Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Complete Sentences


    I have been sick this week, but I am feeling better, and I’m even perky enough today to write complete sentences! Hooray! Blogging time!
 I’ve had several cultural notes that have been rattling around in my head for the last 4 months but never made it on paper. Until now.
1.                    Drinking and drinks (not exclusively alcohol) are extremely important in Belgian culture. If you enter someone’s house, you will be asked what you want to drink. Don’t say no. Cafés here are places to come in and drink something with friends---no food involved. Good drinks are important, and this is partially why Belgian beer is such a big deal.
2.                    On that note, Champagne is known as the drink of the dead because it’s supposedly so invigorating that it will raise the dead.
3.                    Stores here are not logically organized. At all. Have fun finding the flour and the sugar---they will be nowhere near each other. Neither will the vanilla or Oregano even though they are both used to flavor things. Shopping becomes a scavenger hunt.
4.                    Also, often large supermarkets do not carry things like hand sanitizer or baking soda---those things are sold in pharmacies (which are not part of the supermarket, like in American Walmarts).

On to more general stories and such.
I got an inside look at the Belgian medical system a while back---mandatory physical to be able to work in the field as an educateur for school. None of us had to pay---free physicals here. Sweet. The patients are called by a nurse, who then designates a cabin (basically like a stall) where they leave their coat. Then they are taken through a door on the opposite side of the stall to a room where basic info is taken by a nurse. I noticed that while they used a computer occasionally, most of the information was kept on paper. Then the patient is returned to the cabin to wait for the doctor, who takes them to yet another room to do their exam. I guess they save money on fully equipped rooms, but on the other hand it’s rather discomforting being asked to leave your pants in a cabin and then follow a doctor down a hall to the exam room. I suppose they coordinate these things carefully to avoid patients meeting each other in their underwear, but still. Plus your coat and anything else you might leave in there is prone to walking off because those cabins are not locked or protected from the general public sitting in the waiting room reading People magazine.
Sunday Julia and I got to go with Fezzy to Tourcoing to an exhibition of Eugène Leroy’s art. I had never heard of him before, but it was pretty cool stuff---lots of huge paintings with literal inches of paint over materials. His style had a lot of texture and was relatively abstract. Julia and I had a lot of fun reading the titles and then comparing our views of the subject and finding other interesting things like dogs and extra faces. Lovely afternoon.
Hopefully I will be feeling better tomorrow and I can pursue some socializing with Belgian friends for the new year---I really really hope I can! Marianne is on vacation this week, as are Jean and Gilles, so if not there will be other quieter things I can get into. We'll see.

Saturday, December 25, 2010




Joyeux Noël à tous! Merry Christmas everyone! It’s a beautiful cold, sunny, snowy day here in Kain. Even the wet-blanket humidity has let up for gorgeous, dry, very-reminiscent-of-Alaska weather! Huzzah!
I am rather groggy today, as the Belgian tradition prescribes Midnight as the proper time to open gifts, but I will do my best to piece my thoughts together in coherent English. Yesterday, Christmas Eve (Christmas for Icelanders and Belgians), Julia and I had school. That’s right. School on Christmas. We’d already received our report cards Thursday (I passed all my finals!!! YUS. And Julia did better on her English final than I did. Hem.). Thus, out of 55 5th level Education students, 8 of us showed up to have a little breakfast together and play guessing games for the morning.  I wasn’t much help when it came to matching jingles to ads and brands, but man I know my Disney songs! Plus francophones singing Barbie Girl and Eye of the Tiger is always worth some giggles.
            In the evening we (Julia, Marianne, Jean-Pierre, and I) loaded up and cookies and presents and crawled along the icy roads to Denis’ to celebrate with their family (this entails Cécile, Pépé, Robert, Carole, Romain, Antoine, Maxime, Martine, and Denis of course. Plus Choupie the Shih Tzu.) They were all extremely warm and welcoming (as usual) and I felt right at home in no time. We chatted and belted out ‘Champs Elysées’ and other songs over a delicious repast. Antoine played Ode to Joy on the recorder and the three boys sang us some special Belgian songs. I ate lobster for the first time, and almost succeeded at breaking it open with a hammer--I was a bit too timid to really beat it right there on the dinner table. Luckily my neighbor, Cécile, didn’t have that issue. Marianne started a fad of wearing some of the table decorations as hair bows and barrettes, and Cécile brought a mini santa hat that made the rounds as well---we were quite the festive bunch! At midnight we opened gifts in accordance with Belgian tradition. Everyone opened one at a time together. The gifts had names written on them, but didn’t have who they were from written on them---little cultural difference. Of course this information was relatively easy to find with the conversations and whatnot. Denis made a special exploit---he managed to bring me a 2 ft tall, less than 1 cm thick, Speculoos Père Noël all the way from Brussels---all in one piece! He is quite handsome, and I am sure he will be quite delicious when I can bring myself to break some of him off to eat. Another very special present was a necklace Antoine made himself, decorated with the Belgian and Alaskan flag. I am also armed with books on Belgian recipes and paintings, plus some French CDs to work on my music literacy. I am so thankful for these generous, welcoming people that make up my Belgian family! After presents came desert, in 6 or 7 forms, including éclairs, chocolate mousse, and buches de Noël. Maxime was so tired he fell asleep on the couch with his chocolate mousse unfinished. We got home around 2 PM and slept like…well, like buches de Noël (Yule logs).
            So today we slept in and are taking it easy. While Christmas is a joyous celebration and definitely an important time to experience Belgian culture, I’m kinda relieved to have made it through---Christmas is tough on exchange students. I’ve had some bouts of homesickness in the past couple weeks, but nothing I couldn’t survive. I think the anticipation of Christmas was the hardest part. It’s hard to know that all my friends in college are heading home and we’re not. Plus many people, Belgians and Americans, ask whether I’m going home for the holidays. As AFS says, getting involved and doing something is the best cure. Plus, everyone I’ve talked to always says that social connections, language acquisition, and comfort levels of an exchange really pick up after the Christmas mark. Well, I made it! Less than 7 months left of Belgian awesomeness!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Few More Details


Another few details I forgot that are worth mentioning:
1.     The worship group of Marie Jeunesse put together a selection of gospel pieces---what a treat! They had an adorable French accent, but they belted out Go Down Moses like real American Baptists!
2.     In comparison to my last weekend with other Christians, I could understand and participate in conversations so much more easily! Other noticed too. I got most of the sermons and bible readings, and I even understood some of the jokes the first time! J
3.     Belgians also play the game where you wrap up a present with lots of tape and then try to open it with gloves on. Fun to watch in all languages!
  Here are some photos of fun in the snow:
                                            Waiting for the train in the snow with Ange!
                                           I got to stay here...feeling very Euro
                                            2 lovely friends
                                           Benjamin and Natalie talking over desert
The Train Station

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...


