Wednesday, April 21, 2010

We must have bread

I'm afraid a large number of my posts, perhaps the vast majority, will be about food. Which tells you something about my interests and priorities, even if it doesn't give you a broad overview of Belgian culture and society.

But then again, food is culture, right?

So... Belgians love bread. They eat a lot of it, on a daily basis, and they buy it fresh from the bakery. There's none of that mass-produced, preservative-laden, brand-name bread on the grocery store shelves. Even the grocery chains sell freshly-baked bread.

But the baker opens early and also closes early, and these days, even Belgians have to work all day and can't always make it to the bakery to buy bread. So what do they do?

They go to the Broodautomaat!

This is one of my favorite things about Belgium. I'd never seen one before I came here, but they're everywhere. I finally got to watch someone use one for the first time the other day and took pictures!

A broodautomaat is a vending machine for fresh bread. The baker stocks it every day, so that when he's closed for the night, you can still get your fresh loaf of bread on your way home from work.

You put in your 2€ coin and select which bread you want (hopefully the kind you like hasn't sold out) and then you take it from the machine. Fresh bread for dinner, and for breakfast the next day!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Going to the doctor

Anyone who's been following the healthcare debate probably knows that the U.S. has one of the worst healthcare systems of the modern, industrialized, free world. And you've probably heard that Europeans enjoy a standard of care comparable to the U.S. which is subsidized by the state.

Well, I finally got to experience European medical care firsthand yesterday, and I hate to tell you this, but... it's just as good as you'd imagine. I actually laughed out loud when I walked out of the doctor's office because it was so ridiculously easy and affordable compared to what I'm used to, it struck me as absurd.

I needed a doctor urgently due to the sudden onset of a severe UTI, so my boss called the doctor he uses down the street and got me an appointment for two and a half hours later. No HMO, no list of approved providers, no need to ask if the doctor accepts this or that insurance. Just pick a private doctor and make an appointment--for the same day.

I went at the appointed time and arrived a few minutes early, but there was no receptionist or sign-in procedure so I just took a seat in the waiting room. At the exact time of my appointment, the doctor herself looked in and waved me into her office.

She was very pleasant, asked me what the problem was, then handed me a pan to pee in and showed me to the toilet. When I emerged, she took the sample and examined it straight away under the microscope, confirming what we both already knew: I had a bad infection. Then she sat down and wrote me a prescription.

Ten minutes after I walked into her office, I was walking out again. The cost of the office visit? 34 Euros--which, if I had an insurance card already, I would be able to get reimbursed for, except for maybe 5 Euros which would be my total cost.

I immediately walked across the street to a pharmacy, handed over the prescription and received my antibiotics without any wait. I used my coworker's insurance card and was charged less than 7 Euros. The whole process took less than half an hour.

Even with excellent private insurance in the U.S., I have never had such an easy time seeing a doctor and getting a prescription filled. For someone used to our convoluted, bureaucracy-heavy and paperwork-intensive system, it was almost unbelievable that medical care could be so simple and convenient.

I'm already feeling much better, thank you.

Monday, April 12, 2010

I'm back!

Sorry to have been AWOL for the past two months. How time flies when you're having fun and major life changes!

Shortly after my last post, I met someone, started a relationship, went to L.A. for nearly three weeks, attended a wedding, moved in with my boyfriend the day I got back to Belgium, and have been busy ever since.

But I'm starting to feel a little more settled and realized I was waaay overdue for some life-in-Belgium-blog posts. Coming right up! Stay tuned...