Tag Archives: French

Le plat pays mais pas le mien


It is easy to be nostalgic – to think back of earlier times when “everything was better”. But somehow I can’t help but think things wére better before. At least, before, Belgian politicians were capable of forming a government. Of making compromises.

Tomorrow, hopefully, 10,000s of people will flood Brussels to ask for… well… something. A government. An agreement. Progress. Light at the end of the tunnel. Almost 23,000 people have RSVPd “yes” on the Facebook page of the event (another 25,000 voted “maybe”) – for an improvised demonstration organized by students in the middle of an exam period this is, to Belgian standards, quite impressive. Whether this will actually change something, is an open question, though judging on the past 223 days I’m guessing: not much.

Because it has been 223 days. 223 days ago, we had federal elections. 223 days ago, the north and the south of the country each chose their winner. Unfortunately, their colors couldn’t have been more opposite: left in the south, right in the north. To make things easier, this government will need to reform part of the constitution and thus needs a 2/3 majority, resulting in no less than 7 parties involved in negotiations. We are quick to judge the US and its 2-party system, but having 14+ parties (only counting the ones that get a voice in tv debates) isn’t exactly the solution either.

So what is going on?

Do you really want to know?

I suggest you take a course – because I sure as hell don’t have a clue.

Belgian catfight.

The north wants more responsibilities for the regional governments. The south wants things to stay the way they are.
The south wants more money for Brussels. The north thinks Brussels should generate its own income.
The north wants to tackle some unconstitutional election issues. The south wants to go along if there are compensations (since this will likely result in less votes for southern parties).
The south wants more rights for French-speaking people who live in the Dutch-speaking north (get their administration letters in French etc). The north feels they should just adapt and learn Dutch. Somehow, everything is brought down to the difference in language.

And (a small, very small) part of the north is sick of the south and wants to solve it all through independency. Unfortunately, it is their party that (for other reasons) won the elections. In other words: any compromise that all parties agree on will be necessarily a defeat for this party because it is not independency.

What I find most amazing is that when polls are held to measure current voting behavior (once in a while the option of new elections is mentioned), the same parties win. Worse: they increase their influence. Because people appreciate that, for once, the politicians try to keep their full electoral promise instead of compromising – an art Belgian politicians have perfected in the past. That meanwhile unemployment is rising, an increasing amount of people end up in debt, our social security system creaks under the rising cost of medical expenses for the elderly, environmental issues aren’t dealt with, speculation on the future of Belgium causes interest rates to skyrocket, … is rather unimportant. Politicians are standing their grounds. And nobody moves.

But now, finally, after 223 days, after breaking the European record government formation (207 days, sometime in the 70s, the Netherlands) and well on our way to break the world record (249 days, last year, … Iraq (!)), the lethargic Belgians have woken up from their sleep and decided to stand up. Call out for movement. For action. I hope tomorrow’s demonstration will bring many people to our capital. I hope it will be peaceful, and serene. And by all means – I hope it will help.

Saturday “Wordy” Smörgåsbord


I love languages. I always have and I always will – I love playing around with words, meanings, expressions, … and each language seems to have its own peculiarities, making it more suit for a certain situation. French has a high level of drama embedded in it, while Portuguese means love, and romance. English is more robust, solid, and to the point, and Dutch is very good at handling day-to-day business. Needless to say, I first fell in love while being on a French language course, I had a Portuguese boyfriend for 2 years, all work-related communications are in English and my mother tongue is Dutch. As a result, I often find myself blending words and expressions from each of these languages in whatever language I’m speaking at that particular moment, because, well, they simply fit better with what it is I’m trying to say. I give you: my favorite words and expressions.



Coup de foudre horizontal

Image by Twistiti via Flickr

Le coup de foudre“. Literal translation: “struck by lightning”, in other words: love at first sight. But “love at first sight” just doesn’t reflect the BANG of the moment, the instant recognition, the “(s)he takes my breath away”-kind of feeling. I also like the presence of “fou” (crazy) in “foudre” and the (undoubtedly coincidental) likeness of the word to “se foutre de” (not giving a crap) (“foutre” then again seems to have its origin in the Latin “futuere”, “to have intercourse”, which is equally applicable). So when you experience le coup de foudre, you feel struck by lightning, and you don’t care about anything else, you’re crazy for that person, and … well … it’s clear what you’re aiming at.



"Fado", one of the Azulejos at Estra...

Image via Wikipedia

You could roughly translate “saudades” with “homesickness”, but as with “le coup de foudre”, it just doesn’t fit. Homesickness is what you feel when you’re 7 years old and you go on a summer camp alone for the first time. Saudades… saudades is a sense of longing, intensely, with your whole mind and body for something/someone/someplace you cannot reach now (and possibly never). It is a feeling that encompasses much more than simply “missing”, and it has a strong component of melancholia and nostalgia attached to it. Fado is particularly apt at translating this feeling into music although, strangely, I don’t like the typical high-pitched fado-voices. Maybe I’ve had my share of saudades with the long-distance relationship I was in to last me the rest of my life :).


I have a strange love-hate relationship with English. I feel very comfortable in it (yes, “in”, not “with”), it has a strange familiarity and its vocabulary houses a number of truly great words.


It’s not so much the meaning of the word in itself, but rather how the word image matches so well with what it means. However (another favorite of mine), they should be written the British way. It should be “colour”. And “flavour”. “Flavor” just doesn’t do “flavour” justice – it’s so bland, it doesn’t really taste like anything. The pronunciation, on the other hand, should be South African. Or Irish. You gotta love the South African accent, ya!

My main problem with English though is that I seem to be talking it all the time. Even when I talk French, or Dutch, English words and expressions wriggle (beautiful one, also!) their way into my sentences until I’m not sure which language I’m speaking. Whatever. There you go. You got me there! Please? No way. Oh my God. We have similar expression in Dutch, but they just don’t seem to do. And now that the vast majority of my communication is in English I have not only taken up the habit of literally translating English expressions into Dutch (“it doesn’t make sense” just doesn’t make sense in Dutch, trust me), but half of the nouns I use are either English or anglicisms of some sort. I have never understood how people could forget their mother tongue, but sometimes I feel I’m well on my way ;).


Ah, marvelous, versatile Dutch … the number of dialects alone make it worthwhile studying. However, since my parents decided – in a fit of insanisty, I’m sure – to raise me in “General Dutch”, my dialect skills are below zero. I understand it to a certain degree, but it stops there. And thus I specialize more in the other end of the language spectrum: the academic, elite kind of speech. I’ve often heard I manage to make the simplest things sound complicated, as I use a vocabulary which seems to belong more in the 8 o’clock news than in a conversation between friends. I’m particularly fond of conjunctions, such as “daarentegen” and “desalniettemin”. Basically, a words need at least 4 syllables to be even considered being placed in my vocabulary ;).
However, one two-syllable word needs mentioning.


Like “saudades”, there is no simple translation for this one. Goesting is a desire for something, but it comes from deep within, you know? Like when you come back from a long walk, and you just feel goesting for a beer. It’s much stronger than just feeling like a beer, it’s something you need. Or when you have this special little feeling, after dinner, you’re really stuffed, and content, but you just would wanna have a cookie. That’s goesting. Of course, it applies also to other… non-food… things, so ladies – beware if you get near a guy with a pair of trousers full of goesting… . He might not have a strawberry ice cream with whipped cream in mind.

Strawberry ice cream

Image via Wikipedia