            Christmas vacation has finally arrived, and with it, Alaskan-caliber snow! It’s been snowing since Friday, and we’re supposed to get more tonight---this is the most snow Belgium has seen for 90 years (everyone says it must be my fault)! This has caused a mini-crisis as far as transportation goes here; all the buses are out of service, the trains are a mess, and the few cars are crawling along because they don’t have snow tires or 4 wheel drive and snowplows don’t exist.
            Despite all the snow, I went to Ciney (towards the Ardennes) for a Christmas gathering with Marie Jeunesse this weekend. Marie Jeunesse is a Catholic community specifically for young people that was started in Quebec and has stations all over the French-speaking world. This weekend was a Christmas get-together---services, prayer, and a potluck (I learned that there is no word in French or even in Flemish for potluck. It’s not a very common tradition either. How sad!).  There were a lot of Quebecoise there, plus people from Martinique, Rwanda, Tahiti, and even another American from Wisconsin, so we were a very international Christian family. There were a lot of people there that I had met at Soulfest, so it was really wonderful to see people that I already knew (whenever I recognize someone here in a public place or just in general it’s a big deal---makes me feel like I’m in Palmer again where you can see friends in the post office or Fred Meyer’s all the time.) We learned ‘7 carrés’ (7 squares), a Quebecoise dance, played games, watched skits, and worshipped together. I also attended an ‘adoration’ for the first time---prayer in shifts all night. My slot was at 2 am to 3 am. It was a very peaceful and special time with God, and it was totally worth it. I spent a very enriching weekend there with them and enjoyed friends’ company all the way back to Tournai on the snow-delayed trains.  My spirit is renewed and I am totally ready to celebrate Christmas in real Christian joy now!
            Some more Belgian sayings: mange les pissenlits par les racines= eating dandelions by the roots= pushing up daisies
Pouvoir marcher contre le vent=able to walk against the wind= you’ve eaten well
            An Icelandic saying: (I don’t know how to say or write it in Icelandic) I don’t poop money= Money doesn’t grow on trees (you should have seen my face when Julia tried to use this expression)

Friday, December 17, 2010

4 month note

    4 months today! Only 7 months left...
 Two interesting facts I have forgotten to mention:
    1. FML was originally a francophone website (for those of you who don't know, fml stands for 'f--- my life' and is a website full of ironic/funny stories posted by readers. Extremely popular).
    2. The infamous chicken dance and song were created by Belgians (known here as the duck dance). The world owes them a debt.
   One week until Christmas and only one more final left! All my finals have been just fine, although the teachers keep checking up on me. We find out Thursday how we did; no suspense-relieving iparent here!
    We had a real snowfall last night that's been able to hold up to the sunshine today. I took Touchtou to go play in the snow, Miss 36 too, and they had a ball. Touchtou kept losing the frisbee in the snow, so he had a game of hide and seek on top of the regular fetch. Now my lil buddy is sleeping next to me here on the bed, all tuckered out.
   This weekend I am going to a Christmas potluck with Marie Jeunesse. I am bringing a carrot-raisin-pineapple salad. Should be fun!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Paris!


As expected, Paris was spectacular. Julia, Gilles, Jean, Marianne, Sabine, and I all loved meandering along the Seine, strolling the Champs Elysées at night, touring the Musée d’Orsay and wandering through the Isle de Cité to find dinner. It was great not to have an itinerary or a schedule and just be able to go and do what we wanted in no particular hurry. All of us had been to Paris before (are we lucky or what?), so there was no pressure to see every single sight or anything like that. We enjoyed the Louvre, Notre Dame, Galleries Lafayette, Monmartre, and so much more.  We got pretty good at using the Metro, found lots of scrumptious French food, and laughed often. I could definitely see the difference in my French skills from my last visit, and Paris didn’t seem like such an alien world as before---after all, it’s only an hour and a half away from Tournai by train!
            I could rattle on for a lot longer, but I have to go study for my final tomorrow. Sigh.  Suffice to say I’m wearing a sweatshirt that declares ‘J’adore Paris’ and my host family rocks!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Voyaging



            Just FYI: I am really really loving my time here; I am so glad I decided to come. I am confident that I can express myself sufficiently in French to take care of just about anything (give or take a few misunderstandings) and that I can adapt to whatever comes my way. I have stepped outside how I defined myself at home, and I’m getting a taste of adulthood.  I consider myself pretty well adapted now. Belgian school and our routine are feeling like ‘normal’, and I am dreaming partially in French. I have Belgian friends that I hang out with outside of school, and I’ve even caught myself using ‘we’ to talk about Belgian people. I am blessed!
         For those of you who like hearing about food: read on! For those of you who can’t stand to read another eulogy about various European foods: ye be warned.  Sunday we were generously invited to Denis’ for dinner. When we arrived, Denis showed me that he had drawn a map of Alaska on a chalkboard in his kitchen, complete with the Brooks Range and lots of blue ocean!  I got to mark Palmer with a big pink X. We were then shown into the festive living room and this is where the culinary voyage began.
Now I knew that Denis likes to cook, but wow. This food was MAGNIFIQUE. I am going to attempt to describe what we had---Denis, forgive me for slaughtering the names and finer details!
We started off in Belgium with several appetizers featuring Coquilles St. Jacques (big clam thing that I don’t know the name for in English), a wonderful pumpkin soup, some kind of cooked squash with several other sauces, duck paté, and champagne. We then departed for the dining room and Ireland/Russia: Vodka served in ice glasses, several versions of smoked Irish salmon and a dill sauce. We also enjoyed a bit of traditional Belgian marzipan in honor of St. Nicolas. The next course took us to France: smoked duck, duck paté, bread, and foie gras with red wine. I have been told that people either love or hate foie gras. This was my first try, and I discovered that I am the loving kind. Foie gras is like nothing else I’ve ever had---it almost melts in your mouth, but it’s meat. Duck liver, in fact. Put this on your bucket list if you’ve never tried it. We then headed to the south of Belgium, the Ardennes, with smoked ham cooked with morel mushrooms. Glazed turnips, green cabbage, a salad, and fried potatoes were also served. In conclusion we enjoyed chocolate mousse in the living room accompanied by some desserts that Julia and I had brought to share (Icelandic pastries and good ol’ chocolate chip cookies. Denis liked the cookies) and coffee. Several varieties of liquor were added as a post script. Each and every dish was exquisite, and we enjoyed each and every one! We spent a lovely afternoon laughing, eating, drinking, and speaking and listening to a mixture of French, English, Dutch, and German. Merci beaucoup, Denis!
            I also learned from Denis that Père Noel (Father Christmas) originally dressed in green here, but in the last 50 years he has gone to red, thanks to Americans and Coca-Cola. Good old cultural dispersion.
A couple weeks ago I went to Charleroi to wish a fellow AFSer au revoir at the end of her trimester program. Charleroi has been called the ugliest city in Europe, and it has a bad reputation as far as crime goes. That said, it’s also more metropolitan than some other cities and we had a wonderful afternoon. We ate at a Belgian-middle eastern place (frites and kebabs), went shopping, took photos with St. Nicolas, and had a great time hanging out together in general.  I found Jane Eyre in French in a huge bookstore, so I’m working on reading that now. We also checked out the Christmas market (they’re pretty common in the towns right now) and the Christmas specialties (hot wine, escargots, sausage, punch, and waffles, of course). We made a scrapbook to surprise our departing friend and gave it to her in a café after sharing some Belgian beer. Tissues were in demand. It’s incredibly powerful to share the experience of growing into French-speaking Belgians together. We come from so many different backgrounds but we share the same problems, the same delights, and even the same basic, butchered French!
Speaking of French: WE’RE GOING TO PARIS THIS WEEKEND!!! Marianne and Sabine are attending a vet conference there, and Gilles, Jean, Julia, and I get to come along! Yippee! Off I go to check out some Paris maps and pack my warm socks!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Photo Time

