a NGO, but, as they say in French, c'est la vie.

As it has been explained to me, when a tourist Visa expires, an Ordre de Quitter le Territoire (OQT) is automatically generated, without regard to any application for residency which may be in the works. Even though my application has been in the process for months, I'm told the OQT is valid, unless and until I receive an Order revoking it. Which means, absent a miracle, it looks like I'm headed back to the States a little sooner than expected!

Never a dull day in The Belgian Years ....

© 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

The Support Comes Rolling In -

Call to Dan, who is in the States, to tell him about the Deportation Notice:
Dan: (Sleepily) Hey, is anything wrong? I got your message.
Cindy: No, I'm ok, but I'm beng deported.
Dan: (Pause) (Sigh) What did you do this time?
I should point out that Dan is now calling me "EuroLucy", because of the "I Love Lucy" turn that my life has taken!

Call to my parents:
Cindy: Daddy, I'm being deported.
Daddy: Deported! What do you mean deported?
Cindy: I mean "kicked out" of Belgium.
Daddy: Good. Have them kick you all the way back to Texas!

Comment from friend Rod:
"maybe your blog offended them."
I don't know, but that sounds a whole lot like "blaming the victim" to me!

Conversation with neighbor, who interpreted "Ordre de Quitter" for me:
Neighbor: This is not good. This is not good. But, don't worry too much.
Cindy: Am I going to jail?
Neighbor: Possibly, but this is only the first decision. You have to wait to see.
Cindy: That does not sound too comforting.
Neighbor: I thought you were an American.
Cindy: I am.
Neighbor: Usually, Americans don't get these. This is not good.

Email from friend Carson in response to my email that I may have to cancel upcoming trip to Rome where I was going to have dinner with him and his wife for their birthdays:
"only you ... what more can I possibly say?"
Oh, I don't know, how about "that's terrible", "Good luck with it," "Let us know if there is anything we can do," "keep us posted"?

© 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

And Just When I Was Beginning To Enjoy Brussels ..

Today, a police inspector informed me that I have 5 days to leave the country. Yes, you read that right. D-E-P-O-R-T-E-D. I was handed an "Ordre de Quitter le Territoire" and was told "you must leave Belgium." Since I don't speak or read French, I have no idea what is going on.

I made a couple of frantic calls to the relocation expert handling my residency permit application and he is looking into the matter. Hopefully, it's a misplaced file or some other bureaucratic snafu. (I'd hate to think the Mayor holds a grudge!) I'll keep you posted!

In the meantime, I think I'll just go hang out at that church in St. Gilles with all the asylum seekers ...

© 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Tim Easton in Haarlem, NL

Took a little road trip on Sunday to see Tim Easton perform at the Roots of Heaven concert at Patronaat in Haarlem, NL. What a show he put on! My friend, who has never heard him before, described his voice as "raw", "haunting" and "sexier than shite." But, you be the judge. Check him out on www.timeaston.com. I picked up his newly released CD, Ammunition, and can't say enough about the third track, "Next to You."

The Zinneke Parade

In addition to beer, chocolates and waffles, we are going to have to add "parades" to the list of things Brussels does better than the rest!

The Zinneke Parade, held in the city centre on May 13th, was truly a multi-cultural and creative experience. I would describe it as Carnavale meets Halloween meets the Funny Art Car Parade. (For more information on the origins and history of the parade, see www.zinneke.org. They have also posted some incredible pictures! The ones above were taken by me and they simply don't do justice to the costumes and floats, nor do they capture the spirit of the event. But, I can post them without worrying about copyright issues!!!)

As it was explained to me, "zinneke" is a word from the Brussels dialect for a small mixed breed dog. Back in the day when the river ran through the City, these stray dogs roamed the canals and were loved and adopted by the city dwellers. The word "zinneke" has now come to symbolize a person from Brussels -- someone that is a mixture of the different regions of Belgium and different cultures from the city -- who speaks the Brussels patois, a mix of Dutch and French.

It's estimated that there were over 300, 000 spectators watching this year's parade, whose theme was "Brussels Imagines the Future." Thousands of participants spent months preparing costumes, floats and skits. A definite good time! Put this on your "to-do" list in 2008.

Long live the Zinneke!!

© 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Do They Call You Burger for Short?*

Back in December of last year, I met my neighbor, Dominick, at a neighborhood action committee meeting. At the time, and unbeknownst to Dominick, I was told by some of the attendees that Dominick was the "mayor" of our ville. It wasn't until several weeks later, when I was introducing Dan to Dominick, that I learned that Dominick was not, in fact, the town mayor. In the words of Dominick, "it was a ha-ha. A joke." Oh, I get it.

At the Zinneke parade this past weekend (more on that later), I ran into Dominick and two other gentlemen, one of whom I was told was another neighbor of mine, and the other was the Mayor of Brussels. Well, there was no way I was going to fall for that one again! You know, fool me once.

As I was breaking it to the group that their little joke was not going to work this time because I know a "ha-ha" when I see one (Yeah right, he's the Mayor, so I guess that makes me the former First Lady of the US. Ha-Ha.), I couldn't help but notice how quiet they had become. Some might even say, uncomfortably quiet. But, at least it wasn't an awkward quiet. I know this for certain, because that came about 15 seconds later, when the "Mayor" handed me his business card. Now, that was an awkward moment.

