Tuesday, 16 February 2010


I am currently in a paradoxical position. I'm about to start the job that I've always dreamed of (not that I would ever do anything so sentimental as dream, but let's pretend). Or in any case that I've dreamed of since that amusing little game in French conversation class where one lectrice pretends not to speak English and the other not to speak French and it's all terribly jolly.
The contradiction is that I'm absolutely terrified. My first day won't be for a little while yet and I'm avoiding all work-type buildings as far as possible. When I do go in (usually to fill in forms) I find myself unthinkingly edging along the corridors, close to the walls, as if I'm in some bizarre Eurothriller, with gun-toting enemies waiting around the corner. I end up standing in the front corner of the lift, nearest the door, not making eye contact with anyone and hoping no-one with heart trouble steps in on the next floor. I peer around doors before entering. I wish I could become invisible.
I am also frightened of colleagues. Even (especially) the lady who sells newspapers on the ground floor. I can just about manage consecutive practice with a Polish colleague. Meeting with English colleagues is slightly fraught but not impossible (all text and email correspondence is edited repeatedly: some people eat under stress - I correct grammar). I am Absolutely Petrified of the boss - quite irrationally because he is actually very nice.

The other day I got what appeared to be a medical bill written in Flemish. It took me a little while to work out what it was and then I remembered.
In about my second week here, I went on a date in Antwerp. I don't often go on dates, for fear of causing harm to myself and to other people.
Some time in the early evening on this date, I begin to feel a slight ache in my stomach. I had skipped lunch (because I was a/ nervous and b/ late for my train) and drunk a beer on an empty stomach, so this was not entirely out of the ordinary. We decided to go and get something to eat, and found a table at a rather posh Thai restaurant.
The food arrived. I ate a little. The stomach ache got worse.
- This is really great, said my date, 'you should try some'
I shook my head.
- Mmm, yours is really good too! He reached over with the fork and speared several chunks of chicken and cashew nuts, while I turned a fetching shade of pale green.
 - I think I need to go home. I said.
We paid up and headed for the station.
The pain got worse.
I started to drag my feet.
- Maybe you should see a doctor?
- No, I'm fine, really, I just need to go home. Sorry.
We moved on, me hunched over and shuffling.
- Just give me a second... I said, and sank to my heels for a few moments.
And then the guy decided to play knight-in-shining-armour.
- I'm taking you to the hospital. Come on, we're getting a taxi.

I wasn't going to argue, and it was a huge relief to sink into the back seat of the taxi.

So that was how I ended up spending half a night in the emergency room of Antwerp hospital. Nothing was wrong with me. When I get nervous, my guts play up. And I was nervous, because I liked the guy.
They bundled me into an x-ray machine, asked me at least fifty times whether I was pregnant and whether I was sure I wasn't pregnant, and then gave me some horrible purgative thing, and I felt worse. It was far from dignified. I missed my last train back to Brussels and had to throw my contact lenses down the sink and stumble home half-blind the next morning (afternoon).

Needless to say, there was no second date.

And now - four months later - a hospital bill for seventy euros, reminding me of what an idiot I am, reminding me that I need to sort out my health insurance and transfer some money into my Belgian account, reminding me that I should really simply not date, at all, for the health and well-being of everyone.

And that fear and nerves have a way of sabotaging everything.


Laura and Ben said...

Sometimes I get insanely scared of seeing people I know; I have been known to cross the road to avoid them.

That girl, walking along the other side of the street who you think looks like Laura, but... crazier... that's me!

Lilacspecs said...

Awww hun. I got a bill in French a few weeks ago reminding me of when I stepped on a tile and was so convinced I had a piece of it stuck in my foot that I went to a clinic in Brussels during work (got yelled at for that) and it ended up I just had a painful puncture.


peixote said...

You wear contact lenses ?!?!?!

pinolona said...

yes, why is that so surprising?

pinolona said...

Laura - one simple move: smile, say hi, keep walking (as if you're on your way to somewhere important). That way, you don't get in trouble for blanking them, but you don't have to stop and have an awkward chat in the middle of the street.

Korie, Oooww that sounds painful!!
When I was a child I somersaulted backwards into the glass front of a bookcase and convinced my parents I had glass in my eye. We spent the whole evening at A&E...
fun is about right.

Laura and Ben said...

But what if they weren't the person I thought they were? There lies the even bigger fear.

I suppose they would go away happy that someone thought they looked nice enough to say hello to...

pinolona said...

they probably go away terrified that they'd blanked someone they'd forgotten they knew... it would be most unnerving on all sides.

Maybe crossing the street is the best option after all.

tomek said...

This job have to be a nice dream, not a nightmare. Pino, you are so lucky:)

This Knight character looks very polish...
Summarizing yours bills, i'm pretty sure he was Polish:)

pinolona said...

yes I am lucky :)

The bill came from the healthcare provider, not the guy... I think I ought to make that clear!!

student SGH said...

I have to tell I don't understand this boy's behaviour. He took care of you when you felt "a bit off colour" and then he didn't want to ask you out any more.

Such a reaction as yours is kind of intriguing, I'd try to have at least one date more.

Or am I abnormal?

pinolona said...

It's interesting that you assume that there was no second date because the guy did not ask me out again. I think a woman (maybe a British woman?) would assume that it was because I was too embarrassed to return his calls.

Actually there was a totally different reason that I never saw him again, but that doesn't make such a good story :)