Cowboys and Indians

                                                School
                                         The American with St. Nicolas and Père Fouettard

Saturday, December 4, 2010

St. Nicolas at St. Union and Other Things


      Yesterday was quite a day at school. During class ‘St. Nicolas’ and ‘Père Fouettard’ showed up to tease us and give us candy. My classmates insisted that the American get her picture taken on St. Nicolas’ lap since she had never met him before. That afternoon all the Education classes put on their annual St. Nicolas animations for the elementary kids. Our class’ theme was cowboys and Indians, so I got to dress up like an American! Ha. I was also rather helpful with some English spellings of ‘Farwest’ and such. Our obstacle course went relatively well, and I got to teach kids how to say bonjour in Indian and Cowboy (howdy and how---those h’s were rather tricky).  It was a lot of fun to see everyone dressed up like cowboys, Indians, Baloo the Bear, Tigers, Gypsies, Cinderella, and more. There are no school spirit days here, so seeing all the well-dressed Europeans being a bit goofy was especially delightful.
            Our report cards also came in yesterday. I am passing all of my classes (I had a little tweaking help for my language issues in one class, but other than that, I did it all normally)! Hooray! Hopefully it will stay like that through the finals, which are coming up next week. All the finals are worth more than all the other work we’ve done this year, and all 8 of them are cumulative. Yeesh, I’ve got some studying and memorizing to do! At least I know I’ll pass English!
            Speaking of the scholastic system, I have realized how extremely convoluted and complicated Belgian and European systems of running things are. At the school level, every teacher only teaches a few classes at each school, so they don’t come every day and have to travel in between. This makes arranging classes a bit complicated. We recently had a class taken away from one of our teachers and given to a brand new teacher---week and a half before finals, and we still have our original teacher in some another class. So now we have a whole new ball game for the finals. Belgian politics are so complicated I’m not even close to being able to say anything about how they run---even Belgians don’t really know. I DO know that when I tried to send a package through the mail it was a small nightmare because all the post offices have been being downsized and moved despite the same demand. At the international level, the European parliament somehow functions (I put their efficacy in serious doubt) with 785 members and 23 different languages. Then there’s the European Commission with 27 members, the European Counsel with the 27 head shmos of each country, and the Council of Ministers with 27 members for each different department.  The European Court of Justice has 27 judges that rule on each case---3 times as many as in the American Supreme Court. I will never complain about the American government being cumbersome or complicated again.
            Another note: European governments are also much more repressive in some ways than the US. For instance, the 2nd amendment, right to arms---forget it. You also do not have the right to be openly racist. They do have an actual document for the Rights of Man, but apparently being racist is not one of them.
           
I have learned some new Belgian sayings:

Sauter du coque à l’âne= jump from the rooster to the donkey=to change subjects randomly
Punaise=thumbtack= crap, dang it, etc. (not a real cuss word)





Friday, December 3, 2010

St. Hubert

I have some catching up to do. Several weeks ago, Cécile and the pony club put on their annual show for St. Hubert (the patron saint of dogs and horses. All the ponies are blessed each year). Of course, a buffet was also available, as well as plenty of things to drink.  Jean-Pierre, Julia, and I enjoyed the frites and porkchops that Marianne helped make and then settled in to watch the show. The little kids performed drill routines with themes like Snow White and Oui-Oui (a British cartoon character) and were simply adorable on their little ponies. The older kids showed off some very well-done dressage and tumbling, and many a proud parent took photos. The highlight of the show (at least for me) was the in-between acts. Marianne started this tradition one year when there was an unusually long pause between acts (naughty pony), and ever since the parents get together and do something silly between classes. This year the theme was Robby and the Jacobettes (I’m told this comes from Robby Jacobs in the TV show Dallas). Marianne and the other parents dressed up in orthodox Jewish costumes and pranced about to Jewish music and everyone’s great delight. It was wonderful to see grown-ups having so much fun. During one intermission Marianne came out in a ‘wedding dress’ to re-enact Robby Jacob’s marriage. After a spirited wedding dance and their exit, the bride came running back because she had forgotten to throw her bouquet. So she did. With all the force of a full-time, dog-wrangling vet. Rather like a quarterback. The rather heavy bouquet smacked the wall, showering the spectators with straw, and left Julia and I bent over double laughing. Our host mother is awesome.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Comprehension



Gauntlet of the week: standardized tests in French. Good thing my scores don’t even count for the school! Standardized testing here is super super lax in comparison to the US---none of the wasted hours and hours going over how to bubble in your name (no bubbling at all, in fact) and security recitals. Even though I couldn’t answer most of the reading comprehension questions completely, I was still pretty pleased with myself for understanding the gist of the story. And I think I might have gotten a few right!
Yesterday Julia and I did errands, and for the thousandth time I was glad to have another student in the house because it gets pitch dark out around 6 PM and walking home for 20 minutes in the dark alone would be unpleasant and possibly creepy. Same goes for walking to school; it gets light around 8, just when we are heading out. Pretty soon it will probably be dark completely, and once again having a walking companion will be very welcome.
Today I had several American moments.  First off, my English class was reading about Thanksgiving. I got a little excited to see something about Thanksgiving the week of, so my teacher had me explain this tradition to them. Most of them thought it had something to do with Christmas, so I told the whole Pilgrim-Indian story and described some traditional food for them. I’ve found that although American ‘culture’ is extremely marketed and lots of American individuals and products are well-known, American culture really isn’t understood. For instance, all Belgians that I have met have been surprised to find out that we don’t celebrate St. Nicolas or kiss each other to say hello. These same Belgians know Lady Gaga, Doritos, and Twilight. Some American items are also adapted but still known as ‘American’, such as their popcorn (sugared instead of salted). Before coming, I thought American culture was pretty well worn-out and uninteresting thanks to Hollywood and all our other marketing, but it turns out that there are a lot of cultural elements to America that are not obvious to the international audience. My second American moment came during science class when a video had some interviews with American cancer researchers with wonderful Midwestern accents. Everyone else had to read subtitles but I understood everything. –Insert smug grin here-
Today we went to the movie theater with the class.  I had been once before, this last weekend, with Marianne, Jean, and Gilles (we watched a French film called ‘handkerchiefs’ that was actually really good and I mostly understood.) The movie theater here is very Americanized and very nice---very cushy seats and very clean. Here in Belgium they have intermission during the movie, and I think I like this. It’s a nice break to discuss the film, and it gives me a chance to figure out what I missed! Our class and quite a few others watched ‘Le Rafle’, a movie about French Jews during WWII. I bawled my eyes out. And not just once. The movie finished and I was still wiping Catharsis off my face. Sigh. I guess I can take that as a sign I understood the movie well!
We are supposed to have snow by the end of the week! Guess who's super excited to see some familiar white fluffy stuff??? 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Photos

Crunchy Speculoos! NOM
                                                                    Cowboy Bread
                                       Belgian Thanksgiving with my Wonderful Belgian Family
                                                        St. Nicolas Chocolate at Chimay

PS: I promise there is more to Belgium than food, but food is a safe subject and very cultural!

