I’m often mistaken for Italian. Occasionally, Spanish. No one ever thinks I’m French. When I say I am, they cock their head like my dog does when I ask if he wants a baby goat. Eventually they go “huh”… like it’s obvious, but they really don’t see it.
One of the weirdest parts of my trip to Europe last year involved an encounter at the train station in Bruges, Belgium. I was sitting on a bench on the platform at around 7 pm. The sun was setting. There wasn’t another soul on the platform. Or any platform. Added to that stress, the only train running was going to Brussels-Zuid station, while the trip in stopped at Brussels-Midi. I had no idea if I was going to make it back to Amsterdam that night, and there were no station attendants around to ask. There was no one. As much as I wanted this trip to break me out of my comfort zone, I was not enjoying the fact that my day trip to fairytale Bruges was being ruined by a panic attack.
Finally, an older man walked up to the platform with what appeared to be his small granddaughter. They sat on the bench next to me, speaking Spanish. Or Portuguese. Or anything but a language that would help me know if I was going to die in Bruges. I’ve seen the Colin Farrell movie, “In Bruges.” You never know.
“Excuse me. Are you from Buenos Aires?” I looked around to see who the man was addressing, but then realized I was still alone. “No, I’m from the U.S.” Fuck. ISIS could hear me and jump out from the bushes. Because…Belgium. And Miss Daisy warned me not to go to Belgium. He simply said, “Oh,” and turned back to the little girl. Perhaps this was the only phrase he learned from his Berlitz English course. When I tried to learn Swedish, the only phrases I could master were: “Is Anders home?” and “I would like to see a traditional folk dance.” True story. I even used it when the ticket guy at the Stockholm aquarium was wearing a nametag that said Anders. He didn’t seem amused. I think it was my accent.
I pondered this strange encounter on my train back to Brussels. Those tricky Belgians rename the station based on which direction you enter from. Fuckers. But I will overlook it because they have the BEST beer and French fries in the world. When I arrived in Brussels and confirmed I was in the right place, I had an hour to kill. There were only about 20 people in the train station, one of whom was a homeless man screaming at the ticket agents that he wanted to go to Germany RIGHT NOW. It was a bit unsettling, especially with my train troubles. I just wanted to go back to the happy, high people in Amsterdam, even if they wanted to kill me with their bicycles.
I entered the lounge and tried to kill time. That lasted until the homeless man came in and sat facing me a few rows away. I tried not to make eye contact. It was very unsettling. I finally got up and walked up and down the hallway. A few minutes later, about 20 armed military guys ran down the hall, and all I could think was “Miss Daisy was right! ISIS!!” But they tackled the homeless man. I just wanted to go home. [Spoiler alert: Remember the attempted suicide bomber in the Brussels train station in June? Yeah, right where I was standing.]
Thankfully, after a 12 hour day, I finally boarded my train for the 2.5 hour trip back to Amsterdam. I was tired. I was scared. I was lonely. And I had a newfound identity crisis. Do I look Argentinian? Where did that come from? Am I still sure I’m not adopted? Do I want to be Argentinian?
I’m a big fan of Pope Francis. Also the tennis star Juan Martin del Potro. Lionel Messi, meh, not so much. I enjoy a spicy glass of Malbec. Oh, and they have llamas there.