05 March 2012


Two very Good Things happened today, things which I want to focus on in order to distract myself from my sore throat and aching back and the day's blustery, sleeting, muddy turn back to winter.

In order to achieve the first Good Thing, the Mister had to wake up at 4am and stand in line in that cold, windy weather, joining people who had spent the entire night in line in tents and sleeping bags. No, this was not a queue for some concert tickets or fancy electronics: it was the line to get Gabriel enrolled in school for next fall. The system works like this: on the same March morning all around the city (and all of Flanders, I think), enrollment opens for the following school year. You choose the school you hope to get your child a place (or a place on the waiting list) and go stand in line--you must be there in person, on that morning. It's a very fair setup in many ways. We barely got our spot, though, seeing as there were only a few available after M's number came up! And that with him getting in line at least an hour before the director told us he thought would be necessary for kids in Gabriel's class.

This school is right on the other side of the park (we can see its windows from our dining room), and so will only be a five-minute walk away next year! It's highly recommended by friends who send their kids there, is very international, and we were very impressed by our visits. It's a Catholic school, semi-private, but still entirely free.

Pretty much every child goes to school at age 2.5 here--it's expected of children in daycare that they will transition to school, with preparation and a big party at the end of daycare. Of course if you strongly feel that your child isn't ready, you can hold them back, but this is mitigated in large part by staggered entry dates throughout the year. The children who are already 2.5 start in September, and then there are four or five other "start dates" after holiday breaks to welcome children who have turned 2.5 in the meantime. It makes a lot of sense, and I think it reduces some of the stress American parents have in deciding whether their child will be young for one school year or old for the next. Anyway, Good Thing! We got a spot at our first-choice school for our little guy!

Second Good Thing: I just might have gotten my Belgian drivers' license today, after trying in vain to do so since we arrived last summer. It's supposed to be an even swap: you trade in an American license for a Belgian. But every time I went (maybe five or six times?), the officials found some problem with my application, always problems that could be surmounted by a small dose of straightforward logic--but in this country paper documentation and official seals trump logic. I won't bore you with the many hassles, but just give a for instance, the most recent difficulty.

You must have proof that you have been driving for more than five years. My Indiana driver's license was renewed in 2011, and shows only that date. According to the last dour official I talked to, I needed an older license. So my mom dug up my very first (!) license from Vermont, and I brought that in. But the "category 1" listed on that old license did not match the "class" system used now (and which appears on the computer here, telling them my VT license must say A, B, C, etc.). Here, the application of a small dose of logic would work; my Vermont license clearly states that "category 1" allows the user to drive a car (not a truck or bus or motorcycle or whatever). But no: the dour official insisted I have the US government issue a sealed and signed affidavit declaring that Category 1 was equal to today's Class D or whatever. I wrote to the embassy and as expected they declined to do so, licenses being state responsibility. I wrote to the state of Vermont over Christmas (and sent money!) asking for a signed document stating this information, but they also refused and returned my money.

My recent stroke of genius: I abandoned the Vermont license approach altogether, and instead decided to order my driving record from the state of Indiana, which would show that I have been driving there with an IN license since 2003. I paid for this luxury but was able to receive a pdf within minutes and it has an official letter and stamp and everything: I thought the Belgians would be pleased. And so it was. Plus, I got a somewhat nicer young woman instead of the dour official I've dealt with before, and even though there were still some questions that required she call over several senior ladies, none of them were the dour official I was dreading. They shrugged their shoulders and told her to just input the information that was obvious to all (i.e., apply logic, what a novelty)!

The license still has to be "checked for authenticity" by the police, and thus I will still be waiting for a few weeks for the actual document approval, but I am cheered that I am this much closer to being a legal driver in Europe. (Spain puts up even more--and expensive--roadblocks to getting a Spanish license, so I am happy this license will work in all the EU.) Now we should be able to sign up for a car sharing system and at least test the waters in terms of car ownership, especially now that we'll be carting two kids around. It feels like a major victory to have found the right combination of documents that would satisfy the officials at the town hall into giving me a Belgian license. Good Things!

1 comment:

Jess said...

Spain is a pain with the license thing. I got mine in Germany, and luckily it is good for life! Weird, though, as it says I am also licensed to drive a tractor. Perhaps it is because my original license is also from the heartland. Anyway, felicitats on both counts!