PPS: Also, today I understood enough of religion class to explain today why Obama is not a star for many Americans such as myself. (Not that that had anything to do with religion, really!) Hooray for improving language skills!

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Brave Boys, Belgian Notes, Blood, and Cowboy Bread


I asked around and now I think I understand how this whole St. Nicolas deal goes down.  It is a very Belgian Holiday, and is a bigger deal than Christmas for most people. St. Nicolas is traditionally the holiday where kids write lists and receive gifts; it was American soldiers who brought over the notion of giving presents at Christmas. Thus, Christmas evokes ‘coca cola’ here. St. Nicolas brings presents for all the good children and young men and Père Fouettard (Father Whip---dark scary dude) comes with him in case anyone has been naughty. St. Catherine is in charge of bringing gifts for the unmarried girls who’ve had their period. (A boy mimed this word for me because the girl who was trying to explain got embarrassed. Ha. ) So there are lots of ads for presents and busy parents right now. The big day is the 6th of December.
I have also learned lately that Tournai and this area is a very French part of Belgium; the people speak more or less French French and are Belgian but not BELGIAN. I have run into a couple people with heavy Belgian accents and had a lot more trouble than normal understanding what they were telling me.
Several other notes on Belgian culture:
Marianne told me that the European man-purse and men kissing other men to greet them didn’t exist in Belgium before the social revolution of the 60’s and 70’s. These things were seen as too girly. Interesting.
I have discovered some traditional Belgian food combinations:  tuna salad with peaches and hazelnuts in sausage. Tuna salad here consists of tuna, mayonnaise, and often boiled egg, and then they either eat it over peaches or put it on a baguette with peaches. Very interesting flavor---like nothing I’ve ever eaten before. The idea of putting pickles in tuna salad is totally bizarre for them. The sausage was a sort of salami with whole hazelnuts inside---really super yummy.
Also, I have learned that Francophones really like to call people animals or other evocative names. For instance, being called a chicken or a flea is an endearment. (Go figure). A duck, however, is a jerk/twerp, and a turkey is a stupid woman. A fat woman can be called a certain type of fat sausage (Budin) or a whale. An ugly woman is called a tuna.  Ouch. I'll stick with the chicken and flea! 
Today we had our first swimming class of the year and I got a look at the craziness of a Belgian swimming pool. First of all, there is no male/female locker room. There aren’t any lockers either, for that matter. You come in, take a coat hanger thingie and go into another room full of little stalls that each have 2 doors. This is where one gets changed. You have to enter the stall from the left and exit on the right (I have no idea why). Much more modest than American locker rooms. Then you leave all of your stuff in a sort of closet-room, without any kind of covering or lock. Then you have to walk through an ankle-deep pool of ice-cold water to wash your feet off---gah! Finally you make it to the shower room and walk out on deck. I didn’t see a lifeguard (of course, I didn’t have my glasses so I didn’t see much anyway), so I hope my PE teacher knows how to save drowning teenagers. There were no gutters around the pool, and the bottoms of the lane weren’t marked, but otherwise the pool itself was pretty much familiar. The other craziness I noticed is that none of the girls used soap in the shower to get rid of the chlorine and that the normal price for admittance translates to be about 6 bucks a pop. Heek. I’m glad the school gets a cut rate!
I am feeling more and more socially normal and adept in school, although I haven’t made the leap to hanging-out-on-the-weekend-casually yet. I’ll get there eventually, hopefully. I do have some inside jokes now. For instance, the other day after learning about blood types in health class Sharon asked me if we had the same blood type system in the US. However, I thought she asked if I had blood. I replied with some incredulity, 'Yes, I have blood' at which point Sharon looked at me quizzically and burst out laughing. Now this has become a favorite reference when I miss something or she's not sure if I got what was going on. Blood has never made me so happy before!
I made cornbread last night for supper and it was marvelous. Cécile came too and I got to introduce this All-American dish to them. I told them that this is what cowboys would eat sometimes, and they got a kick out of that and called it cowboy bread. Yay for American cuisine!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Finale of the Architect Game

      I realized I never related how Marianne finished paying her architect. She did use a jar of olives, but she added some additional flare. She put a pickle in the jar of olives and then wrote a note to the effect of "careful, some of us have hard centers" and gave it to him. Then she sent his one cent in the mail. HA!
  

3 Months


This otherwise insignificant, ordinary date marks the third month since I left Alaska. I’ve been here in Belgium for basically a quarter of a year. 8 months remain. Please allow me a little of reflection, even if it seems a bit ridiculous.  These things seem bigger when you are halfway across the world and are prone to homesickness and accomplishing adventures.
I am a little surprised at myself, but I miss snow. Snow is pretty and cozy and also much less WET than rain! Plus it’s so weeeird to see flowers blooming in November! Yet it feels super cold and wet here. Hooray for long johns!
Time seems to be chugging along; the first couple weeks I was here time passed “like a snail dragging a history book” (Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie---hilarious book. Read it.) but now things feel more normal and are going lot faster. All kinds of school projects and trips and tests are whizzing right along!
For instance, today we had our first animation in the field. STRESS. The first hour or so went like clockwork. We had stations set up and divided the young boys into small groups; easy to manage and everyone had a good time. Then we had some larger games that weren’t prepared very well: basically a massacre. Carnage. Anarchy. I was responsible for one of the larger games in between two others--- envision trying to calm and get the attention of 20 screaming, running 8 year olds when you don’t speak their language. Heuh. Luckily our teacher intervened for me and told them that I was American and that they had to be really nice to me because it was hard for me to speak French. Phewf. I made some goofs, there was a bit of brouhaha, but we all survived my animation without absolute carnage. Hopefully this gets easier with practice, because next time I have to do this alone instead of in a group with 11 other students!
I also learned about another Belgian holiday today. In art class we made St. Nicholas out of empty toilet paper rolls and someone asked me if we had St. Nicholas in the US. I thought it was the same thing as Santa Claus, but it turns out that St. Nicholas has his own holiday here. He is kind of similar to Santa Claus (Father Christmas=Père Noel); he brings toys for good children and has a big white beard and wears red. He carries his presents on a donkey and carries a shepherd’s crook. For girls however, St. Catherine is the one who brings the presents. I don’t really understand all the details here. The holiday is December 6, so there are lots of chocolate St. Nicholases and special pastries and candies in the stores now. I guess this is a good replacement for Thanksgiving!
  Some notes on Belgian culture I have forgotten to mention:
Belgians say they are punctual, but they’re not.  If they say that they’re going to do something at a certain time, often they start 5 or 10 minutes later. In school, it’s no big deal if you’re a couple minutes late to class so long as one of the other students can tell the teacher where you are during roll call.
Saying ‘you’re welcome’ isn’t used as much as it is in English. Every now and then someone will say ‘it’s nothing’ or ‘with pleasure’ but a response is not drilled into everyday etiquette like it is in English.
Also:
Tomorrow I am going to make cornbread (for real!) and gravy for dinner with some of the cornmeal my church sent me. Oh boy!
I recently learned a nickname for American Field Service (AFS): Another Fat Student. Ha. Unfortunately, it is based on the truth. Almost everyone gains weight on their exchange. Potential exchangers, ye be warned.
OH, I almost forgot, I have to announce that I finished the entire 100 page play we had to read for French class! With two dictionaries and a pencil, I understood the entire thing! The ENTIRE THING. Just wanted to share that very exciting fact. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Rain+Chocolate+Fries+Beer+Cheese= Definitely a Day in Belgium


