It was a lovely morning in Bruges. My girlfriend and I were strolling around, on the lookout for a hole-in-the-wall waffle place called Chez Albert. Google reviews told us that it’s the best, so this is where we had to go. Unfortunately, we took a wrong turn, got lost, and ended up in some sort of gallery with what appeared to be abandoned shops on either side. We decided just to walk through it in the hopes that we’d find something more exciting on the other end of the gallery. About halfway through, my girlfriend stopped, because she’d spotted a charming, little fountain outside the window on our left-hand side, which we then turned to and looked at for a bit. When we turned back around to resume our quest, we were greeted by an old man dressed as a pirate. He said a few words about the weather or something equally generic before he went on to greet us in a more formal manner. He shook my hand and then, in a move that is as slimy as it is dated, he kissed my girlfriend’s hand; an experience that she later succinctly summarised as, and I quote, eeeeeewww!
Before I’d had the chance to bitch him out for not kissing my hand as well purely because of my gender, he asked us where we were from and the usual business. My girlfriend and I are from Texas and Luxembourg respectively and that’s exactly what we told him. He then started spitting fact after fact about Texas and, after a couple of minutes of this, invited us into his shop so he could show us post cards he’d been sent from Texans. Because we are idiotically polite, we followed him. Once inside the shop I began to worry. The place looked very off. His walls were completely covered in post cards, badges, stickers and posters that depicted, among other things, nature views and architecture from all over the world, dogs, cats, other furry creatures, lots of naked women and third Bundesliga football teams. Then there was this video camera in the middle of the room. It looked very old and contributed heavily to the room’s particular aura. I’ll phrase this in the nicest way I can think of. His ‘shop’ looked as if he directs—possibly stars in—some rather dodgy adult entertainment films; the sort of place where the expression ‘hole in the wall’ has a very different, much more glorious meaning.
Anyway, he was still babbling, still spewing random geographical facts until he suddenly started talking about some sort of „free demonstration“, which he didn’t really give us the chance to disagree to. He put me in front of the only blank bit of wall in the entire room and had me face the camera. He then got behind it and started taking pictures of me, ordering me to make a variety of weird noises, each of them intended to produce a particular facial expression. I half-arsedly complied. After about two minutes of this, a large sheet of paper appeared out of his very old printer. It turned out to be a calendar. But this was not just any calendar. This was undoubtedly—and I cannot stress this enough—the ugliest calendar I have ever seen. It had a map of Bruges on it, as well as a photo of my face, all of this in black and white and with a resolution so low that you could count the total number of pixels on one hand. He’d also captioned the photo ‘Kevin the Star’, because apparently I’m six.
After presenting his masterpiece to us—and receiving not even a word of feedback, because we were too nice to tell him just how atrocious it was—, he confidently rolled it up, put a rubber band around it and, in the process of doing so, revealed the price of the calendar: 7.50€. Now, I’m no expert when it comes to business administration, but even I know that taking and printing a black-and-white photograph with Windows 97 era IT equipment leaves you with relatively little overhead, which is why the price of 7.50€ threw me back a bit. Rather than telling him all this, I just said I didn’t want it, providing no further explanation. He then changed his sales psychology from confidence to intimidation, got a fair bit louder and told me that my mum might want it. I replied that my mum already has a calendar. He argued that, surely, her calendar could not possibly be as special as the one he’s offering since it has a photo of me on it. I told him my mum has more than enough photos of me. Then he asked me to consider that my girlfriend might want to have it. So I turned to her and asked: „You don’t want it, do you?“, which the pirate really didn’t appreciate. He accused me of foul play, of trying to steer her decision by phrasing the question in a negative manner. Well, I’m sorry to break it to you, dear pirate, but her decision was made long before I’d asked the question. In fact, the decision was made the moment that you, a full-bearded, elderly man dressed up as a pirate, closed the door behind us, leaving us cut off from the outside world, completely isolated in in a room that looked like a porn shack at best and a rape dungeon at worst. By the way, I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but people have these things called facial expressions and they’re generally quite indicative of their mental and emotional states.
Undeterred by the atmosphere of utter discomfort, the pirate kept acting as if my life would be considerably enriched if only I owned his stupid calendar. He tried to convince me that looking at it would arouse fond memories of spending that holiday in Bruges with my girlfriend. He seemed not to realise that the only memories this awful, overpriced calendar would ever arouse would involve me being pressured into buying an awful, overpriced calendar off a sleazy as fuck pirate.
Anyway, he eventually went down to 6€, essentially lowering his profit margin from 7.40€ to 5.90€ for exactly three minutes of labour (what a selfless man he is!). At this point I had lost all patience and just told him: „It’s not because of the money. I just don’t want the calendar“, after which he disappointedly abandoned all his efforts and stopped talking, which we interpreted as an appropriate time to get the fuck out. Once outside, I speedwalked away. To this day I’m still not completely sure if I ran for comedic effect or out of fear. Probably a bit of both.
Now comes the creepiest part. Some of this has happened before. I don’t remember being in the shop, but I definitely remember a pirate kissing my mum’s hand on some holiday about a decade ago and I also remember the gallery and the fountain. I was only wee little at the time, but this definitely happened. I called my mum and asked if she remembered all this. She didn’t. My brother, however, remembered every detail. So it really did happen, which gave me a good couple of minutes of shivers down my spine. He’s been doing this for at least ten years. Ew.
All the discomfort eventually faded when we found a fantastic, little restaurant called At Tattie’s, where we had a delicious French onion soup, followed by a superb sandwich with Brie, apple, honey and rocket on it. With the exception of the pirate incident, I have to say I really liked Bruges. Loads of chocolate and loads of waffles. In fact, there is a street that seems to be occupied exclusively by chocolate shops, with the exception of a torture museum and a sort of BDSM shop (can’t say I’ve ever seen anal beads in a shop window before). Most importantly though, I could not live with myself if I neglected to mention how nice all the doors in Bruges were. Seriously, Bruges houses have the nicest doors I have ever seen. „He had like multiple doorgasms“, is how my girlfriend described it to a mutual friend or ours.
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