Learning Flemish: Positivity, Equality, and Empowerment

After two full weeks of Flemish classes, I have made a few more observations and conclusions about the Flemish from their language. I realize that these are wide, sweeping generalizations but they are observations that have I had since my first month in Belgium as a tourist in 2011.

1. The Flemish are “glass half-full” people
My proof: This week I learnt how to tell time in Flemish. To my surprise, the half hour is expressed to the upcoming hour instead of the one just passed. For example, 1:30 would be “half two” instead of “half past one”. I’ve analyzed this and concluded that the Flemish have a forward thinking mentality that doesn’t focus on the time lost but rather on what’s to come.

2. The Flemish are progressive thinkers and value gender eqaulity
My proof: This week I learnt all about personal pronouns and noun articles. Flemish is not gendered like say, French. For example “Zij”, the female pronoun, is also used for the general ‘they’ pronoun. Noun articles are gender neutral using “de” and “het”. Since coming to Belgium, I often find hints of gender equality and female empowerment in art, folklore, law, and in the mentality of the men. It’s common for women to be the breadwinner in a relationship and this has no reflection on their partner’s masculinity.

I’m taking my Flemish classes though a course at CVO Leuven, the local community college. I like to think of it as my Belgian version of “Community”.

I must clarify that my instructor is not this crazy. But, I enjoy how “Community” exaggerates the stereotypes of community college with its crazy personalities, ‘special’ instructors, and grown adults finding themselves in a strange dimension of responsibilities and adolescence. It’s not unlike relocating to a new country; suddenly finding yourself in a new city at age 25, feeling sophisticated and adventurous, then looking like a twat trying to put a 5€ bill into the bus ticket printer during rush hour.

I really enjoy getting to know my classmates because they too are in a new country and trying to learn the ropes. Originally, during my search for Flemish classes, I first considered the eminent educational institution of Leuven, the Katholic University, otherwise known as KU Leuven. But when I went to the Huis van het Nederlands Leuven, I was advised to take my course at CVO for a blend of practical and academic teaching at a fraction of the cost.

KU Leuven offers numerous Dutch courses that would cost around 180 € + books and my course at CVO was 60€ + 20€ for my book and photocopies. It was an easy decision, although I was a bit worried about who my fellow classmates would be and if I would relate to them. It was a case of the “first day of school jitters” because I found out the first day I had nothing to worry about.

The majority of my classmates (the men skipped out on photo time… go figure) photo courtesy of my classmate Airene

My classmates are a diverse set of people who come from all over the world; Colombia, Mexico, Morocco, Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, France, Estonia, China, Hungary, United States, Poland, and Nepal. They all have different stories about why they came to Belgium. Some have lived here for 10 years already, whereas others have been here a mere 3 weeks.

I love chatting to the other students during breaks or after class because I learn crazy stuff about them! Honestly, in this course I’m not just learning about Flemish. I’m also getting a few lessons about globalization, cultural studies, adaptation, and a little here and there from the school of ‘hard knocks’; all from the stories my classmates tell me about their personal lives. It’s fascinating!

I have a large class of 21 people, but our instructor still manages to give attention to those who are struggling or need extra clarification. She’s from the province of Limburg and her happy-go-lucky attitude is in line with that of people from Limburg, or so I’ve been told by my friends from Vlaams-Brabant. She’s an exuberant and enthusiastic teacher, who doesn’t make me dread going to class and makes lessons quite fun.

So all in all, I’m very satisfied with my classes at CVO. Thankfully, I don’t dread doing my homework anymore unlike other language courses I’ve taken, ehumh… French. I’m really happy to have finally figured out that learning a new language can be intellectually and emotionally rewarding.

Wine Tour of Loire Valley, France

Back in July, I was invited on a couple’s weekend wine trip with my fella, his sister, and her fiancé to help pick out the ‘bubbles’ for their upcoming wedding reception in October. Early one Saturday morning, we jumped in the car and made the ten-hour road trip to Chinon, France.

Chinon is a village in the Loire Valley, a famous wine region of France. The Loire valley has several small regions within it that produce different grape varietals: Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay. Chinon is famous for making light and fresh red wine, fruity rosé, and dry white wine. As legend has it, vines existed in the area when the Romans invaded and wine production began as early as 380.

We stayed in the charming Hotel Diderot, who offers a great price for excellent quality. We were all satisfied with our rooms and the breakfast in the morning. The hotel also sells its own homemade jams and jellies that were scrumptious when paired with fresh goat cheese and the house multigrain bread. Chinon is very picturesque and made this girl feel like she was walking around the set of Cinderella. The village is accommodating to tourists as well as easy to navigate and find the various vineyards. We made a point of checking out the organic and biological vineyards and cheese farms; it is easy by a free guide of the local and bio food and drink of the Loire Valley that listed 171 producers and growers. We discovered goat cheese to die for and learnt about using knowledge of the solar system to harvest wine. Amazing!

