Monday, January 29, 2007

Only in Brussels

I have been getting a bit dewy-eyed and rose tinted specs about the land of the paperclip, so I am very grateful for a colleague out there for sending me this little tale of Belgian joy to set my mind at rest...

'Every day in Brussels is special. Some days are more special than others. Saturday was such a day.

I took my children to the pool at Poseidon. As we entered, Odette ran straight to the pool whilst George and I strolled hand in hand towards the toddler's pool. George, at 22 months, has never been to a swimming pool before, but he liked the look of it and became very enthusiastic as soon as he saw all that water and the little slides.

We were approached by a young guy. Now my French is not good, but I realised he was telling me that Bermuda shorts are not allowed in the pool. "Well you shouldn't be wearing them, mate," I replied, "there is a sign outside which clearly states that they are not allowed."

No, it turned out that he was a member of staff, and he was telling me I could not enter the pool because I was wearing shorts.

To set the situation straight, at this point I should explain that I was wearing swimming trunks. He was wearing Bermuda shorts.

We argued a bit, me expecting Jeremey Beadle to appear at any moment. Beadle did not appear, but another member of staff did. He was also wearing Bermuda shorts, and confirmed to me that shorts were strictly banned from the pool. I pointed to a guy on the diving board wearing trunks uncannily similar to mine and asked why he was allowed in the pool and I am not. At this point they both shrugged, lost the ability to understand English, and turned their backs on me laughing.

Irena had been observing this, and after I explained the farce that was unfolding here, she did a quick look around (from her seat in the poolside coffee bar) and counted 6 men wearing similar trunks.

Eventually I gave up arguing with these clowns and left the pool.

The cashier there speaks excellent English, and is usually most helpful. I discussed the matter with her, and she advised me to speak to the Director, who comes in on Mondays (but not too early, I suspect!) She could not understand why I was being discriminated against in this way.

Then the situation took a bit of a turn....

From where we were standing we could see into the pool, and I pointed out numerous guys wearing similar trunks. Then I asked, speculatively, "Perhaps it is because I am a foreigner?" This had an interesting effect, very similar to what we might call 'playing the race card'.

She went into a bit of a panic, called one of the staff members out, and they huddled together in her office. "May I see your trunks?" she asked. I showed her. "Ha!" she exclaimed, "they are the wrong material". There is a sign stating that Bermuda shorts are not allowed, this sign says nothing about trunks made from a mix of cotton and polyester being banned from the pool. I was not aware of other swimmers having the composition of their swimming costumes checked. Irena was totally incredulous, and appeared to have lost the power of speech. She could only look on in amazement and shake her head. At this point God intervened with perfect timing, and a guy came out of the pool to speak to the cashier. He had obviously been to Decathalon too, because his trunks were just like mine. "Look, look..." we implored her, both pointing at the bewildered Belgian's groin. Everything went silent for a moment, then she declared: "Ah, but his are tighter than yours...."

He was as fat as an ox. Surrey would have been tight on this dude.

I shall complain, in writing, to the director, but I have no doubt it will all be my fault. One thing I have learned in my 2 years here is that no Belgian will ever accept responsibility for anything.

This is how a family, just enjoying their day out together, can be treated in a closed down society like Belgium.'

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