Denied a shower for several days while her landlords repaired her bathroom, Expatica’s blogger comes face to face with cleanliness – Belgian-style.
I couldn’t shower this week because there was a retired Flemish couple in my bath tub.
My landlords were repairing our shower and the stress of having them in the house for two days was starting to get to me.
A few months after we moved in, I noticed a puddle downstairs. I looked suspiciously at the cats and dog. I was momentarily relieved to find that the puddle was indeed water. Unfortunately, the water was coming from the ceiling.
After a bit of investigation, we discovered that the leak was caused by faulty caulking of our tub and shower tiles. So we called the landlords.
Dealing with landlords in Belgium
Dealing with Mvrw. and Dhr. is always a bit of an ordeal. They are very kind people and great landlords, but there are a few issues.
First and foremost, there is the language barrier. Mvrw. speaks a little bit of English. Dhr. speaks none. In fact, we’ve been informed that he actually speaks with a bit of a slur, so that even our Belgian neighbour has a difficult time understanding him.
At first, our only communication was with Mvrw. in halting English. Andrew made the mistake of telling her we were taking language classes. Now she rambles away at us in Dutch. We often just use the ‘nod and smile’ tactic. However, this seems to have led her to believe that we understand way more Dutch than we actually do.
Even if our Dutch skills were better, I doubt our classes would have included the phrases we needed for this particular situation: faulty caulking, grout, leaking ceiling, broken ceramic tiles.
We resorted to the pointing and hand gestures method. It seemed to get our point across. However, we had very little idea what they intended to do about the situation.
We had hoped that they could deal with the problem while we were away for a weekend so we wouldn’t be inconvenienced by the lack of a washroom. That didn’t seem to work for them. However, they assured us we could cover the wall with some plastic and still use the shower. At least, that’s what I thought they said.
Finally we decided on a day and Mvrw. and Dhr. showed up bright and early with enough supplies to gut the entire bathroom. I tried to reassure myself that the abundance of supplies must indicate that Dhr. knows what he’s doing.
But then I noticed that half of the collection of gear was actually Mvrw.’s cleaning supplies.
This brings me to my second landlord issue — as long as I live, no matter how much I clean, it will not be enough to meet Mvrw.’s standards.
Cleaning standards in Belgian rental housing
Mvrw. comes from the generation of woman who were homemakers. I’m sure she single handedly raised five children, had supper on the table by five every night and cleaned her oven weekly — all while wearing pearls and lipstick. Now, she seems to live to clean.
She cleaned my entire bathroom before Dhr. even began. She disassembled the faucets and cleaned them. She scrubbed the tiles until they shone. I can see my reflection in the toilet tank. She then proceeded to show me her array of cleaning products; a not so subtle hint, I think.
I can also tell that she’s dying to do the rest of the house.
She actually did sweep my sidewalk. I will admit that there were a lot of needles left from our Christmas tree which I probably should have dealt with. As a rule though, I don’t understand the five older ladies in matching aprons who sweep their sidewalks three times a week. Mvrw. is one of them.
I know she thinks I’m a horrible wife. She was shocked that Andrew does our yard work. I think she would keel over if I told her that he also does the dishes. She also thinks I don’t feed him properly.
On Tuesday, Andrew was craving a good, home-made hamburger so I made some for lunch. We rarely eat hamburgers. In fact, this was the first we’ve had since moving to Europe. Mvrw. obviously did not approve.
The next day Mvrw. arrived with a container of pumpkin soup that she had made that morning, because she thought I was too busy to cook.
The worst of the whole ordeal though, was not having a shower.
The first evening, we were informed that we couldn’t use the tub because Dhr. wasn’t finished grouting the tiles. No plastic option was given. After two days, Dhr. was finally done in the bathroom (and Mvrw. had cleaned it yet again). We were told that the silicone caulking needed to dry overnight — still no shower.
Finally, on Wednesday morning, even though the caulking was probably still too sticky, I showered. The shower shone so much I should have worn my sunglasses and there was no puddle downstairs.
Now that it’s all over, I still don’t know the Dutch words for grout or caulking, but I do know what I’ll be having for lunch — pumpkin soup.