I do suggest a brush-up on your French before you go. I didn’t, and mine is atrocious to begin with, which left me feeling a bit confused and out of the loop a couple of times. Yes, this is partly my fault but once again while I was in France I was confronted with proud French attitudes and an unwillingness to accommodate. I found this a bit surprising as Chinon and the Loire Valley is a hotspot for North American tourists, with their fat wallets, who have a taste for fine wine and French cuisine. Maybe those people buy wine out of embarrassment of being sophisticated enough to drink French wine but not so much as to learn the language? I don’t know, this could just be me, but the feeling of being ‘uncultured’ is one that I continue to grapple with when I visit some regions of France.

All in all, it was a quick weekend trip but we all felt that Chinon was a great little getaway where we were able to decompress from the week and re-energize. I definitely recommend a visit to Chinon if you love wine, cheese, and admiring the French countryside.

Lazy Man’s Cabbage Roll Casserole

I’ve never had an actual cabbage roll. I was a fussy child and there was something about Cabbage Rolls that made me uneasy, I think it was the combination of tomato sauce and rice. It seems ridiculous now after I’ve had the essential ingredients of cabbage rolls in a thick stew and in a casserole. My first encounter with Lazy Man’s Cabbage Rolls was in Canada by my roommate’s Mom who came by for a visit and made us a giant stew pot of man-meal goodness. Back when I was in Edmonton I lived with two burly men, my friends Darek and Darren, who also happen to be brothers. They were raised in big family full of great cooks and together we had a household full of glorious dinners and parties. Their love for food, cooking, and restaurant exploration was a big influence on me and the home we shared is where my cooking skills really began to blossom.

My Edmonton Home

Lately, I have introduced more Canadian-influenced dinners to my second home in Belgium. I love hearty Alberta recipes that are not too fancy or fussy. A lot of our dishes have influences from our early settlers; British, French, Ukrainian, Norwegians, Chinese, Greek, Indian… and so on. Of course, different recipes change over time and many have been adapted to save time for the fast-paced lifestyle in the Prairies. Don’t be fooled by the appearance of some meals as these dishes taste damn good and will fill that big hole in your stomach after a hard days work. Best of all, for clean-up there are hardly any dishes; a big plus in my books since we don’t have a dishwasher in our 30 m2 studio apartment.

Lazy Man’s Cabbage Roll Casserole
Recipe adapted from Yummly

2 lbs ground beef
1 onion (chopped)
3 garlic cloves (minced)
700 g tomato sauce
1 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp dill weed
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 cups rice (uncooked)
4 bacon strips (chopped + uncooked)
1 head shredded cabbage
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1. In a large skillet, cook the beef, onion and garlic over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain. Stir in one can of tomato sauce and seasonings. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat: cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in rice and bacon; heat through. Remove from the heat

2.Layer a third of the cabbage in a greased 13-in. x 9-in. x 2-in. baking dish. Top with half of the meat mixture. Repeat layers; top with remaining cabbage. Pour remaining tomato sauce over top.

3.Cover and bake at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes. Uncover; sprinkle with cheese. Bake 10 minutes longer or until cheese is melted. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

*This recipe is on my old website… please come and visit curiousmeredith.com for new recipes and travel articles in the future! Thanks for stopping by!*

Learning Flemish: My First Impressions

In Vlaams-Brabant, my home province in Belgium, the Flemish language seems to be a blend of Dutch, French, and English. Here in Leuven, I have become accustomed to hearing all three. Probably more English than usual since my Belgian friends are very accommodating and will switch to English to include me in conversation. I’m so grateful for their efforts that I feel it’s time to make a genuine effort to learn their language as well. It boggles my mind how my friends can switch from Flemish, to English, to French, sometimes in one sentence. I’ve always been jealous of my friend’s language skills since I’ve had a considerable amount of trouble with languages in the past.

My journey towards learning a second language has been a rocky one. I was 16 when I enrolled in French 10 during my first year in high school, which resulted in a C+. Dejected about my apparent lack of French skills, I didn’t take French 20 the following year. Sadly, I made no attempt at a language until I was age 21, living in Finland and needing some language credits for my university degree. I decided to enrol in Finnish. It was very difficult, or maybe the exchange party lifestyle diverted my attentions, but I actually failed this course! Surprisingly, my failure in Finnish only increased my desire to learn a second language. All of my European friends spoke at least three languages and I felt small that I was limited to English. So I went back to French, studied for a year, and passed with a B+. Success!

… Or so I thought. How is my French now? Awful. I haven’t practiced at all and when I do speak I sound like Brad Pitt in Inglorious Bastards. So I’ve taken a French hiatus to learn Flemish/Dutch. I’ve been told the best way to learn a language is to have a boyfriend who speak it. Looks like I’m lucky to have the best learning resource there is!

My friends claim that popular culture has been the driving force behind their English skills. Television shows and films are always shown in their original language with Flemish subtitles. I’ve noticed that Belgians, especially the Flemish, love English humour as it is similar to their own. Dry, sarcastic, and a bit wonky (in a good way!). Because of this, Belgian’s speak English very well, polished with the current lingo. Most can already hold an English conversation before they begin studying English in school, which happens around age 14. Belgians are avid football fans and often read English to get the latest scoop on trades and player stats. Gamers use English in online communities like World of Warcraft and Starcraft. The more I think about it, the opportunity to practice English in Belgium is almost limitless.

