Culture Shock 40.000 Volts

Belgium is so…different! And the people actually LIKE Americans, and they WANT to practice their English with them!

Saturday was kind of a slow day, walking around the neighborhood. Vilvoorde is a small town about 8 km outside the center of Brussels, so we have to take a bus in. My Personal Francophone lives in a little yellow townhouse with blue shutters, surrounded by red brick homes, and I knew it was a good omen when I fell in love with the place before I even knew it was his.

“I really like that yellow one,” I said. “Please tell me it’s yours!”

He looked at me and smiled. “It is.”

I got unpacked a little, and showered, and ate a Belgian breakfast. Unlike American breakfasts of coffee and hash browns and eggs and toast and bacon, Belgians prefer to shovel in as much morning sugar as possible.  Coffee, Nutella on bread, waffles (made with sugar in the bottom), chocolate of course, and…spekuloos. As much as I LOVE the chocolate here, the spekuloos makes coffee even more worth it than the caffeine does. American ginger snaps really don’t compare. We walked around the neighborhood, and I once again indulged my morbid side with a short visit to its little cemetery.

Sunday we bussed to the center of Brussels, where he showed me not only the Grand Place, but Belgium’s national hero.

Manneken Piss is about a foot tall, and urinates most magnificently, albeit in a childlike way, into a little scallop-edged fountain under the eyes of thousands of charmed onlookers.

His much younger sister Jeaneke Piss squats over a similar fountain in a little alley, across from the bar bearing the image of a Pink Elephant and carrying a very strong, dark beer known as Delirium Tremens.

Monday I discovered his university. The Free University of Brussels was founded in 1835 and was an oasis of free thinking during the years the Second World War. It’s a beautiful campus, though a mismatch of neo-Gothic and postmodern style.

I think his mother liked me at dinner, even though there was no occasion on which to profess my knowledge of elephants, and I think his friends liked me at the party after because I could tell them about elephants and use a few curse words.

I know for a fact that if he comes to visit the U.S. this summer, five or six extra Belgians will fall out of his suitcase.

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Filed under US/Belgium 2011-2012

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