Friday, 2 April 2010


I have my standard issue Friday night gloom on. Apologies for late and lacklustre posting.

The CFO and I met for lunch today. Yes, we are civilised people and sometimes do this kind of thing. I am not going to pretend it isn't without slight weirdness, but we do it anyway. I think we still win the Excellent Separation Award (suggestions who could sponsor such an award?). Aaaanyway, that's not what I meant to talk about at all.

We went for pho. Vietnamese soupy noodles. In Belgium, however, it transpires that when you go for pho the menu also offers: "cornet de frites €2,95, sauce aux choix". Already, this is both odd and delightful.

It is a mark of how Belgian we have both become that we looked at this and went "tiens, why not, un cornet de frites". Chips. With soup noodles. It seemed entirely normal.

I waved a frite at him (not using a chopstick. That would be properly weird). "Look at us! We've gone native!". He blanched. There is nothing more alarming for a Frenchman than to hear he is becoming Belgian. I reminded him that he had just used the expression "il fait caillant", which is Belgian for 'it's cold', but totally, unacceptably, weird in French French.

Other signs:

1. Always having a handy sachet of endive in the fridge.
Check. They last for ages and are the lowest impact vegetable you can imagine to prepare or eat. After the first 700 you barely notice the bitterness any more. I have reached the point where I feel a little uncomfortable if there aren't four or five plump white heads of witloof in my crisper drawer.

2. Saying "s'il vous plaît" when you give someone something.
I'm teetering on the cusp of doing it this automatically. It makes you sound a bit simple unless you are authentically Belgian. To be stamped out, ruthlessly. I don't say "je ne sais pas" when I mean "je ne peux pas" yet, but it's only a matter of time.

3. Not being alarmed when people repeatedly engage you in conversation when you are, for instance, waiting an hour and a half for a bus pass in a subterrranean den of public transport sadists at the Gare du Midi. (see also: knowing to set aside an hour and a half to obtain a bus pass)
I think I have reached the point where I am just as often the one starting the conversation as being engaged. Worrying. This could get me killed, or locked away, in London. I smile, like a day release patient, at the girls on the tills in Boots and try to chat to them about vitamins. They look at me with ill-disguised terror.

4. Viewing raw mince as an appropriate sandwich filling
Absolutely. I wouldn't choose it myself, but this abomination now seems entirely normal and acceptable. Oh, I thought looking over at the man on the next table at lunch, you are having Américain on toast for your lunch. Whatever. Previously I would have thought something more along the lines of "Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeugh, what the FUCK is that?"

5. Speculoos
I don't like them. But I accept them as part of my life. My children eat revolting mashed up speculoos paste on their pancakes, toast, even crumpets, dammit. I am resigned to buying jars of the stuff. It is their preferred ice cream flavour. A friend noted recently that 'speculoos' sounds like a gynaecological instrument. I had not even thought of this. Not once.

Nearly five years in, I suppose this is all normal. But I still find it faintly alarming. I mean, I am very happy here, but I'm going to Paris next weekend. What if I say "nonante" by mistake? Social death!


MsMarmitelover said...

But all the best Frenchmen are Belgian...tintin, Jacques Brel, Poirot...I've run out now.

WrathofDawn said...

I hear ya. I moved from New Brunswick to Newfoundland (have to be Canadian to appreciate that) and now it seems almost normal to me, too.

Resistance, as they say, IS futile.

Provincial Lady said...

So what actually IS speculoos? Does it in fact exist outside Belgium? I also can think only of gynaecological instruments. And I am determinedly not thinking about any 'flavour'.

screamish said...

frites with Pho is just wrong, Im sorry.

how strange, it's one dish I just can't get here, I've been gearing up to make my own chicken pho soon, gathering ingredients.

so you've also solved a long mystery for me "si'il vous plait" for giving people things...have noticed it in bars and bakeries, but rarely. guess they were northerners...

claire said...

it's the Dutch/Flemish thing intermixed with French,no? Saying s'il vous plait on giving is the same custom as alstublift or bitte,Belgium is a strange little crossover place.And witlof,also Dutch staple,never quite got into it myself. But what is 'nonante?'Why is it a faux pas?I am so fond of this little corner of the world...

Laura said...

I'm assimilating (slowly, since I don't live there) toward Québec. Having been trained in proper Parisian French I'm learning from my québecois husband to say "Il fait frette" for "Il fait froid," "saccoche" for "sac à main" and "moé" and "toé" for "moi" and "toi." And I now eat Kraft peanut butter, available in Canada but only gettable here at ruinous cost via the miracle of the Interwebs.

BTW, the striking up conversations when waiting in public places also happens in the American south, where I live. It's weird, I agree.

molly said...

i saw the 'famous' Belgian Lotus brand speculoos in Morrisons supermarket in Yorkshire somewhere and they were labelled "caramelised biscuits'. that does not sound right once you've tasted speculoos. it's pretty good.

Alienne said...

Re 3 - the striking up of conversations - never fear Jaywalker, even in England you are allowed to do that pretty much anywhere without upsetting people once you are properly middle aged (you do have to be female to get away with it though). The girls in Boots were probably worried because you are too young at the moment. By the time you get to about 45 it will be fine and no one will bat an eyelid. Even the buttoned up English will generally even talk back. Because everyone knows middle aged ladies are safe.

Alison Cross said...

You only have to stand still in Glasgow for a nanosecond and someone will usually try to start up a conversation with you.

It will usually be a wee man who has falled over recently and has some sort of resulting facial wound. And he will be drunk - naturally, this is Glasgow, after all.

But he will be utterly harmless.

I disagree, the best men are not French or Belgian but Scottish. I confess that I have never had a Belgian nor a Frenchman to compare with, but I'm quietly confident :-)

BTW - what the fuck are speculoos? It sounds like a gynocologist's toilet.

