Friday, 5 September 2014

Initial impressions

I have been in la Belgique for a few days, and arrived at my project last night, having been in training since Monday. The people where I am staying are lovely, and my studio is actually nicer than I expected - a little kitchen and a bedroom with enough room for people to stay over if they wish. The children are also extremely patient, as I'm sure repeating every other sentence so I can understand it is a bit tiring!

Greeting people 
If you have any sense of personal space, I would advise you to not greet Belgians! I have kissed more people on the cheek in 4 days than I had in the preceeding 18 years, and coupled with the fact that I instinctively go for the wrong side, I'm thinking I probably need to revise my skills. I don't think this is something I can opt out of!

Don't be ambiguous, ever 
After spending a few days with around 20 people for whom French is a second language, I've realised how necessary it is to make everything extremely clear. As an honorary German (there are no other English people so I have adopted German as my second nationality), I am making an effort to understand both 'half four' (ie half past four) and 'halb vier' (half to four, ie half past three). Unfortunately, it seems that these concepts cannot exist simultaneously in my brain, leading to moments of extreme ambiguity when I realise that I don't actually know what time something is happening, because I can't remember whether what I heard them say bears any resemblance to what they actually said. Oops! 

Ceci n'est pas un nom 
My first name already causes problems back home, because it's very uncommon and so easy to forget. However, it's essentially phonetic for English people, and so there is at least a chance of getting it right. Not so, here! The word 'Rensa' (pron. RENza) has been interpreted as Wenza, Rrrrrrensah and numerous other alternatives. I now instinctively answer to anything that could conceivably resemble my name. (do try to excuse any typos, by the way, because Belgian spellcheck is as tolerant of incorrect English words as it is of correct ones!)

Picture is me eating lunch during training, extremely happy, as you can see!

''Scotland is in England, isn't it?'' 
The quick answer to this is 'no'. The more comprehensive answer is 'no, not at all, seriously, no it's not, I know, weird right?'. It would appear that the terms 'England', 'Britain' and 'United Kingdom' are entirely interchangeable. 

The truth doesn't have to be the truth 
This is the golden rule of speaking a second language: what happened depends solely on what you can remember the vocabulary for. Maybe it was 80 euros, or maybe the French for eighty is too difficult and it was nearly 100 euros, or maybe it was simply 'quite expensive'? Similarly, maybe something happened a day earlier or later, because sometimes it doesn't matter too much that I regularly am not sure which one is Lundi and which one is Mardi. (Monday and Tuesday.......I think!) I really am going to have to learn those properly. 

Languages can be interchangeable 
This depends, of course, on who you're with. Not so much in the kids' home, where everyone assures me their English is non-existant (and the evidence seems to support this), but in the training session, where many people speak English and French to a reasonable level, with a lot also speaking German, it's not too difficult to finish a conversation and realise you're not sure what language you were speaking. Only after noting that you don't know a key word in French do you realise that it was probably German, but even then, you're not always sure. This is a beautiful feeling!

Junctions are terrifying 
And very much so! Being experienced on the left-hand side of the road carries absolutely no weight here. Going in a straight line (on the right, of course) is manageable for my brain, but once a vehicle approaches a junction (bad), roundabout (even worse) or, God forbid, a motorway (there are no words to describe how much I wouldn't be able to drive on a motorway in Europe), I fail to understand what is going on. Everything is essentially mirrored, but I am not certain enough that I would actually feel safe driving here. By extension, every car journey fills me with terror, even just as a passenger. 

This concludes today's post, and hopefully it has left you wiser to the perils of Belgium!

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