Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dutch speakers are going to kill me for this one

As a girl who likes to pick up notoriously difficult, rarely spoken and/or illogical languages in her spare time, I thought Dutch to be the next obvious choice.

One website describes it this way: [Flemish] Dutch is "A strange language spoken in Flanders and consisting largely of the consonants v,s,c,h,r and k. Dutch is surprisingly easy to learn. Simply fill your mouth with crisps and then speak English and German simultaneously without breathing."

Another friend describes it as English spoken backwards and underwater. And possibly upside down. I agree, because sometimes I feel like if I accidentally hit my head in the right place, I could understand Dutch completely (don't worry, I'm not trying that hard).

Actually, I'm not alone in my thinking: English borrows many words from Dutch, such as "pickle" and the much funnier "gherkin" (where were the Poles with this one?). Umm....there are more, I just wanted to include that because of "gherkin".

I have another theory: Dutch is English spoken by lolcatz.

Dutch/lolcat answer (from a sign I saw at my bank): "Wij helpen u!"

Unlike American expats, Dutch speakers (or at least some of them) take their language quite seriously. Almost as bad as in France, language is politics is this part of the world: in het Groene Boekje (you guessed it, "the green book"), Dutch and Flemish people battle it out for how things should be spelled in nederlands. An example of one of the changes made in the last edition, published every 10 years: anti-Amerikanisme is now antiamerikanisme.

Should I be worried (after all, "Yankee" is also Dutch in origin)? Nah, I think I'll be alright, as long as I start my Dutch lessons soon and stop cracking up at street signs...

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land

Honesty time.

I admit it. I was a little nervous about coming to Belgium because I heard it was "boring" and "full of Eurocrats" (whatever that means). So it's chilled out, I rationalized. Grown up. I can deal with that after living for a year in a city full of 20-year-olds wearing stiletto heels and a pound of makeup. And I merrily went about my business.

But I was really taken aback when someone said to me the other day: "You are from Florida? Why, in the name of God, did you decide to come here?"

So, it's not just a Polish thing! (I heard that all the time.) It's a European thing. And it wasn't even raining.

I'm not exactly out on the street singing "Proud to be an American" at the top of my lungs, since it's not that nice living in suburban Florida, but really! Come on, Europeans. Have some pride.

I am not going to cop out and say that I like Belgium because it's close to other cities that are cool (i.e. it is not cool in itself). Check out these pictures of Ghent, where I went the other day:

See? Belgium is pretty. And the people are nice! Within 30 seconds of me or one of my friends opening a map, someone always comes up to us and says "OK, let me help you" and then sometimes even shows us the way.

Today, the weather is fine, not a cloud in the sky, and I am going to a barbecue.

Yeah, pretty bad...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Do as the Flemish do

One of the greatest pleasures about moving to a new place is learning about it through lots of eating and drinking. Visions of waffles dripping in chocolate, fries dripping in mayonaise, and French-accented chefs with voices dripping in sarcasm disappeared soon after my arrival when I found out that....

Belgium has.... Food Lion?

Check out the bag, I'm not lying. After a little research (er...wikipedia) I learned that Del is Flemish for "food" and Haize is Flemish for "lion."

OK, what I really learned was that Food Lion is actually owned by Belgians! Also, they own another grocery store in the US with the unfortunate name of "Bottom Dollar Food." Ick.

The difference between Food Lion in Belgium and Food Lion in the US is that here they have non-scary produce, a decent wine selection, and a much smaller proportion of crazy people wandering around the aisles. Also, it is easily navigable even after you decide to sample Belgian beer and jenever at 3 in the afternoon (possibly making me count as one of the crazy people wandering around the aisles). For the uninitiated, jenever is the local juniper-flavored liquor, but you can also find it in many other creamy or fruity flavors.

After the shock of the few American chains that I saw in Antwerp (they have Ben & Jerry's and Urban Outfitters too) I decided I needed some fries, stat!

My future roommate Petra and I went to a place a local had told us had the Best Fries In Antwerp. The name of the place was Best Fries (creative, guys). There were many imitators who were clearly trying to fool us (#1 fries, McDonald's next door) but we found it because of the huge line of people getting their fry fix. Best Fries takes its work seriously: it is known for having Fry Inspectors who regularly test the oil and the fryer to make sure they are up to standard. Yes, I forced myself to put mayo on my fries to fit in with the locals, and it was actually pretty good.

I would write more, but think it's time for my waffle. Daag!