Sunday, November 21, 2010


I don't really know what hoor means, but I use it anyway. I know that's dangerous, mainly because, to my untrained ear, it sounds a lot like both the Dutch and English words for whore. I know it means hear, so I figured it was used either like the "Hear Ye, Hear Ye" old-fashioned newsbearers use it or like the Southerners and their "Y'all come back now, ya hear?" As it turns out, it is exactly neither of those things, but rather placed at the end of a sentence for dramatic effect. Unfortunately, it is used in much the same way as if one were to actually call me a whore, which has led to a few miscommunications. My first few weeks in Belgium, with my utter lack of Dutch skills, went a bit like this:
"Je moet het wel doen hoor."
"Hoor, not whore."
"Wie hoer?"
"Who whore?"
"Met mijn oor."

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What I Miss

Everyone asks if I miss home and I always tell them no, in the sense that I don't cry myself to sleep at night thinking about the United States. Well, sometimes, but it's mostly political. Sure, I miss the routine and the ease, not to mention the ability to communicate effectively. I also wish I could talk to mijn broertje more often, but there's a new girl in his life and he has no time for his big sister. Ah well, I'm only an ocean away. How many kilometers is that?
Five Things I Do Miss About Home:
1. I miss snow. I went skiing today with my host parents' niece in this indoor ski hill with fake snow and heavy Dutch accents. It sort of reminded me of that scene from The Truman Show where there's a door in the sky and he realizes it was all fake. Walls on a mountain do that to people. I actually started to miss mountains, snowstorms, skilifts, and all things associated with winter. I've heard there isn't much snow in Belgium. Well, Belgians think there is, but it's all Belgian relativity.
2. I miss having a car. When I ride my bicycle through torrential downpours uphill both ways so I can get to Dutch class if only for the heat, oh poor pathetic me, I miss having heated seats and a roof while I travel.
3. I sort of miss patriotism. I don't mean forceful recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance, but I sort of wish that I weren't the only person who liked Belgium. I worked so hard to learn De Brabançonne and actual Belgians don't even know it.
4. I miss my soy-loving mother who gladly let me make vegan cupcakes to my heart's delight. Here with my legume-fearing host parents, great as they are, it's a decent struggle to get the right to cake. They said I could make cupcakes this weekend if I had time and proper ingredients. They're letting me near appliances! Do you realize I haven't had cake in two months? Do you know what that does to a person?
5. I miss being the smart kid. Here in Belgium, I know nothing. I don't know much about physics, I don't understand Dutch grammar, I speak the wrong kinds of French and Spanish, I wasn't aware that Belgium had enough history to study, and theory is not my forte.
Five Things I Know I Will Miss About Belgium:
1. Beer. I have to go back to the states and wait three years for my next drink. I know there are ways around that, but I'm not taking the risk of posting it on the internet.
2. Everyone is so darn cute in this country. With their little Belgian sweaters and their little Belgian scarves, they shiver through the cold Belgian autumn while I sweat in my host-mother-mandated cardigan.
3. Again, everyone is so darn cute in this country, but in a slightly different way. Like, I want to put them in my pocket but at the same time they're breathtaking. Belgium is an untapped well of beautiful people. I don't want to go back to the Dirty O. Belgians are prettier.
4. Everyone is so relaxed here. They all deny it, but there's no stress. It's hella chill, as we say in my country.
5. I love the food. Speculaas, hagelslag, chocopasta, those little vegan pâté
things, these are all things that I've never seen before. Seriously. Put chocolate sprinkles on your bread. It's magical. Why did no one in the western hemisphere ever think of it?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Things Not To Do On Public Transportation

1. Fall asleep.
2. Insult people in their native languages.
3. Insult people in your own language. The people you are insulting can understand you. They just don't want you to know. Stop being such an idiot. I do not feel like socking you on the tram, thanks.
4. Perform public displays of affection. I saw this one on the tram today, on the part of a group that shall heretoforth be referred to as the two-headed monster. There was actual head-in-lap action. I'm pretty sure that's not kosher anywhere. Even in Belgium.
5. Laugh at alcoholics. Yes, it's templting, because they sip their beer with such gusto, but please retain some sense of decency.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Letter to Mathilde in 2005

Dear twelve-year-old Mathilde,
This time next year, you'll be thirteen. Yes, that will make you a teenager, but it won't make you a woman. In fact, it will make you a snotty bitch. But it's okay, all thirteen-year-olds are like that. Can I just ask that you tone it down a bit? Seriously, it will be embarassing in the years to come. You are not too cool to talk to anyone. Enjoy being able to communicate now, because in a few years, you won't be able to. Right, I forgot to mention you move to Belgium. I know, Belgium, right? As it turns out, it's the perfect place for you to be. The language barrier is a bitch for the first month or so, though. So talk to everyone you know who speaks the same language you do while you have the chance. Luckily, even at twelve, you are pro at the foreign thing, so being a Spanish-speaking French-Canadian American immigrant in Belgium should be no problem. Also, don't listen to what people say about taking it slowly. Don't do anything slowly. You're too busy for patience. All that waiting will catch up to you when you're in Belgium and you realize you only have a year to do everything you've ever waited to do. All that waiting will have done nothing for you. There will be so many things you'll wish you had done before you came to Belgium, so that at least you were used to something. Nothing will go right. You'll break things and face humiliation at every turn because you've never actually done anything by yourself before. If there is anything you wonder about, even if it seems useless and strange, research it before you realize you should have known the whole time. Otherwise, there will be Google breaks at inopportune moments. Yes, a participant in the incident I am referencing will read your blog, and he will be either flattered or offended that you mentioned this particular event, but you'll be willing to take the risk because you're seventeen and an idiot. Also, be nice to your parents. I think they liked you back then. You like each other a lot more when you move out. You won't be homesick, but grateful. That right there is when you finally grow up.
It seems vain, but I'm sending this to you with love.
Mathilde in 2010

