Yesterday I found out I would have today off, but still be paid for my hours. "Why?" you might ask, and I will tell you. As you may know, I'm working for the U.S. government. The U.S. government offers its employees 10 paid holidays, even if one is working in a country that doesn't recognize those holidays. So, for example, I was paid for Memorial Day even though I didn't work it, and I'll be paid for July 4th, even though I didn't work it. Here's the beautiful (if you work overseas): U.S. government employees stationed overseas also get local holidays off. This is Belgium. Most European countries have at least 10 holidays as well, and only a few overlap. So that's at least 15 paid holidays that Americans working in Europe will be given (my next one is July 21st). But interestingly, today is not a European or Belgian holiday.
Anyone who watches European news will have heard of the protests and demonstrations going on here in Brussels. Mostly they are either fishermen, truck drivers, or farmers protesting high gas prices. Contrary to what the news wants to imply, the demonstrations are usually quite peaceful and not violent at all. Today the city of Brussels has been invaded by thousands of tractors and semi-trucks as a protest to high European taxes on petrol. While we don't expect these demonstrations to be dangerous, the Embassy felt it wasn't worth us trying to make it into work today since most traffic around the city is blocked. And so we all have a non-holiday holiday. And it's an excused absence (since public transportation is most likely disrupted), so we all get paid for it as well. I love Europe.
I have a theory as to why the governments of European countries are in favor of the EU: They get tired of demonstrations in Paris, Rome, Madrid, London, Berlin, the Hague, etc., so they've decided to export these demonstrators to Brussels. And the Belgians are just stupid enough to agree to it (I'll do a post on Belgian idiocy sometime in the future).
Today I took a quick trip into the supermarket in downtown Ixelles, a superb of Brussels. There weren't supposed to be protests out this far (I didn't think), but hundreds of tractors were driving through the main street today. I don't think I've ever seen that many tractors, not even in my dear Kansas! I couldn't help but laugh because most of these were from other countries: France, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, and Italy. They were protesting the high prices of gasoline. And yet these farmers could afford to drive their huge tractors all the way to Brussels from, say southern Spain or eastern Germany, to prove their point. How much did that journey cost in petrol? I couldn't help but laugh at their absolute stupidity.
In other news, I also stopped by McDonald's (or McDo) while I was in town. It was a nice little respite and a great place to watch and laugh at the tractors rolling past. I ordered a Happy Meal (or a "Dinner of Joy") and was surprised at the price: 4 euro 30! That's $6.15!!! For a Happy Meal!!! But my shock soon turned to amusement as I realized why: This is French-speaking Belgium. Most of the culture here is, despite what the Flemish want to think, French. This was no ordinary American Happy Meal with a drink, toy, fries, and hamburger. Oh no! The French would, of course, consider that silly American Happy Meal a 2-course meal (fries and burger): how barbaric. That simply wouldn't do for a French child. They must have, at the very least, 4-course meals. Even at McDo. So my Dinner of Joy included the customary toy (choice between boy or girl), drink (bottled water, soft drink, or fruit juice), fries, an entree (hamburger, cheeseburger, chicken sandwich, or chicken nuggets), crudite (raw veggies), and a dessert (cake, fruit smoothie, fruit or chocolate milk, or fresh fruit). I could have also taken a balloon, but I declined. I was a little amused that the meal didn't include a cheese-course. The sucker filled me up. If American Happy Meals included 4-course meals, I would gladly $6.15 for them. If you're interested, you can check out the Belgian McDo's site for Happy Meals at http://www.mcdonalds.be/fr/index_FR.php?page=menu:happymeal