Musings from a multi-lingual milieu #4

Moules-frites (or Mosselen in witte wijn)

1) After a month in Belgium I finally tried Moules-Frites. They were definitely worth waiting for. Yum yum!

2) They do one kiss when they greet each other in Belgium. No actually, sometimes they do two. Or maybe it’s the French people in Belgium who do two. But no it can’t be because some of them do one. And then some people do three. Then a sizable majority look confused about the whole thing. I think it’s a classic example of Belgium being a bit confused about its identity.

3) Two tips on using the laundrettes: don’t do laundry on a Sunday, the whole of Ixelles does laundry on a Sunday, and use a tumble dryer that somebody has just finished using so it’s already warm and you don’t have to pay for an extra cycle.

4) I’m still getting used to the language divide. When me and my brother were in Pizza hut (going for the true cultural experience, I know…) I was given a French menu and Paul was given a Flemish menu. Then on YouTube I have seen the same advert for a supermarket in both French and Flemish.

5) Every time I am on the public transport I wonder how many of my fellow passengers are using the service for free. Especially on the buses where you don’t have to scan your card for a barrier to open and let you in. I’ve heard that occasionally several ticket inspectors block the exits from a tram/metro and turn the inside ticket machines off so nobody can scan their card last minute but I’ve never seen it happen. Until the other day when I was walking past a main bus stop and I saw a group of about 10 ticket inspectors surrounding a group of people protesting that they definitely-do-scan-their-cards-every-time-but-this-time and they-didn’t-realise-they-had-to-scan-it-every-time. The ticket inspectors appear to speak every language going so one girl saying she didn’t understand them wasn’t working too well for her. So as it turns out a sizeable majority of that bus load were using it for free. I definitely have not scanned my card every time so I will learn from their experience…

6) Brussels has delicious sandwiches. Baguettes are stuffed full of yummy fillings and there are “Sandwicheries” and “Des Supers Sandwichs” signs everywhere.

7) I like the fact that when you’re abroad normal, everyday tasks become big adventures. This week’s task is to investigate the post office. According to people who have lived here a while this will be a very complicated experience (not that I would have expected anything less).

8) They speak French in Belgium but not like the French do. They say “s’il vous plait” when giving you your change, instead of petit déjeuner, déjeuner and diner, they have déjeuner, diner and souper and most noticeably they say nonante instead of quatre-vingt-dix (as someone described it to me “the French have really messed the numbers up…”).

9) I took my brother to see the Atomium which is like nothing I’ve ever seen before, so obviously it is a perfect national symbol for Belgium. I loved it! The Atomium is a basic iron crystal with 9 atoms magnified 165 billion times. It was constructed in 1958 and inspired by the idea that atomic power was no longer to be seen as a potential weapon of war but as a new source of peaceful energy. The building is made of 9 spheres connected by 20 tubes, with 3 escalators (one being the fastest in Europe), 80 steps to go up and 167 steps and 1 escalator to get down. The escalators feel like you are in outer space with lots of flashing lights and the panoramic view and exhibitions are excellent.

10) My favourite three wall murals of the week…

11) Skyscraper Brussels as seen from the City Sightseeing bus. Not beautiful but there is something surreal about this area. I think the people who built the Grand Place would think these buildings must be part of another world. I wonder what people in 100 years will think? The skyscraper part of Brussels is quite small and almost comical when you see it from the Atomium. It’s almost like they decided they were a major city so should really have some skyscrapers so built a few.

Skyscraper Brussels

12) The Musical Instrument Museum is a celebration of music in all its forms and a repository for more than 2000 musical instruments. You can hear an example of music from every instrument that is on show. The traditional instruments gallery has everything from Indian Sitar, Tibetan horns to Congolese drums and harps. You then move into Western Art Music and the music and instruments are suddenly much more structured and organised, or maybe just more familiar when you’ve grown up in Europe.

13) You’d think the centre would be totally polluted and smell of heavy traffic, but actually sometimes all you can smell are waffle vans.

A common sight (and smell) in Brussels.
One way of making sure all the different nationalities understand what is on the menu!

14) I was sat with my brother in the Grand Place looking at the town hall when he asked what was inside the building. I think he later regretted asking as I went to investigate and came back with 2 tickets for the guided tour that was about to start. Needless to say, the inside is as beautiful as, it not more beautiful than, the outside. Photos weren’t allowed but it is like an art gallery/museum/exquisite tapestry repository all in one. And it is a fully functional set of offices.

Brussels course mates.



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