Take it from me. There are times -- oh let's say, like after you insult a local dignitary of a country in which you are merely a guest -- when saying, "I'm sorry," seems soooo very inadequate. Some things are better learned than lived, and issuing a diplomatic apology falls firmly into the latter!

Fortunately for me, Burgomeister Thielemans was very understanding and quick to forgive. I had the pleasure of sitting next to him for most of the parade (hate the game, not the players) and I have to say, what impressed me most about him, other than his willingness to overlook my diplomatic faux pas, was how down-to-earth he was. He wasn't the cheesy politician, shaking hands and kissing babies. If it wasn't for all the people stopping to talk to him (and there were loads of them!), or asking to take a picture with him, you could easily mistake him for a regular guy simply watching a parade on a beautiful day in his hometown.

Throughout the day, I watched him enjoy not only the parade, but watching people enjoy the parade. His sincerity appeared genuine, whether he was putting up with stupid questions from an American (that would be me), acknowledging police officers that stopped to salute him, laughing with the various artists and performers, or blowing bubbles with a little boy wearing a clown nose. From where I was sitting, it was clear that he was very proud of his City, and not in the "I hold a public office" sort of pride, but more in the "This is where I come from" sort of pride.

* The answer to this question is a big fat no. Apparently, the correct way to address the Mayor is "sir" or "Burgomeister."

© 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Where or Where Has My Little Blog Gone?

I've gotten emails from several people saying that they went to my blog address and it was GONE! Since I didn't delete it (hopefully), I can only blame it on Blogger, the FREE hosting service.

In true CSI fashion, I did a little forensic blogalysis and learned that my blog was unavailable about the same time that MC Hammer's blog became really active. Coincidence? I think not.

It is my belief that Blogger could not hold the traffic generated by my blog and that of Hammer's, so they 86'ed me in favor of a middle-aged rapper with way too many baggy pants (which will be back in style soon, mark my words). Yes, Hammer can hurt ya! It's my story and I'm sticking to it.

I'll start posting again next week. The weather is too nice to spend it sitting in front of a computer -- and there haven't been too many times that I can say that!


Sunday, May 07, 2006

Cinco Tips for Celebrating Cinco De Mayo in Brussels

The overwhelming majority of folks over here have no idea what Cinco de Mayo is. Either that, or the French region of Brussels is not big on celebrating the day when a small group of horribly outnumbered Mexicans, armed mostly with machetes, defeated Napoleon's army. I guess it is sort of like celebrating the Fourth of July in London. (By the way, it can be done, but I would recommend against celebrating it with a table of Aussies, because the Hard Rock Cafe doesn't care how long you've waited in line to get in. They will ask you to leave.)

Here's cinco tips for throwing a Cinco de Mayo fiesta in Brussels:

  1. When inviting a non-US guest, or non-Spanish speaking guest, don't be surprised when they ask you what day the party is. Turns out that there are a lot of people who don't know that Cinco de Mayo is celebrated on the 5th of May.
  2. When your Scottish friend asks you what she can bring, don't tell her a pinata. If you do, at the very least, let her know what a pinata is, so that way she doesn't spend a whole lot of time looking for pinata-flavored liquor! (Sorry, Sue, but it's just too good of a story not to mention!)
  3. According to the Mexican Embassy in Brussels, there are only 1,000 Mexicans living in all of Belgium. Roughly translated, this means it is stupid to ask the lady at the Embassy, "Can you tell me where Brussels' Hispanic community is because I want to buy some tamales and a pinata?"
  4. Sombreros are sold at the Picard store on Rue de Lombard and you can buy Corona at the Carrefours by NATO.
  5. It's impossible to find sweet and sour mix for margaritas!

Vaya con Dios!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Roadtrip - Cologne, Germany

Inspired by some of the recent comments to my blog, Dan and I decided to take advantage of Brussels' proximity to so many great European cities. We drove to Cologne, Germany on Sunday. Here's some of the highlights of the trip:

  • We hit our first pedestrian. Fortunately, it was the hotel concierge doing the driving! (Thank God, because I would have never lived that one down.) Dan had gone into the hotel to ask the concierge where to park and Dan swore the concierge told him something about the "pedestrian plaza" and the "grand place". After several return trips, the concierge finally gave up on the direction-giving and offered to drive our car himself. Sure enough, we drove through the pedestrian plaza on the Grand Place in front of the cathedral. Miraculously, hit only one person. The pedestrian was ok; the car suffered its first scratch.
  • We learned that the lo-jack security system in our car works like a charm. The valet forgot to disengage it and the car ended up dying on him, blocking all egress and ingress to the garage. For the record, the alarm is quite deafening, especially in an undeground concrete parking garage.
  • Probably one of the most frightening things to hear a GPS system say is: "There is a driver headed in the wrong direction on your route of travel. Be alert."
  • I've finally found my place in the world and it's in the left lane of the German autobahn. The great thing about having a car where the speed is measured only in kilometers is that Dan cannot compute, on the fly, how fast I am driving!
  • Mexican food in Germany is slightly better than in Budapest, but still way better than it is in Brussels.

Monday, May 01, 2006

My First Belgian Hospital Experience -- Chapter Six: The Bill

A CAT scan, 2 xrays and an emergency room visit = €27.31.
Hello, socialized medicine!