Thursday, October 11, 2012

Third Culture story, car, buying a car, purchasing a car, family car, European car, Michelle Nott
My first small European car

I had to finally buy my very own car so I could drive four states away to my first job out of college. My dad and I walked into one dealership, looked at a few models, chose one, signed some papers, walked out. I drove my new car home in time for lunch. I could literally pack my entire life, including four seasons of clothes, a box full of wine (I had recently gotten back from my “nannyship” in France), and my teddy bear. That same car drove me up and down I-75 countless times. It carried my wedding dress and flowers. It held my first baby to and from her pediatric appointments.

Then, our family arrived in Belgium. I adjusted from driving my small yet spacious American-model car to a simply small European car. It was alright because I had just one small 11-month old child. I could tote her around in a fold-up city stroller which fit perfectly in the trunk, even with groceries.

Soon came small-model child number two. The car seats fit side by side, although they both sat at window seats. The one-child fold-up stroller was soon replaced by the practically double-decker two-child push cart (“chair” just doesn't tell it right), which snuggled into the trunk if I took off the front wheel. Once the extra-curricular transportation was on board, I could take them all around town, to parks, to playgrounds, to anywhere but the grocery story or to anywhere possible purchases would need to be delivered home. Once I forgot to take the double stroller out before food shopping and had to drive home with paper bags (when they still gave out bags) stacked in between the toddler and her baby sister, under their feet, and seated beside me like a passenger. Sharp turns threw vegetables onto my lap. Once home and the car emptied of its contents, including my daughters, I made a mental note to insist on a new, bigger car with adequate trunk space. That was over eight years ago.

As the girls grew, the double stroller was replaced by its predecessor, the fold-up city stroller, and parked in the garage. A relief fell over me as I never had to relive the moments of frustration after opening the back of the car after a big shopping day only to see the stroller forgotten in the back, or getting out to a beautiful chateau only to discover I had forgotten to put the double stroller back in. Never mind the stress of having to dismantle the stroller quick enough after paying my parking ticket. I never did find out just how much time one has in between paying and driving out of the gates...phew!

But the girls grew big enough to ride bikes. If I tilted each tricycle just right, they both fit. Even when my oldest could ride her first “big bike” (two-plus-training wheels), I could manoeuvre one bike and one tricycle in if I first took the top flap out of the hatch-backed trunk. Wanting to be just like big sis, my youngest was soon riding her first big bike. We were bond to the paths in our town.

Then, the school had the nerve to plan a bicycle safety day for both of their classes on the same day. I just stared at my car, my inner engineer straining not to let me down. Yet, there was no way. My husband finally offered to buy me the solution...a bike rack (yes, I was hoping for a new car, too).

So, I wouldn't have the panic of strapping the apparatus on the back of the car the morning of the much awaited/dreaded bicycle safety day, my husband diligently strapped it on the night before his business trip. I was set. I practiced taking the bikes on and off, strapping and unstrapping.

Once at school, I took the bikes down and opened the trunk to get the school bags. Then I ignorantly slammed the door down as usual, hitting myself on the head with the bars of the %^&# bike rack. A little dizzy, I drove home.

Last year, the children could choose to bring bikes or scooters. We bought my youngest a new scooter outside of any birthday or holiday festivity. She was thrilled, so was I.

Now that my first European car is almost nine years old, my husband (“Mr. I-get-a-new-company-car-every-three-years”) finally agrees I should get a new car. Happy dance all around. Let's go to the dealer...

I should backtrack slightly to the day I bought first little European car. We had gone to the garage where my parents-in-law had always bought their cars. (As mentioned in a previous post, they were also living in Belgium at the time, by chance). On my way, I had flashbacks of high school days when friends tried to teach me to drive a stick-shift. Then, the son of a friend of my mother's tried to teach me before I moved to France as a nanny. The result of these attempts, I walked my three young charges to and from school, rain or shine. So, when the dealer said straight away that there happened to be an automatic car sitting in the lot in Waterloo (a couple hours away), I said I'd take it. “But, Madame, you don't mind you don't choose the color?” “Nope!” I had heard there was always quite a wait for a new car, so I was excited to get it as soon as possible...5 weeks later I picked it up. Frankly, I could have walked to Waterloo faster.

So, fast-forward to the last several weekends. It must be known that buying a car in America is nothing like buying a car in Belgium. No one is running up to your car in the parking lot throwing out trade-in prices. There is no music. There are no balloons. We actually walked out of numerous dealerships because not one salesperson even said Bonjour! I'm guessing the sales team doesn't work on commission.

In the upteenth dealership, after approaching what looked like a salesperson (ok, the only guy there on a Saturday, really), we obtained some information in the form of a catalog. The car in which we were interested was not in the showroom. Next...

Finally, we found a dealer with the car we wanted parked in front of me. A good ol' station wagon model. That day's salesperson gave us all the details, possible price based on the options we would probably want - apparently anything after requiring a steering wheel is considered an option.

When we went back a later weekend, said car was no where to be found. Evidently, it was only there because someone had already bought it, and it was waiting for its owner. The first guy we spoke to wasn't there (maybe there's a Saturday rotation), so his colleague went through all the options again with us. I picked out my color (that was fun). And, he said he would call us Monday with a final price including a trade-in price.

Three weeks and many phone calls and e-mails later, my husband and I get back in touch with him (definitely not on a commission-based salary system). We do the bank transfer from the comfort of our own home as I have realised there really is no reason to step foot in the dealership at all.

And so, where I learned not to expect the loud, party atmosphere of an American car dealership on a Saturday afternoon, I was somewhat expecting a car in the near future. I'll have to tell you all about it at the end of January...yes, five months from now.

In the meantime, I could describe how to fit two backpacks, two swim bags, a guitar, a laundry basket, dry-cleaning, unexpected groceries (including a box of wine), oh and two kids (including the same teddy bear) into my current car...but it's not pretty.

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Olivia deVos said...

Renting a house and job hunting provide the same frustration. When I bought my car here I naively thought if I took any one off the showroom floor, I would be able to get in and drive away with it. Ha ha, many fights and queries later when the salesman kep tinsiting that there was no problem with the delivery date except that it remained lo overdue, we finally got the rental for the car we were using discounted!

Cathy Mealey said...

Oh yes! I finally had to write myself a great big note and tape it to the steering wheel. It read: CHECK TRUNK AND REMOVE STROLLER BEFORE GROCERY SHOPPING

That did not help me with the bike rack issue! New note required then too. :-)

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