When I first came to Belgium, I felt like I was in Dr. Seus’s Whoville. Everywhere I walked everything looked so damn cute. And the words are so funny. I think the word hoeveel? which means how many? or how much? is actually pronounced hoo-vayl. Sounds like Whoville, no? The number eleven is elf. It’s either that or I am much closer to Middle Earth than I’ve ever been. All these cute Belgians speak English, how convenient for me. Don’t get me wrong though - I do as the Belgians do. I can say please and thank you like a Belgian, I can drink beer like a Belgian, I can eat deep fried food with special sauce like a Belgian, I can wait at a cross walk like a Belgian (sometimes).
Before I learned how to write in cursive in the second grade, I would sit in my room and pretend I knew how. Marking these big loops and swirls with my pencil thinking I was some kind of cursive composer. I faked it until I got it. So I thought I would take the same strategy to learning a bit of the local language. I will sit and listen to what people are saying and decipher it all phonetically, ear to pencil to paper.
I went to Sebbe’s house in Kappelen. We listened to Slayer preparing to play Texas Hold 'Em. I told Ward and Sebbe I have this assignment where I eavesdrop on Flemish conversations trying to pick up things I hear and have them translated. I told them to talk in Flemish and just ignore that I’m there. They laughed and started talking to mock me. Here are a few things I was able to pick up.
Something about orange juice.
actor in de nook - an actor in a nook?
achter den hoek? - achter auwen hoek?
Just around your corner.
A few days later, I went to the De Nieuwe Linde for drinks. I usually feel awkward sitting around while everyone is speaking Flemish for hours. So I told them to do their thing and just talk and I would write. This time they talked a lot and tried teaching me a few phrases, which I then learned shortly after what I was saying. I learned things like “so and so has a small penis”, etcetera.
Sexy hair meen feet en Birkenstocks
Sandra talking about men with hairy feet wearing Birkenstocks.
(PLACE NAME HERE) heft on clan pemalchuh
(so and so) has a small penis.
Rica es boatel ghel
Something about Rica being horny.
And I picked up some bits and pieces. When I was on the train to Brussels I think I heard someone talk about bubble wrap and there's this music/rap group De Jeugd van Tegenwoordig everyone keeps raving about:
I learned that means MONEY, MONEY!
No translation needed, I guess.
So if you want to visit a foreign country and learn the local dialect I suggest using this strategy: follow the people around everywhere like a maniac with a possessed hand writing down everything you hear them say. You'll learn how to speak the language, won't be able to write a word correctly, but at least you can talk dirty and tell people you want money and orange juice. When I go back to the States, there's this one word I'm going to use a lot.
"Oh my god I saw this guy walking down Broadway today on my way to work. He had the nicest shoes on and he smiled at me. He was sooooo HEET!" Then my friends will look at me like I've lost my mind. But I will laugh inside and think of all those adorable Whos in Whoville. I mean Belgium.
TEKST EN FOTO'S: RACHEL FAE COLEMAN