Yesterday we went with AFS to Chimay, a little town in Hainaut famous for beer, cheese, and pickled eel. Our first stop was a chocolaterie for a presentation(and free samples!). The smell alone was worth getting up at 5 in the morning, and it was mesmerizing to watch the chocolatier filling molds from veritable fountains of chocolate of different kinds. He also explained some chocolate facts (like why white chocolate is more expensive) and told us some recipes. I tried to reference the I Love Lucy episode in the chocolate factory but no one else had ever seen it. There was much talk of Charlie and the Chocolate factory, however.
After this little trip to heaven, we had free time to find lunch, and the wetness began.  Belgium has been having horrendous weather this weekend---Thursday we had a wind/rain storm that knocked down several trees, and rain has kept up pretty much since then. Yesterday it was ‘raining ropes’ unceasingly. In French you can say that weather is beautiful (beau) and when it’s nasty out you say that the weather is ugly (moche). Yesterday the weather had a wart on the end of its nose, a black eye, and missing teeth. Despite our umbrellas and raincoats, we were dripping by the time we made it to a friterie. We draped our coats on a nearby heater and left full of hot frites, sauce, and new courage.
Little did we know we were hopping out of the frying pan into the fire. We made it back to our rendez-vous at the tourism center and found out that we were heading out for an hour and a half walking tour of Chimay. The tour guide had excellent English (although this was his first tour in English for native English speakers in 6 years) and gave an interesting tour of the local church and monuments. I had no idea, but some of the cobbled streets here date back to the 17OO’s. Wow. We were walking the exact same street as contemporaries of the French Revolution. I thought that was very cool. Chimay was originally settled around 1000 or 1100 (I forget which) and was mostly a forested region. Iron working and limestone was big in the region, as was the church. The local monks created the now-famous Chimay beer and cheese. The church was beautiful, primitive gothic, and DRY. We enjoyed our 15 minutes in there very much.
We survived the tour and returned to the tourism center to watch some videos on Chimay specialties and wring out our clothing. The videos showed us how the beer and cheese was made, and then we got to try some. The beer was, well, beer (bitter and not very good) but was better than some varieties I have tried. The cheese, on the other hand, was delightful, with and without celery salt. We shared our Belgian repast and then headed out to wait for the bus (more rain) that would get us back to the train station in Charleroi.
All in all, it was a worthwhile day. We students have been here almost 3 months, and now we are having more and more conversations in French between ourselves instead of just English. I find it is so much easier to be social and outgoing and friendly in English or with English to fall back on. A day to use my English and be outgoing was very welcome, even if it was rather soggy. I got soaked right down to my voting card in my wallet, even with the advantage of a raincoat, and today I am rather snuffly.  Jane Austen, I will never make fun of your characters for getting their feet wet and then catching cold and almost dying again. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

My School

I realized that a photo of my school might be an interesting thing to put here. So here's the website: Sainte-Union
This is a distant, flattering photo. The building was an English hospital during the 2nd World War and has been through a lot.

Monday, November 8, 2010

As American as Apple Pie


I have accomplished my project for the week: Mission Belgian Thanksgiving complete! While I am deeply indebted to Mom for sending me oodles of recipes and instructions (Merci!), I am quite pleased with myself for making a Thanksgiving dinner all by myself; it makes me feel rather grown-up!
After poring over Mom’s recipes I went trundling off to the store with my trusty backpack to find turkey and lard and other strange items (I asked about an entire turkey and the store clerks looked at me like I was nuts. Those only appear here around Christmas).  Turkey is not very popular here (except at Christmas. I guess a whole turkey has become a tradition); there are large sections of duck, lamb, pork, rabbit, and chicken, with even some pheasant thrown in, but only a smidgen of turkey. Luckily I found some nice turkey thighs that served quite well. Saturday I made real American apple pies without catastrophe, and Sunday morning I made stuffing, baked the turkey thighs, mashed the potatoes, dug out the cranberry sauce, set out the olives, cooked the veggies, and whipped out the gravy. All without catastrophe. Marianne remarked that I seemed rather serious and wasn’t singing like I tend to in the kitchen---I was too busy trying to think of everything I might have forgotten and what was in the oven and what could possibly burn, boil over, or get cold!
Once Pépé came I started breathing more easily, and we had a nice chat while he helped me finish. Cécile, Gilles, Jean, Jean-Pierre, and of course Marianne, Julia, and myself were also present. I took pictures of everybody and made them all say something they were thankful for before the feast. Everyone took my little traditions in stride and we had a lovely festive feast, complete with champagne and apple pie and ice cream for dessert. We all ate a little too well and got sleepy in the true Thanksgiving spirit, and of course there were the mandatory Thanksgiving leftovers. Success.
Today I shared some of my precious American peanut butter with my class (I had told them that it is different than the stuff here; less sugary). The brave Belgians curiously sampled some with little plastic spoons and I watched their faces to see what they thought.  There were quite a few delighted raised eyebrows, some quizzical frowns, and only a few horrified grimaces. My health teacher tried it and really liked it too. Most of them were really surprised how salty it was. So now they have been properly introduced to the wonders of American cuisine.
 Also: Deedee, I am wearing the magnificent fingerless gloves you made! My fingers are wonderfully toasty and I can type at the same time! What's more, the colors match my favorite coat. Thank you very very much! 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Forgotten Food


Another thing I forgot to mention about last weekend: I discovered the pleasant traditional Belgian breakfast and the…not so pleasurable pressed head.
The Belgian breakfast consists of a bowl of coffee, hot chocolate, or tea. Not a cup---a bowl. Then you take a sandwich with butter, jam, and/or chocolate spread and dip it in the forementioned bowl of hot liquid and devour. Oh so good.
            I discovered pressed head quite by accident. It was this mysterious meatloaf-looking stuff that didn’t look too dangerous, so I took a slice and added a generous dollop of mustard at Benjamin’s suggestion. During the meal, after I had eaten about half of the gummy, wet stuff and discovered that horseradish was an important ingredient in the mustard, someone asked what the meatloaf stuff was. After a description of boiling pig heads, extracting brain matter, and pushing it together in forms, I regarded my not-so benign slice of meat with a whole new perspective. Luckily I had plenty of mustard left.
            And while we’re speaking of food: I found cranberry sauce here in Belgium! Hooray for my Thanksgiving meal-to-be! 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Short Stories

There's a new edition to Marianne's interactions with the architect. He found his payment was missing 5 cents. She said she was pretty sure it was there, but he affirmed that it was missing---he counted ALL the coins twice. So Marianne made a cootie catcher (paper dealie for kids) and put 4 coins under some of the flaps and wrote 'no luck, it's lost' under the others. She then put the cootie catcher in 3 or 4 envelopes, increasing in size, and delivered it. The game continues; he's coming again for his 1 cent and she's dreaming up a new scheme for it now. Perhaps 1 cent in an olive in a jar of olives? 

