Co-living stories

WTF in Belgium


You thought I had lost my head? That I let myself trespass the borders of PCness , huh? Nah! Just engaging a bit of your attention … and warning you indeed …

Warning To Foreigners … Let me first remind you that surrealism is a very deeply rooted reality in Belgium. Not only through highly regarded artists such as René Magritte or Jean-Michel Folon but simply … everywhere, all around you. It can jump on you, grab your galls, at any moment.
Have a weird trip
Radio: “Good morning, it’s 7:33 and here is our latest traffic report”.
I am sitting in my car, idling in a bloody four-lane traffic jam.
“Traffic is very light this morning except for one accident at the Malines Sud exit on the E19 provoking a 45mn delay toward Antwerp.”
Whaaaaaat? Wait! And what about meeeeeeeeeeeee? I have been sitting here for half an hour and they have nothing to say about that? I look up to check the signs again and the only one I see is “Mechelen Zuid 4”! Having absolutely nothing else to do, really, I call the traffic center number:

● Errrrrrrrr… good morning … listen, I just heard your traffic report that only mentioned an accident at Malines Sud on highway E19, right?
● Yes, sir, indeed. It’s all clear otherwise. How can I help you?
● Well, I would like to report another one, if I may?
● Absolutely Sir. Can you give me your location?
● Yes, I am on the A1 highway, 4 km away from the Mechelen Zuid exit.
● Indeed sir, this is the accident we reported.
● No, no, wait you said Malines Sud on E19!
● Well, yes, this is where you are.
● But I am at Mechelen Zuid on A1!
● Well, yes Sir, it’s the same. Malines Sud is Mechelen Zuid.
● Wait a minute, you are saying that the signpost indicates Mechelen and that it’s actually Malines?
● Not exactly. Malines is in French and Mechelen is in Dutch.
● But why doesn’t the signpost mention Malines?
● Because the highway is in Flanders.
● And how would I know this?
● Well, everybody knows.
● Thank you. Good bye.

At this moment, I confess, I felt very, very small. “Everybody knows”… and I don’t. I felt so alone, so low, so unworthy. Depressing.

Sooooooooooooooooo, my friends, welcome to the land of city-name-confusion!

I got over the scam though. For cities, Flemish people use a Flemish name and French-speaking people use a French name. If someone sees the rationale in this one, please get in touch with me … now!
Mind your business
And when I say “mind” your business, I mean, pay a really particular attention to it. Hear this one …

A client of mine asked me to meet in a city called Jodoigne. Fine. I asked him how to get there: “Oh, that’s easy, you take the E40 highway and you take the “Jodoigne” exit ramp. It’s about 40km from Brussels. Ok, easy enough ..
E40 for about 40 clicks, ok… So, here we go… 25 … 30 … 35 .. 45 … 50 … Errrrrrrr.. Something’s wrong. Stop at the next rest area. Calling the client: “Listen, I have been driving 50 kilometers on the E40 from Brussels and I haven’t seen the “Jodoigne” exit sign. How come?”… blank … “Oooooooh sorryyyyyyyyyy … on the E40, the exit is called “Geldenaken” … it’s Jodoigne.”. “Why?”. “Well, the exit is in Flanders so we use the Flemish name”. “Why?”. “Because the city has a name in both languages.”. “Why?”. “Well, that’s Belgium.”. “Why?”. “History.”. “Well, do you ever drive to Lutetia when you go to Paris?”. “Well, it’s different.”. “Why?”. “Anyway, do you see a sign with directions?”. “Yes”. “What does it say?”. “Luik”. “Ah! Liège.” “No, Luik”. “Well, it’s the same”… Aaaaaaaargh!

I swear, he bought me a hell of a stiff drink when we finally met in Jodoigne.. Oh, oops, in Geldenaken. Yeah, sorry… I am sitting in Flanders while writing this post.
WTF: does it make more sense now?
Since I made this discovery, I have engaged in a crusade in the Kingdom of Belgium. Wearing my shiniest armor, I correct any Belgian who uses the “other” name. I demand that they call a city with the name of the linguistic region* to which it belongs. Is it that difficult? And you know what? Everytime I do, I get the same comment from Flemish and francophones alike: “Yes, you are right, we should.”. So please, think of us, mere foreign mortals. Help us!

*Oh yeah, right, I forgot, there are three official languages in Belgium: Dutch, French and German… hee hee hee..