We are very happy that we were able to bring our 13-year-old basset hound, Beauregard, with us to Belgium. He is part of our family. Whether or not he could join us, and who he would live with if he couldn’t, was a huge deal when we were deciding on this move. Thanks to a wonderful pet transportation company, Ace Pet Moving, Beau flew to Belgium just a few days after we did.
One of the things about dogs is, like all living creatures, they poop. If you are a dog owner and you want to be able to enjoy your yard without stepping in or smelling dog poop constantly, you have to pick it up. In the United States we had a great pooper scooper that helped us do just that. When packing up all of our things, we had to decide what to ship to Belgium, what to store in the U.S., and what to throw away. While it was considered a necessity in our lives, we decided that the pooper scooper, and its fine layer of aged and crusted poo, should be thrown away. My theory was, and this is one of my favorite theories in life, “we can always buy a new one!” Plus, I envisioned how Hootie, our thorough and highly experienced mover would carefully wrap the pooper scooper in layers of paper and pack it alone in a long, space-filling box, and it just seemed like a waste of precious cargo space, and also probably an international shipping health hazard. Are there laws against transporting feces across international borders? Probably, right? So, decision made, throw it away and buy a new one in Belgium.
We found a pet store here pretty quickly and I set out one morning to buy our new pooper scooper. As I entered the store it dawned on me that I didn’t know what a pooper scooper is called in the Dutch/Nederlands language. I hadn’t become dependent on Google Translate yet, and even if I had, there are some things even it can’t handle. “How hard could it be though,” I thought? “I know what a pooper scooper looks like. I’ll just walk around the aisles until I find one.” So that is what I tried to do.
Like many of my shopping trips in the first few months here, I wandered every aisle slowly, scanning every object, and relying on the pictures on the product boxes to figure out what each item was. I thought I had looked everywhere and had yet to find what I came for. I realized I was going to have to do something that every introvert hates to do, but even more so when you are a foreigner who doesn’t speak the local language. I was going to have to ask for help. But how? I can clumsily make my way through the awkward, “can I please speak English” portion of a conversation, but then what? How do I convey that I am looking for the object that allows us, humans, the evolved species, to gracefully pick up our dog’s feces? I was raised to understand that poop isn’t a polite conversation topic with strangers. Sure, it’s hilarious to talk about with friends and family, but I try to maintain some public decorum. I was getting stressed.
A kind employee of the store sensed my need for assistance. Maybe she could feel the atmospheric pressure change as my anxiety started radiating from my body. Or maybe it was because I had passed her at least three times in the same aisle as I was pacing around the store in circles. I probably looked like a dog who is searching for a tennis ball he thinks that his owner just threw, when the owner actually faked him out and has the ball behind his back – eyes darting all over, head swinging back and forth, “Where is it? Is that it?!”
The employee asked if she could help me. At least I think that is what she said. “Yes,” I responded, “can I speak English?” This is my opening line for everything these days. “Of course,” she replied. Fortunately for us as we are still learning Dutch/Nederlands, almost everyone here speaks English. They learn it in school, and through American movies, television, and music, and seem to like opportunities to practice it. Even if we try to practice our Nederlands with them, they switch to English.
“I am looking for …” I paused. “A … uh …” My hands autonomously rose in front of me to start to gesture. But how? “Um, how would you say it … a …” my hands started squeezing and releasing an imaginary grip. “A thing for … to pick up …” and I gestured down to the ground, bending over 45 degrees to mimic picking up a pile, I sighed, “poop.” I stood back up straight. “Poop. I need a thing to pick up my dog’s poop.” My entire body relaxed as I looked at her but tried not to make eye contact. How would she react? Do they talk about poop here? Do they touch it like we do?
I honestly don’t remember if she said anything, but she smiled, turned, and gestured for me to follow her. She walked me to the one aisle in the store I somehow had not looked in and pointed to the bottom shelf. “Alstublieft” (which means “here you are” or “if it pleases you.”) I thanked her and was grateful she didn’t stick around for anything else. There they were, a different size than I was expecting, packaged in a box, which I was also not expecting, and sitting on the bottom shelf, almost too low to see. Probably right about where something destined to pick up shit for the rest of its life should be. I picked up a box. “Of course!” I laughed with myself. “Of course that is what it is called.”
A “poepgrijper”, also known as a “poop grab.” I should have known. Mission accomplished.