Well, I didn’t make it to my friend’s, unfortunately. But fortunately, there’s still a whole week of vacation to cram a whole bunch of whatnot into!
Julia and I went with Marianne to the Moyarts’ to usher in 2011. For Belgians, Christmas is a family holiday and New Year’s is for friends. Normally young people go out and party in miniskirts into the not-so-wee hours of the morning, but Julia and I went for the milder option. We came into 2011 dancing to the radio, and then began the kissing rounds---in Tournai, 4 kisses per person, 2 per cheek, are required for the New Year. This took a while. We started enjoying dinner around 10 PM and finished around 3:30 AM, so we definitely slept well when we got home!
The next day we fulfilled another Belgian tradition---visiting elders. Apparently back in the day this tradition was stronger, but a few people still observe it. The young people visit their older family to wish them a happy new year on the first, and the elders would give money and waffles to the visitors. We stopped by Adrienne’s (the house keeper who is like a grandmother) to bring her flowers and share some sodas.
Today I got to go with Fezzy to Lille (4th largest city in France, and not far from Tournai) to an exposition of middle-eastern/oriental artists that was sent from London---super cool! Julia was invited too, but now she is sick, unfortunately. There were installations, paintings, sculptures, textile work, even a taxidermied camel stuffed in a suitcase. One of my favorites was a collection of foil sculptures. The foil had been formed around at least one hundred different praying female figures, left with the face open so you could see that they were empty. It was entitled ‘ghost’. The exposition overall was very thought-provoking and offered a wide variety of works. Very very cool. After the museum, Fezzy took me through the old section of Lille to admire some of the renovated 18th century facades that now house chic boutiques and cafés. Fezzy taught me the French equivalent of ‘window shopping’: ‘lèche vitrine’= ‘window licking’. We stopped for some hot chocolate in a café for young people that was defnitely aiming for some American style. They even had NON sugared popcorn served as snacks on the tables! In France and Belgium, English names for products and stores are considered chic---ha! The grass is always greener on the other side. Fezzy used to live in France (among other places) before she came to Belgium, so I asked her what differences between the cultures she notices. Here’s some things she brought up:
1. Politics---French people like talking about politics and being up to date on everything going on. They are extremely patriotic and will defend ‘la France’ if it is criticized in conversation. The French are also perceived as being racist. Belgians are more prone to joke about their country and government than to have a seroius conversation about it. And no one is patriotic or really cares what the heck the government (if it exists) is up to.
2. Snobbery---call it what you like, but the stereotype of snobby French people is based on a sophisticated, meticulously-dressed culture who is, in fact, prone to snobbery. Overall, the French are complicated. Belgians are less so.
3. Food quality---French people like paying lots of money to eat very high quality food in very high quality restaurants. Belgians, on the other hand, love their friteries and aren’t so drawn by high-end, pricey dining.
4. Speed---the French are more like Americans in that time must not be wasted, and they have places to go and things to do and don’t get in their way. Belgians are more relaxed and laid back---they’ve got time.
Another cultural note: Disney is an international touchstone. Icelandic, French, Belgian, American---Julia, Jean, Gilles, and I are totally capable of having a great time playing Disney trivia even if the songs have different words and the characters’ names are different. Viva la Disney!
Also, here's a link to a video of the expo: enjoy!Video
Well, 'th-th-that's all, folks!' Here's to a coming year spent mostly in Belgique!