Another humorous occurrence: Coming back from Libramont, I was using a Go Pass for my train ticket. For each trip you have to fill out the departure and arrival station and the date on the ticket, and then perhaps during the trip the conductor comes and punches it (perhaps not). This particular time the conductor came asking to see our tickets. I groggily gave him my filled-out ticket and waited for him to hand it back. Instead he studied my ticket and frowned and said something fast in French. When I asked what was wrong, he said something to this effect: 'I don't know what you've been smoking, but this says it's the 11th of January'. Horrified, I realized I had written the date like a crazy American, with the month first instead of the day. I started to worriedly explain, but he cut me off, handed back my ticket, and walked away laughing. Oh la la. The other kids with me remarked that since it didn't specify on the ticket which was the day and month my ticket technically wasn't wrong.  Even so, I'll try to be more European next time!

Thank you!

To everyone in the UP Church up in AK:
  I got your package yesterday! Thank you so much! I am enjoying every little bit of that box, from decorating my room with the cards, laughing at he cornmeal, ogling the flashy office supplies, right down to reading the funnies that were used for stuffing! You made my day!
  
   On another note, just FYI (for your information): We changed our clocks here this weekend, much to my confusion. I thought we were horrendously late, but turns out everything was okey dokey. So for now there's only 9 hours between Belgium and AK time!
  

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Wonderfle should be spelled like Waffle



            This weekend was chuck-full of wonderfulness (I just had to stop and stare at the word ‘wonderful’ and wonder if I should spell it wonderfle. This is becoming a common occurrence. And wonderfle makes sense because it is spelled like waffle, which is another way to say wonderful).
            Our class was recruited to work at a cross-country race for the elementary schools, so we didn’t have any classes Friday. Instead, I got to try to help control hundreds of rowdy, infantile francophones. Oh la la. I worked in the warm up station, so after a day full of jumping jacks and encouraging small children I was pretty whipped.  With the help of friends and some chocolate, I made it home and to the train station, where I set off on a 3 hour train trip with Benjamin (a friend from school) for Libramont and Soul Quest!
            Soul Quest, a Christian youth festival, was really a blessed time. There were around 300 youth there, plus 10 or so different Catholic communities (including Marie Jeunesse). I got to meet the Texan brother who had invited me and discovered that quite a few of the brothers and sisters in the communities are Americans and Canadians. I loved hearing the familiar American accents! I also laughed to see how they would speak French and pause and say the very American ‘um’ (Francophones say ‘euh’). What’s more, they offered translation! I took advantage of that for the first speaker and then discovered that I could understand most of what was going on. How absolutely marvelous to comprehend! This has got to be one of the most satisfying parts of being an exchange student.
            Out of this enormous Christian community, I am pretty sure I was the only Protestant. They welcomed me with open arms and answered my questions patiently. I also found that most people didn’t know much about Protestants either (and the different braches of Protestants---definitely not.) so we got to compare notes and teach each other at the same time. I learned what was going on during the mass, the biblical reasons for praying to saints, about the sacrament of confession, and about other facets of a rich and powerful Christian tradition I had never really understood before. I found their style to be much much more physical and concrete than other churches I have seen, and I find that element of their worship to be a positive way to focus the whole being on interaction with God. That said, I also disagree with some elements, but I understand their point of view better now. I had a very rich glimpse into the lives and faith of fellow Christians and came away with a new perspective---it was great!
            Last Friday we got our ‘bulletins’; our report cards. Both Julia and I are doing just fine. I definitely met my goal of passing all my classes, and when the principal called Marianne to talk about our grades he had only smiley faces to report. It was a good way to kick off our week vacation from school! November first is the festival of Toussaint (All Saints) and the second is the Jour de Morts (Day of the Dead). Most businesses were closed down for All Saints day, but Jour de Morts had things back to normal. Halloween was also this weekend, but Halloween is not a big thing here. There are a few people who actually dress up and eat candy, and there’s a teensy bit of trick or treating, but mostly it is an American holiday that they are trying to market here. Like popcorn and peanut butter, it hasn’t really taken off. Jean really likes Halloween however, so he and Gilles spent the weekend at two Halloween parties and actually dressed up. I am anticipating seeing the photos!
            Another story to recount: Marianne had to pay her architect last week, and she normally writes him a poem or some kind of joke to go with the payment. This time she ran out of literary inspiration, so instead she went to the bank and asked for several hundred euros---in coins. Then she took off the wrappings of the different types of coins and mixed them up in a box (it would’ve been just too easy otherwise). He opened the box and called her a bad name and they had a good laugh. Our house is full of laughter.
            I am going to be a busy girl this week; I want to make a Thanksgiving dinner AND my French teacher expects us to read an entire 100+ page play (La Nuit de Valognes) over the break. I am getting ready to delve into it with the aid of my two dictionaries and a pencil, and Benjamin has offered to help me too, so I think I will make it. Hopefully. And by the end I will be oh so proud to have read an entire play in French. Wonderfle. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Meatloaf, Frogs, Peanut butter, and Finger Food



         Tonight I am making meatloaf and baked potatoes. Nomnomnom. Julia should like it, since she will be allowed to smother everything in ketchup!
         Tomorrow I am going to Libramont for the youth festival! I have been told that Libramont is in the Ardennes, the only ‘mountainous’ region in Belgium, so I’m curious to see what that will look like. It’s basically on the other side of Belgium, so the train ride will be about 3 hours. 3 hours to cross an entire country!
         Today in health class we were discussing skin and secretions, and frogs came up. Someone asked if there were frogs in Alaska, and thus began a deluge of questions and answers about Alaska that went on for about 15 minutes. Thus, my head was a little like a cartoon owl (swiveling all around!) and I am going to bring some of my peanut butter hoard to school for them to taste.  
         Another difference I have noticed here: pizza is eaten in the round here, and always with a fork and knife. Pizza is sold by the pizza, not by the slice. My friends at school were mildly horrified that we eat pizza and fries with our hands all the time. Luckily the messy Americans are more inclined to wash their hands! (They were also shocked and horrified that Americans don't kiss each other to say hello.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Flashmob Video

Click here to see a video of the flashmob!http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXsvdlJc4Ec

More Miscellany

Things I forgot to mention:
    Europeans don't bat an eye at drinking, smoking tobacco, or even smoking pot. Mention owning a gun and they think you're crazy and a maladjusted individual.
    Last Saturday I went with Marianne to buy paint for my room; it will be green, green, and green! (3 different shades, of course). I think it's getting close to being done! I learned that you have to pay to use shopping carts.
    Gone are the days of iparent and confidential test scores; students get their grades read out loud from their teacher and write it down here.  Grades are expressed as points out of 20, never in percentages. Before a report card the teacher announces the overall grade.
        It's frosting now and some of the trees have lost their leaves. The wind is colder and more frequent. But the grass is still green!
  