Ali xxxx


Betty M said...

The fancy parisiens may think you are Swiss with your nonantes - what's worse Belgian or Swiss? Pretty close thing I reckon.

Anonymous said...

'belgian' =

i have yet to visit...

Iheartfashion said...

Agree that speculoos conjures all sorts of unpleasantness. What IS it?

Em said...

Soo many questions, soo much I don't understand...

The Belgian nuances - not least because I barely understand French (where I come from we, apparently, don't even speak English properly), a sachet(?) of endives, RAW meat. RAW. Meat. And as for Speculoos. Did you make that up?

But very, very impressed about lunch with the CFO. I would definitely bestow upon you the ESA. Sponsored by AA.

Jessica said...

I remember my first reaction to Américain. Very similar to yours. "And you eat that...RAW?" I said to boyfriend. "no, no seriously... just like that? RAW?"


Now I eat Américain Martino sandwiches from time to time.

I think you have to be introduced to Speculoos at a young age to love it. I still prefer gingerbread to it, though I also prefer many other things to gingerbread.

The endives... they have crept into my life too. What's next, brussels sprouts?

PHO??? I WANT PHO!!! We have no Pho (that I've found) in this corner of Belgium. Whereas there were billions of Pho places in Toronto. I am Pho deprived.

zmkc said...

Another sign - Not being surprised when your car breaks down and you take it to the mender and they tell you to come back after lunch and so you go back at quarter to four and they're still eating and when you ask when they will start working, the man looks at you with contempt and says, 'Il faut manger, madame.'
That was ten years ago - have times moved on? I will be a little sad if you say yes. There was something magnificent about it.

Jaywalker said...

ZMCK - Hell no, I can reassure you, times have not moved on one iota.

Jessica - It wasn't very authentic pho. Like I say, the guy on the next table had Américain on toast.

Em - C'est normal. You can't understand it. It's very verrrry strange. But yes, raw meat sandwiches.

Iheart - It's just a boring, spicy biscuit. But the name is truly weird.

Anon - Oh lord. I had never seen that. Lord.

Betty M - Yes, very little to choose between them if you are French, I fear..

Alison - Mph, I'm related to half of Glasgow which kind of rules it out for men.

Alienne -Well, that's reassuring. Only 10 more years and it'll be allowed.

Molly - I wonder what they were doing in Yorkshire? I went to school with the younger Morrison. Maybe I should get in touch and ask.

Laura - I'm a bit alarmed at the idea of you becoming Québecoise without living there. Is this wise?

Screamish - Not good pho, but some attempt at it, at least.

Provincial Lady - Biscuit. Boring boring boring biscuit. Sigh.

WoD - I think you're right. I might as well surrender and start complaining if my cappucino doesn't come with whipped cream out of a can.

MsM - Yeah. And two of those are fictional.

Lisa-Marie said...

Speculoos just sounds like 'special loos' to me. in my head i picture those toilets with the floor that goes away when you leave and flush.

frau antje said...

Wish I knew the low impact preparation secrets of endive, but looking ahead at the next 698 before it's an acquired taste is probably too much.
Not touching that bastardized tartar shit, and speculum means mirror, I never got that one, if you peer into speculoos does it reflect your own image?
It would be nice to channel the local absence of angst, but you probably have to be exposed to that at a very young age also.

Z said...

Love, you are certainly no longer English at heart, however much you miss London. In England chicory is never called endive, which is leafy bitterness not forced white chicons.

I'm slightly worried to realise that I might be Belgian in another life, because everything you said (apart from the chicory, which I find a bit odd cooked, although I love anything bitter) seemed normal to me.

I don't remember anything about Brussels language (apart from normal French, of course) apart from the sensible use of numbers and tu pige? for "get it?". I hope. If it doesn't mean that, what the hell does it mean?

Mrs Jones said...

Speculoos is, indeed, a spicy biscuit that goes fabulously with coffee. Yum yum. I looked up where the name comes from and it's uncertain but, yes, it might well come from speculum, the Latin for mirror, because speculoos traditionally have a picture on them which is a mirror image of the one in the cookie press. Bit tenuous that, though.

Also, Ms Jaywalker, I didn't know there were chicken farms in Uccle - I have a blogland friend (although we did meet once, in real life, in Flagstaff, AZ) who now lives in Alaska and has chickens and visiting moose and she's just taken delivery of a Belgian Bearded d'Uccle Bantam chick. She's called it Millie and it looks very suspicious. Here's the post -

Mrs Jones said...

Also - world's largest Easter Egg is apparently Belgian too -

Juci said...

As long as you don't say huitante like the Swiss, you should be fine.

the polish chick said...

speculoos conjured up gynecological images from the first moment you mentioned them. just like hula hoops in your purse bring to mind a gigantic purse filled with large, plastic children's toys.

i talk to strangers everywhere. i even did it in london and they seemed alright with it. was it because of my accent?

nonante makes SO much more sense, you've got to admit.

WV - juglymon - unerringly, the way i feel this morning

sanjeet said...

I also can think only of gynaecological instruments. And I am determinedly not thinking about any 'flavour'
data entry work from home

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, nonante. I grew up in Montreal and only the snorty mocking laughter of my (Swiss) granny stopped me thinking it was OK to say nonante. Also septante and octante. But when you think about it, it's logique, non? Far more so than soixante-dix and all that mental arithmetic palaver.

WV = redleye. The flight he pretends he was on.

Lucy Fishwife said...

Not anonymous! Me!

Rosa P said...

As soon as I saw the word Speculoo, I thought it was one of those things female ramblers take camping with them so that they can wee standing up like a fella.

Xtreme English said...

I have no idea what you're talking about, but it's funny as hell...and far more interesting than my life on the DC border.