… or The Right To Bear Arms
… or submachine guns and pistols
English is the language spoken pretty much everywhere in Brussels. People have assumed a certain comfort speaking it. Ok, true. However, like most languages, English is ridden with subtleties that are widely neglected by those not-native speakers. English has become a vernacular in Belgium and it has given way to a few ambiguities…
The Right to Bear Arms
Yes, for example, take these words. Most of you are obviously going to associate them to the Second Amendment of the United States of America, right? Well, in Belgium, those words take a totally different meaning. And this, simply because of a tiny grammatical twist.
But first, I should tell you that there are no less than five giant pandas in the kingdom. And the Belgian people adooooooore them. They queue up for hours just to have a quick glimpse at them .. perhaps .. if they deign crawling out of their digs. Everyone here has that dream: to cuddle in one of those fluffy black and white creatures’ arms.
The whole country thus claims its right to bears’ arms.
See? A little “s” and a tiny apostrophe turn the generally dreaded words into the cutest, loving, passionate Belgian dream.
Submachine guns and pistols
Ok, wait. Now what? After having put – hopefully – a smile on your face, here I am, with submachine guns and pistols. But behold, it’s not all that bad. Here again, we are facing yet another language ambiguity.
It’s all about the ominous “Aspirated H” that most non-native speakers disdainfully ignore. However cute it may sound around Halloween when you hear a “witch” here and there instead of a “which”, it may lead to confusion, sometimes.
Indeed, when one carries a gun, it is said that one is packing heat, right?
Well, in Belgium, you will hear people say that they are packing eat. This is the effect of that disdain of the Aspirated H. Actually, here, packing eat means that, for lunch, they pack mitraillettes – submachine guns – or pistolets – pistols.
I can see you frowning sceptically.
Well, in their passion for peace and compromise, Belgians have created food out of their weaponry. They eat their mitraillettes and pistolets. I am dead – no, no, not really! – serious.
A mitraillette is a type of sandwich! It’s a Brussels classic. Its name starts to make sense when you consider that the sliced-open piece of baguette is really fully loaded. It’s stuffed with meat, frites and a generous smattering of sauce. Crudités are optional. Any qualms about healthy and wholesome nourishment better be put aside for another day. Any friterie worthy of its name serves this all simple, greasy glory.
And what about the pistolet will you ask? The pistolet (“little pistol”, literally) is a typical, classical Belgian small, round bread roll. It’s a little bit like the Belgian version of the Proust’s Madeleine. It’s consumed at lunch or at the traditional Sunday evening family “tartine” dinner filled with various spreads. But why is it called “pistolet”, by the way? It’s certainly not because of its shape, right? As it is often the case, the etymology of the word is so ancient that one can’t be certain of its origin. My favorite legend would be that a veeeeeeeeeeery long time ago, there was a coin called a “pistole” which was the price to pay for the bread roll. You can find it in pretty much any bakery but, for a special treat, head to Pistolet Original*. There, you will find all kinds of rolls, filled with all sorts of yummy stuff.
I hope I have clarified a major mystery of Belgian culture. I also think that it’s worth remembering that in Belgium, food is certainly the only weapon that can be pointed at you.
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The Ô so dangerous pistolet
The ominous mitraillette