Thursday, February 24, 2011

Belgium Video

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Three Wild Weeks: la fin

So here's everything else I didn't have time to mention in my last post.
I have started a CPR class after school at the Red Cross. It's a requirement for the Education certification, which I won't be earning, but it certainly won't hurt me or anyone else if I know how to resuscitate unconscious folks. Plus, it's actually quite enjoyable. Nothing like the exchange student role-playing a cranky motorist with a fractured neck who wants a cigarette to make classmates giggle. And my calls to 112 (equivalent of 911) are pretty laughable. Last week we got to work with a manikin to practice compressions and shocking the victim with a mimed defibrilator, and tomorrow we get to work with fake blood. Muahahaha.
We've been analyzing poetry in French class, much to my delight and my classmates' horror. I understand enough of the vocabulary to pick up on major themes (most of the time) and the teacher's explanations reveal the connotations and ideas I'd missed. So I learn a lot of new words. Thankfully the teacher is patient and doesn't mind explaining words like 'hatched' and 'halo'.
In government class we are learning about the Rights of Man, Child's Rights, and the Belgian Constitution. Once again I am astounded at how the political mind here works. You'd think no one had ever read 1984 or Anthem. My teacher explained capitalism by saying that 'they're greedy and want to keep all their money for themselves'. Over 50 percent of salaries here go to social security. The Constitution gives you the RIGHT to lodging, food, clothing, medical treatment, and basically everything to live in dignity, besides the right to Social Security. You also have the RIGHT to paid vacations and time off. The king is the head of the armed forces, but he has to go through the EU to actually do anything(moreso than the President of the US has to go through congress), and Belgium is basically dependent on the EU for all military direction and power. Salaries are automatically increased with inflation. All this besides the fact that the country still has no government. Aiyaiyai. Ironically the more capitalist US provides free transportation to school, but the socialist Belgians have to pay a small fortune out of pocket for trains, buses, etc. to get their kids to school.
Speaking of government messes, I also FINALLY received my Belgian ID card! I am so relieved to have this laborious saga of frustrated visits to the Hôtel de Ville finished! So now I am properly papered and have my cool little plastic card that looks like I belong here. Hooray!
Here are some sayings I've picked up lately:
Coup de pompe= blow of the pump= when you suddenly get tired
Froid de canard= Duck Cold= It's super cold out! (My Grandfather liked to say 'colder than a witch's tit' but I'm not sure if that was just him)
The weather here is really warming up. The sun has been shining and it's light when we walk to school now. I'm having a hard time believing it's only February!
Last Friday I took the train to Chimay with several other girls to help with an AFS activity with the local school for their language festival. The students had to try to communicate with us without using French. So I spent the day speaking English, and was pleasantly surprised to see how much the secondary students understood. Most of them were a little shy with me, but they were with each other too. Gotta love those awkward middle-school years. During our lunch break we went and walked around a bit, enjoying our soggy memories of Chimay and the absence of rain.
Saturday I was once again on the train for our AFS mid-stay orientation in Libramont. The train for the last leg of the trip was absolutely crammed with AFS backpacks, sweatshirts, smiling students, and a dozen different languages clattering along all at once. It was good to see all of us imported Wallonians again. We played games, reflected, bemoaned our Belgian waistlines (AFS is also known as Another Fat Student), and of course enjoyed fries and mayo together.
We did an exercise with stereotypes about each others' countries that I found particularly interesting. For the US, here's what came to mind for the others in our group: Fat, McDonald's, junk food, egotistical, athletic, and the one that surprised me: war. It actually came up twice. I am inclined to think that that's because the US is a world power, so when we get into war it's a well-known and criticized conflict. I don't think we get into war more than other countries, necessarily. As for the other stereotypes, there is indeed a basis for them. As far as I have noticed, Americans fall more often at the extreme ends of the health spectrum than Europeans. We have a lot more morbidly obese folks and a lot more athletic people. Here there really aren't any athletes (I think this is because athletics are not a part of school life, which makes it a lot harder to get involved or go professional), and not many people are grossly obese, they're just mostly comfortably a few kilos overweight. As for the McDonald's and junk food stereotypes, I actually eat more junk food here in Belgium than I ever did in the US. The Belgians eat chocolate and speculoos and other unhealthy things like they're going out of style, as far as I can see. McDonald's and Quick are also pretty popular. I also learned that the US is the second most obese nation---Mexico is number one. As for being Egotistical, yes, we Americans are. We believe we are the best country in the world, and we lack exposure or interest in other cultures. I think this is because we have no need to ever leave the US---it's not like here, where the nearest IKEA store is in France and Dutch-speakers live just a few kms away. The US is enormous, and English has become THE language to learn and speak in business and the world. We don't need to leave or learn another language, ever, really.
I have more to say but no more time. A tantôt!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