Mobbin' the Flashmob, Mysteries, and Miscellaneous

   This Sunday Julia and I participated in AFS Belgium’s long-anticipated flashmob in Brussels! (A flashmob is when people show up in a public place and all begin to dance to music. There are also flashmobs where you just show up at a certain time and freeze.) We have been practicing the dance since we arrived in Belgium, but we had to keep it on the down low because flashmobs are supposed to be a surprise. We took the train to Brussels Sunday morning to meet up with AFSers from the entirety of Belgium. We got to see our friends from orientation and we Americans shared some very welcome American hugs (Belgians are big on kissing, but not so enthusiastic about hugging). We kissed each other too, and laughed about how we would have been shocked two months ago. We also compared notes on our deteriorating English and improving French. I also discovered that Julia and I are not the only northerners freezing to death here---it is HUMID! And if we are freezing, I can only imagine what the poor Mexicans are feeling. 
All 170 of us practiced dancing all day until we had our act together, and then we went out to assimilate into the tourists in the area. We ogled the Godiva chocolate pumpkins (Halloween is sorta recognized here), oohed and ahed at the Belgian lace, and walked around gaping at things waiting for the music to start. When Jai Ho came on, my group started dancing. I ended up in the front corner, and found myself confronted with about 30 tourists’ cameras pointed at my terrified face! (PLUS a journalist’s camera! I do believe we were on the news.) We had some goofs, but all in all we rocked Jai Ho, Alors On Danse(Belgian), Tik Tok, Yankee Daddy, and the Waka Waka. There was laughter and smiles all around, and I think AFS definitely made an impression on the tourists that were present! We even got a couple of them to dance with us. Definitely an awesome experience. 
Afterwards we hung out in the station with some other students and a Norwegian boy and I happily debated the plausibility of conservative politics and the existence of God. The others rolled their eyes at us. This week I made an Italian chicken dish for supper for everyone---Cecile and Pépé included! It wasn’t quite as amazing as when I made it with Lauren (she wasn’t there to keep me on my toes!), but it turned out well. Unfortunately, I didn’t know Marianne doesn’t like peppers---one of the principal ingredients. We laughed because she picked them out and we said she was eating like Julia (tu vas être forte est grande jamais!)  I also made split seconds (demisecondes) and those were quite a hit. Cécile thoughtfully brought me baking powder and PEANUT BUTTER without any sugar! She is so sweet and I love her!
Friday several friends came home from school with us to look at some photos of Alaska and hang out. We looked over some AK photos, met the four-footed residents (some of them, anyway!) talked about twilight, looked over Icelandic things, and ended the evening by singing Hakuna Matata in French, Icelandic, and English. Good fun, and I was very happy to have finally invited some people to do something! 
I have another Belgian saying: Garder une poire pour la soif= Keep a pear for thirst= save something for hard times.
Touchtou and I still play Frisbee almost every day. There’s been a handsome Blue Heron in the area, and we see him most days. It has been rather muddy lately, so sometimes I bring back a brown dog instead of a white one! (insert towels and scrubbing here). 
There is a tantalizing bakery just across the street from our house, so Julia and I went there this week to get something for breakfast. The bakery is full of croissants and pastries and so many good things I don’t know the names of. When we left with our loot in tow, the Belgian weather assaulted us with a surprise downpour. Julia seized the day and led our speedy retreat across the street. We may have been rather damp, but the sweet raisin bread was totally worth it. I think we will be visiting that bakery again. And our reconnaissance was very useful---we wore raincoats to school and avoided soaking by several more surprise attacks! 
      I can definitely feel my English grammar slipping…I’m forgetting some words too. But on the other hand, I am passing ALL of my classes (which was my goal!) and I can understand so much more! Speedy speaking does not confound me like it once did---I can even understand Marianne’s conversations! Mostly, anyways. Yesterday I filled out a true and false section in Science and Technology test and realized after I’d turned it in that I had put T for the true answers instead of V for vrai! My teacher laughed and said it wasn’t a problem.  
This weekend I am going to a youth festival with the Marie Jeunesse (a Catholic youth group, basically). I am super duper excited, and thanking God for putting together several coincidences that gave me the chance to go!(My French teacher gave me the card of an American pastor who is familiar with Alaska, and when I talked to him about Anchorage and Moose Tracks ice cream he invited me to this festival on the other side of Belgium. Then I realized that one of the students in my class is also involved in Marie Jeunesse and found out that he is going too, so we can take the train together and I won’t get lost and it’s going to be amazing!) Anyways, I am excited. The festival is going to be in Libramont, which is in the Ardennes. I haven’t seen that corner of the country yet, so I’m pumped!
We also have a vacation from school next week. Fall break---what a splendid idea! I think I’m going to try to make an early Thanksgiving dinner that week. Julia wants to learn to make an American apple pie, which I am all for! Now to find the Belgian equivalent of Crisco…
Speaking of food, I finally discovered what is in Filet Americain, a popular sandwich spread: whipped egg, mayo, and raw hamburger meat. It's actually really good. It's basically just raw meatloaf. But most Americans definitely do not eat it, so the name remains a mystery. 


Sunday, October 17, 2010

2 months down...


Well, I’ve been out and about in the world for 2 months today. Only 9 more left!
            This week I broke my previous record and had 5 dogs in my bed one night. They kept skooshing me, and I kept scootching, and eventually I ended up with about 12 inches on the very edge of the double bed. I was nice and warm though, and certainly not lonely!
            Yesterday I went with Marianne to pick up the furniture she bought for my bedroom. There’s a nice double bed, a dresser, and two end tables. They’re all very handsome. She bought them from a sort of short-term hotel that is going out of business, so my bed has lots of…experience. We had some good laughs out of that. We went with Veronique and her husband because they knew where the place was, and they were also an essential part of the disassembly-and-transportation-down-the-steep-European-stairs team. When we got there, we realized that we didn’t have the right tool to take apart the furniture, but luckily Veronique had a belt buckle that worked effectively. Everything made it into the vehicle without trouble, and then we headed back to Veronique’s for an amiable visit. The sun was shining and the wind was blowing, and we had a nice drive over the HILLY country to Veronique’s (there are next to no hills here!) It was a pleasant Saturday on the whole.
            There is a strike tonight and tomorrow for the trains. Last Monday it was the buses. I think it’s rather odd, but they schedule their strikes in advance so everyone knows when it’s going to happen and for exactly how long. And the strikes only last one day. Last Monday there were fewer kids at school, but classes continued like normal. We’ll see what it’s like tomorrow. Gilles and Jean are here for the weekend, so they have to pay attention to take their trains today before the strike starts.           
            I may be Alaskan, and it may not be freezing here yet, but it feels freakin’ COLD here because it is humid! And they don’t really do heating here. I guess the buildings are too old and it’s too expensive. So I am swaddled up under the bed covers with a mug of tea and it’s only October. Note to self: buy fingerless gloves so you can type without having frozen fingers.
            A note on the social workings of Belgium: you hang out with fewer people here and have fewer friends, but they are closer friends. In the US you might have 20 people you talk to and hang out with during classes and at lunch, but here it is more like 10 at the most.  We have close friends in the US too, but you have to invest years to get really close because you don’t spend that much concentrated time with them. Here you make closer friends faster. So that’s different.
            We had oysters for dinner with Cecile and Pépé this week. I guess it’s the start of the oyster season, and Pépé really loves oysters. Julia had pasta, but the rest of us happily slurped down our raw oysters with lemon juice. I couldn’t taste the lemon juice at all; it was like a taste of the sea. We had puddles of the sea on our plates when we were done too!
            This week is yet again full of tests and I have a fat folder of field work stuff due. I’m not too worried about it. Hooray for not stressing over school work!