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Things That Are Weird In Belgium

1. I speak my school's foreign languages fluently and can only read children's books and comics in the native language.
2. I managed to sing my way into school.
3. People are way easy on me because I come from a foreign land and whatnot.
4. Teenagers carry tobacco in their pockets and roll cigarettes on the street. If that happened in the states, they'd get cuffed right there, no questions asked, followed by hours of intense interrogation and a night in prison.
5. Ghent is a city. Like, a BIG city. It doesn't look like one at all. It's all castles and bicycles, no concrete in sight, and people smile and drive carefully.
6. I have zero concept of time. Jet lag is a bitch.
7. I'm pretty sure my host parents are hippies.
8. I had a staring contest with a rabbit today.
9. There are snails everywhere.
10. The food is pretty confusing. I eat bread at every meal, sometimes with chocolate sprinkles(hagelslag). My host parents serve me alcohol without wondering if I can handle it like a responsible person. I'm used to people thinking that teenagers + booze = pregnancy 100% of the time. Don't worry, it's just wine. Oh, the beer, obviously. I can't very well talk about Belgian food without mentioning beer. It's not bad. Then again, my host parents only buy organic, fair-trade, eco-friendly, Oxfam-sponsored light beer, but it's certainly tolerable. The strangest food-related Belgian fact is that maple syrup is only sold in health-food stores. Yep, Belgians consider it a natural sweetener only used by freaks.

Monday, August 16, 2010

How to Pack a Suitcase

1. Buy the cheapest and lightest luggage you can find. Sure, it'll fall apart mid-flight, but at least you won't exceed the weight limit.
2. Recruit a friend to tell you that all of your clothes are ugly and you need to leave most of them at home.
3. Roll your underthings into your shoes.
4. Get those cool vacuum pack bags and flatten your folded clothes into suctioned oblivion. Use that to line your suitcase.
5. Roll everything else into little clothing burritos.
6. Sit on your suitcase until it obeys.
7. Weigh, unpack, repack, lather, rinse, repeat.

Friday, July 2, 2010

All I Ask For is a Transcript and a Parking Place

So today I visited my guidance counselor for a copy of my transcript to send to my new school. She didn't have it ready. I called her last week asking her to write it, and again this morning before I went, to ask if it was ready. She claimed not to know how to write up that type of transcript. I need it soon, though, because it needs to be translated to Dutch by an "official Belgian translator." The administration has been getting in the way of every one of my efforts to meet deadlines. How can I be taken seriously by AFS if I don't get things done? And it's not like I can write up this transcript myself. It needs to be signed, stamped, and legalized by the school. It's only frustrating because I can't do any of this on my own. I've done everything I can so far, and the rest is up to someone else. It should be relaxing, but it's so stressful.
I went to Potsdam today to get more information on the class that I have to take this summer to cover my English 12 credit. I obviously can't take an English class in Belgium, because it would be a foreign language class. I couldn't manage to get a Belgian literature class approved by the school either, because I didn't know the name of the school I would be attending, much less the name of the class itself. As if I could have pronounced it. I need to work on that. So my English teacher and principal approved an extended education class in Potsdam. It's three hours a day for three weeks. That's not so bad, considering the work I put into my junior year English class. So I have an Internet account with the school, but it doesn't work. I've had to email, call, and visit all sorts of people and offices to figure out if I'm missing any important information by not having a functional account. No answers yet, but I'm hoping that someone figures out what I'm talking about soon. I really don't want to show up on the first day of class without the right books. It's not for lack of trying. I mean, I'm close to criminally harassing my professor. I email her twice a day and call her office all the time in hopes that one day she'll get back to me. So the initial reason I went to Potsdam was to get my parking permit for the summer. A it turned out, I had to visit University Police. The campus is in heavy construction, so I had to ask all sorts of people how to get to the police station. They all gave me worried looks because, of the many reasons to visit a police station, parking is not the most obvious. So I ended up finding it after an hour of intense searching. Ironically, I ended up having to park about six blocks away from the parking office. The permit didn't cost anything. In fact, the university owes me $10.05. I have no idea why, but I won't complain. Now I have free parking right next to my class, ten bucks, and a thorough knowledge of the campus from all the time spent looking for the police station. If I have this much trouble with my American schooling, how will I ever figure it out in Belgium?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Happy Canada Day!

Hello, all. My name is Mathilde, and I will be your tour guide as we explore the life of an exchange student. I am embarking on my Belgian adventure armed only with a laptop and a Dutch dictionary. Well, that, and everything I need to live a comfortable life, including a giant support network in the form of a very generous host family and generations of exchange students. It's not the survivor mission everyone thinks it is. People ask me if I'm studying abroad to save the world. It's more my own selfish quest for waffles and chocolate. I'm sure I'll gain some cultural perspective, which was what I was after to begin with, but it's hard to ignore the promise of French food in German portions. Before I fall too far in love with Belgium, I should acknowledge my home and native land, Canada. Today, Canada turns 143 years old. So happy birthday. You know, I might head to Ottawa today. I hear the queen's in town and she brought 400,000 of her closest friends.