3 Wild Weeks: Part I

Well, I am very behind on writing down life. Three weeksish of wonderful stuff to catch up on! Here's the first installation.
I adore inservice days---2 extra days of fun!
Wednesday after school I got to go to Benjamin's house to hang out with him and Sharon for the afternoon. I met his cats and family, took a grand tour of their new house, and had a very Belgian dish, chicon gratin (endives wrapped in ham covered in a white cheese sauce baked with more cheese-nom). We looked at photos, talked religion, and just hung out. We had fun like teenagers everywhere do. It's a huge comfort and satisfaction to have friends here!
Thursday I enjoyed sleeping in and finished a scholarship paper( that wasn't the fun part, but I managed to remember my English lexicon sufficiently to write a 5 paragraph essay!) and then Julia and I spent the afternoon chilling. We watched 'She's the Man' and had to keep pausing the movie because we were laughing too hard. Good girl bonding time.
Friday I invited some friends over from school for lunch to experience an American breakfast: pancakes, eggs with bacon, and fruit. Plus jam, milk, peanut butter, syrup, and whipped cream for the pancakes---they thought that was pretty weird. Marianne and Sabine were brave enough to try some peanut butter, and all the Belgians daintily folded their pancakes into fourths like crepes. Overall the food was a success, but I doubt it would have turned out that way had it been at the proper time of the day---I have heard several Belgians expressing slack-jawed horror at the thought of eating ham and cheese in the morning. When we had finished the American experience, we hung out and played cards. I taught them Egyptian Rat Slap, which was a big hit (oh I'm punny...) despite the name, and they taught me a rather complicated but fun game that I forget the name of. I also showed them how Skype works---my Belgian friends and Alaskan family got to wave at each other and laugh at their respective disastrous accents. Bawnjoor (Bonjour). Mawkdawnalls (McDonald's). Sooopair (Super). Laughter and smiles don't need to be translated!
That night Jade took Julia and I out on the town with another girlfriend. We'd never been out before, even this is a principal weekend activity for youth here. 'Going out' to bars, clubs, and discothèques is not considered sketchy or dangerous for youth here; it's a very different atmosphere than in the US. We enjoyed the ambiance of an Irish and a tropical bar amongst the normal Belgian pubs (cafés). We had fun screaming during foosball matches, slurping banana milkshakes, playing soccer with a baguette, butchering DDR (video game), chomping fries in the grand place, and chatting with friendly bartenders until 5:30 AM. Yeah, that's how much fun we were having! We walked home and flopped into bed at 6:30 and slept like rocks. Dead and happy rocks.
Sunday we bundled up several dogs in doggie coats and drove to the sea for a greyhounds in nood walk. We had a wonderful promenade along the blustery beach under a blue sky, watching the greyhounds and whippets blast by like the racing dogs they are. Afterwards we humans enjoyed a hot spaghetti meal inside. I learned that Italians and polite Europeans eat pasta with a spoon. You take up a little bit of pasta with the spoon and then use it as a base to twirl the noodles around your fork. Easier said than done, but I started to get the hang of it without too many typical impolite-spaghetti-eating crises. Jade helped me decipher a bit of Dutch on some flyers on the table. Dutch is extremely similar to English, so I could understand just about everything written. Pronouncing it, however, is another story! After the Dutch lesson we teens made paper airplanes out of the flyers and had a sword duel with our coffee spoons. Despite several accidents with creamer and some wayward jetliners, it was a great goofy time. Fittingly, on the way home from the dog walk I watched 102 Dalmatians with Catherine's little daughter. What fun to sing Cruella DeVille in French! Greyhounds in nood is her perfect anithesis.