            

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Bit of Bliss


I am currently tucked into my bed with a scarf, sweatshirt, coat, wool socks, and a dog(Touchtou, of course!) after a nice hot shower on a frigid fall day. Thus, I am sitting here with a slightly idiotic smile plastered on my face reveling in coziness. *insert blissful sigh here*
            The hamburger pie turned out well, much to my delight (the power of prayer!)The mashed potatoes were rather gluey (I have been informed that that was the potatoes’ problem, not mine) but it was ok because they weren’t a dish all by themselves. I made it on the spicy side, which turned out to be a bit much for Julia. However, she did like the corn chips (she even tried eating them with nutella on a later occasion).  The French visitor turned out to be two, and they each had 3 helpings. They were very curious about what was in it, and about Iceland and Alaska too (Palin? Yes, that’s the one).
            Today I found out that one of my classmates is 20. I had not realized that. Most kids are 16, give or take. Oh la la.
            Julia has introduced me to the TV show Friends and we are going to watch one now, I think. So ttfn(tata for now!).

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Hamburger Pie Hopefully


     I am making hamburger pie for supper tonight. I really really hope there are no mishaps this time because a friend of Marianne’s is coming for dinner. And I have never met her before, and she is French. Oh my oh my.
            Yesterday my group presented our games and I taught my class how to play I Spy in our ‘how to play games with the people you’re in charge of’ class. They don’t have anything like that here, so it was fun to see a bunch of teenagers playing I Spy for the first time. I also had them play an adapted version of scattergories because our group had too much time left over, and that was also completely new for them. Both activities went well, and I think they even had fun.
            Today in English class I tried to teach a friend the difference between the initial sounds in the words ‘feel’, ‘think’ and ‘these’. Both ‘th’ sounds don’t exist in French, so she thought that ‘think’ and ‘feel’ started with the same sound. The spit factor was a little dangerous, but there were no catastrophes, and she started pronouncing it right. And it was rather amusing.
            In French class we are doing an overview of the evolution of theater (sound familiar, anyone?). You know you’re an exchange student when mere mentions of Waiting for Godot, Westside Story, and Shakespeare seem warm and fuzzy and so wonderfully familiar that you could just hug them to death. I think we’re  going to read one of Moliere’s plays this year, which I’m excited about. It’ll probably be really hard for me, but it will be the original French version!
            Another cultural difference here that I have forgotten to mention: blowing your nose here is not discreet at all. Teachers and students blow their nose in the middle of class, in the middle of a sentence, without turning aside or anything, tuck their handkercheif back in their pocket, and continue like nothing happened. Julia has been very attentive to this, because blowing your nose is considered extremely disgusting in Icelandic culture. In public, they sniff with gusto rather than blow their nose. Everyone deals with snot differently, I guess.
            Julia is learning more and more French, and understands a lot more now. Speaking is still difficult, but she can answer a lot more questions now. I can understand the majority of what goes on in class now, but I still have a hard time understanding the other kids’ conversations, especially during lunch when it’s extremely noisy. I can’t wait until I understand their conversations entirely! I will do a major happy dance when that happens. I might even sing at the same time.
            My room is ready to be painted, and Marianne is going to let me choose a color. She says I can pick whatever I like because if the next resident doesn’t like it, they can choose their own color. Do I have a cool host mom or what? I am vacillating between orange and green.
            Well, off I go to mash the potatoes and start the hamburger pie! I will say a prayer BEFORE I get into trouble this time!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Accomplishments of the Week


1. Found the postoffice
2. Learned how to open and close the door in my room to the balcony
3. Probably passed all my tests (50% or better)
4. Can say ‘debruillerais’
5. Ran with the boys and beat a couple of them
6. Discovered Speculoos chocolate (YUM)
7. Forgot how long I’ve been here (time is going faster! At the beginning every day seemed like eons)
8. Determined to make Speculoos smores at some point and time
9. Learned that Belgian spiders are not poisonous, even if they are 8 cm across with visible fangs
10. Negotiated successfully with the residential printer
11. Understood more French
12. Taught some friends to say “ ‘sup”

Mons


Yesterday we had our post-arrival orientation with AFS in Mons, a cheese supper. Julia and I took the train in the morning, despite my blunder of looking at the wrong day’s schedule and thinking our train would be earlier. Luckily there was another train later, and we ate hot things from a pastry shop while we waited. Croissants are so amazing that I almost forgot to freak out about making sure we were on the right platform and that we were going to be on the right train, etc. Luckily Julia was there to make me calm down and reassure me that we were at the right spot. We were, of course, and spent the half-an-hour train ride with another AFSer.
We had a great day in Mons. We spent the morning talking about our families and playing games(metaphorical, of course!). It was a relief to talk to other exchange students and know that we are all in the same boat in a lot of ways. We shared some fun stories too! After lunch we moved on to school, friends, and rules discussions, and then we set off on a little tour of Mons (after being refueled with waffles). We stopped at the Cathedral for a group photo with about 15 different cameras (AFS volunteers have skills). The buildings were very antiquated and beautiful; I felt a little like I was in a fairy tale or in a history book. We visited a little monkey statue in the grande place of Mons which you’re supposed to rub with your left hand for luck, and laughed at a nearby bridegroom wearing orange fishnets and not much else.
We returned to have a supper of cheese, salads, bread, and beer with our host families. There were so many varieties of cheese! They were all set out beautifully with little signs, which confirmed my suspicion that I had never heard of any of them. The types I got to try were delicious spread on olive bread! I went for the orange juice and avoided the beer, since I wasn’t so sure I wanted to drink a whole one. And I also had no idea what the difference was between the billions of varieties! We got to meet each others families, which was nice, and visit some more during a very European meal. I learned that Canadians have Thanksgiving too, but that Americans really are the only ones who use Farenheit. Good times.
I have learned another French saying: dire/faire quelque chose avec les gants=to say/to do something with gloves= to do it gently. I like it.
Today the sun is shining again. I am actually getting ‘tan’ here! I have also learned to expect a Christmas with GREEN GRASS. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around that one. I guess the trees do lose their leaves, at least. It is also humid here, so my hair has been very 80’s ish of late. Thanks to some hairspray, I might not resort to shaving my head. Maybe.
Last Sunday I made an American breakfast for lunch. I tried not to laugh too hard when they spread nutella on pancakes and then carefully folded them like  crepes. American pancakes are a lot fatter than French ones, so it was not nearly as aesthetic. But they liked them anyway.
I survived my week of tests and am expecting another full week ahead, with observations in the field and preparations for actually working in the field. The students have really been helping me a lot with getting to and from stages and with everything else in this new school and environment. I am so incredibly grateful! I’m a little nervous about speaking my French and trying to be a good social worker at the same time. We’ll see how it goes. Maybe I can make them laugh at my accent, if nothing else!
            

Wednesday, October 6, 2010