Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Great Divide

So I thought I would do an extra post on the culture and people here in Belgium. For those of you who may not know, Belgium is made up of two different populations. For the most part, the northern part of Belgium is dominated by the Flemish, who primarily speak Flemish, which is also known as Dutch. The southern portion of Belgium for the most part is populated by French speaking Walloons. (Each of these is named for regions in Belgium: Flanders and Wallonia.) Brussels is a dual language city. Basically, the history of Belgium explains this. Belgium has been taken over throughout history by pretty much anyone of consequence, but the French and Dutch languages stuck. Today, there is pretty much constant tension between the two groups. At one point, the two sectors wanted to split and form separate countries, but for now that debate has been quelled. The French speakers usually associated more with France, while the Flemish seem to take more after the Germans.

In Brussels, there are usually distinct areas which are either French or Flemish, but it is hard for me to tell where these are. All the signs around the city have to be posted in two languages and apparently advertisements in metros and buses and such have to be equally distributed with both languages represented. Sometimes, to get around this, advertisers just advertise in English. Most people here in Brussels seem to speak at least their own language and some English. The Flemish are known for their mastery of languages and so most of them are tri-lingual, but most will not answer you in French if you try to talk to them in French because this is considered rude and they don't really like it. Most of the French speakers it seems don't care to learn Flemish except for the little they need to survive, but most speak English.

Brussels seems to be a big melting pot with people from all over the world here and many different languages spoken. It is very impressive to run into the people who can speak three and four languages. At the market, I noticed that there also seem to be a lot of immigrants living here from Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. It is really interesting to be surrounded by such diversity.

On another note, Emily wanted to know about my conversation abilities here in Belgium. I am practicing my French, but I haven't really had any conversations with people yet. Mainly my practicing involves me either ordering food or greeting people or excusing myself when I bump into someone. But, I do feel like I am getting better and more confidant in my French. I haven't learned any Flemish yet, but Dr. Kreppel is going to teach us a few phrases to say when we take a day trip to Bruges on Friday. It should be interesting because Flemish seems like it is fairly difficult. However, it is a Germanic language and so some words do look and sound similar to some English words, which is helpful. I challenge myself by trying to read advertisements and signs while we are out and about to try and improve my knowledge or both languages.

Well, that's pretty much all I can think of to comment on these subjects. If you all have any more subjects you think I should address in my posts, let me know and I will.


1 comment:

emilyvux said...

Interesting post! What a challenge to learn both languages! I learned a lot in Paris by reading signs...then I went home and looked up what I had learned in the dictionary!