27 May 2010

Greetings from Belgium

It's starting to become hard to keep track of what country we are in.

Languages in particular have been doing my head in somewhat. Italy I survived because I could manage to order a coffee, and say please and thank you. France was more intimidating, but at least we had a French speaker with us, and I could still say expresso, (it is expresso in France, as opposed to espresso in Italy, and I suddenly feel bad for all the coffee joints I have sneered at in Australia for having signs out the front saying 'Expresso'), I could also say merci.

Belgium is a whole other kettle of fish. The language is Germanic as opposed to Romantic (so is structured and sounds a little like German and English) - but with no knowledge or back up support, I am swimming blind. Plus there are different regional dialects, their proximity to France and Germany means that a lot of people speak one or both languages, and a lot of what is spoken is a hybrid of German, French, Flemish and English, rolled into one big complicated sentance.

Being multi lingual here seems to be a way of life. If you want to communicate, you need to speak multiple languages. We're currently staying with Elsie's cousin Mia in Belgium, her kids are very multi lingual, and in particular her daughter Ida studies 6 languages at school as a matter of course - including Latin - compulsary for all students. Immersion seems to be the preferred method - as Ida said to me, she first learned French by reading French magazines. Plus being surrounded by French speakers almost daily, I can imagine that you would osmose the language and develop an understanding of it, even if you were not actively studying or speaking it.

I suspect that Australia may become the last bastion of exclusively spoken English. Even the good 'ol USA has Spanish spoken by over half it's residents.

As John Travolta said in Pulp Fiction, it's the little things that you notice in Europe. Thus noticed so far:

European (and in particular French) obsession with 80's rock music - unbelievable. Every radio station you tune into, every shop you go into, something 80's and memorable will be playing. We seem to be hearing 'Africa' by Toto on a daily basis, Meatloaf is on pretty high rotation, really too many blasts from the past to individually mention. I wish I'd been keeping a list.

Wide availability of beer. Every service station has a beer fridge. Not uncommon to pull into the bigger ones (with food court type arrangements) and see people drinking beer with their lunch.

General price of alcohol. Pubs and cafes charge the normal premium one would expect for a drink, but if you're buying retail, damn cheap. For example, 700mL bottle of Gordon's Gin for just over 7€ (probably $12 Australian). Bought 12 longneck bottles of beer (individually) - mixed brands, and what would be considered 'boutique' in Australia, for 12€. Effectively a carton of beer for under $20 Australian.

Daylight hours. Coming into Summer here, and we have genuine daylight until 10:30pm at night. Makes Australian daylight saving hours pale into insignificance.

Siesta. Not sure if that is the official term - but pretty much everything shuts down between 12:30pm and 4:00pm. Want to buy something in the afternoon? Tough, you can't. I haven't actually observed this in Belgium as yet - so cannot confirm if it is the status quo - but it was certainly the case across Italy and France.

Belgians eat their main meal at lunch time. Everyone comes home at midday for a hot meal, which is eaten as a family. Breakfast is generally bread and spreads, and dinner is bread, cheese and fruit. Given the amount and variety of cheeses I have been consuming this trip, I have serious concerns for my cholesterol!

I am really enjoying Belgium. Gent, in particular, is beautiful, and I would love to spend more time here. I shall endevour to get some photos posted sometime today or tomorrow.

Until later, ciao.

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