I’m blessed that I now have the opportunity to learn Dutch being (almost) completely immersed. Contrary to my previous attempts at a second language, this time I’m going to approach the process realistically and acknowledge that it won’t happen overnight but will take time and patience. To keep my motivation up, I’m going to document my Flemish language journey on ‘curiousmeredith’ in hopes that those who are learning or have learnt a 2nd (3rd, or 4th) language will share their tips and tricks with me.

Current Learning Materials:
Prisma textbook & 2 listening CDS- Dutch for Self-Study
My Fella
Comic Books
Flashcards
Google Translate
Prisma – “How do you say this in… Dutch” mini dictionary
Flemish TV Show with subtitles – Het Eiland – A bit of a vibe similar to “The Office” but definitely with its own Flemish flair.

Initial Observations after completing Lesson 1:

1. Literal translations don’t work, context is very important.
Example: Ga je mee wat drinken?

Initial literal translation: Go you with also drink?
Context: Are you coming for a drink?

2. There are lots of little joining words that are put together to make a common sayings. Those little words and their role in sentence structure are still a mystery to me.

3. There is a big difference between the written and spoken language.

4. Concerning pronunciation, just relax! Flemish is not as “in your face” as English.

I think Flemish is going to give me a lot of mystery, fun, and challenges in the upcoming months, but I’m ready and willing to learn. Bring it on.

Ten Belgian Bands You Should Check Out

Here is a list of ten Belgian bands that I think the rest of the world should know about. This list covers a few different genres, featuring songs from the past and the present. For me, discovering the great music of a culture is one of the biggest pleasures of traveling. So here it goes!

Steak Number Eight

Young dudes rocking a mature sound with their own take on ‘Stoner Rock’ genre. Great to see live, headbanging all around!

Deus

I’ve been loving the older 90’s era Deus stuff recently. The album to check out would be ‘No More Loud Music’.

Black Box Revelation

Up & Coming rock’n’roll band, great live show.

Arsenal

Arsenal has been one of my favourite ‘chill’ bands for the past year. Absolutely love both their albums “Lotuk” and “Outsides”

Absynthe Minded

Described as “Europe’s best kept secret”… you can be the judge.

Admiral Freebee

I always feel so good listening Admiral Freebee! Check out all his albums, but to start, try his self-titled album.

Toots Thielemans

Legendary blues musician and the greatest harmonica player in the 20th century.

Netsky

A little taste of some Belgian electronic music, that doesn’t fall into the annoying drum & bass our ears have been accosted with on the radio these days.

Stijn

Check out his album “Euphoric” for some über funky jams

El Fish

Oddly enough, when I finished this list I found that it is devoid of women. I could have put Selah Sue, but I’m over her and her poofy hair. She’s a great performer (as seen below with Triggerfinger), but there has to be more Belgian songstresses out there!

I would love to see/hear everyone’s suggestions, tell me what you think!

Homemade Pasta

It’s another rainy day in Belgium. We have become quite accustomed to rain showers and clouds since this summer has been labeled “the worst rainy summer on record”. This is typical luck for me because Canada is going through a heat wave while I have started to carry an umbrella in my purse. But on this day, the rain isn’t terrible news but rather a perfect excuse for Billy and I to stay inside and cook.

A week ago, we borrowed Billy’s dad’s pasta roller and now we have the time to dedicate ourselves to learning the tricks of a scrumptious homemade pasta. So we went out, found some pasta flour from our local Italian eatery, and began the pasta challenge. It turns out making pasta dough is not as hard as it seems… Ok, so we didn’t successfully make our whole meal in 6 minutes, like Jamie, but that is the magic of TV.

After a quick read of his recipe, we were kneading and rolling in no time. We followed Jamie’s portion recommendation of 100 grams of flour and 1 egg for each portion to make our flour nest & hollow. After some intense kneading, our ball of dough was ready for the machine.

For the first-timers, there are a couple of trouble spots that might be encountered. We found our pasta sheets were developing holes after passing through the press due to sticky pasta dough. To fix this problem, lightly sprinkle pasta sheet with flour and then roll through the machine again.

Be careful not to hastily adjust the ‘thinness’ setting while putting pasta sheets through the press because this seems to increase the chance of the pasta sheet falling apart. To make it easier, we ended up splitting the dough into 2 separate dough balls and ran each through the machine. It’s helpful to have two people, so there will be one to feed the pasta sheet through the machine and the other to catch the sheet on the other end. Most importantly, it’s more fun to cook and eat with someone else!

Teamwork makes tasty pasta

The best part about making your own pasta is being able to decide the thickness and size of the pasta. Once our sheets were satisfactory, they were loosely folded into a roll and then cut as we saw fit.

The pasta doesn’t take long to cook. According to Jamie, it will be around 45 seconds; ours took about 1 minute and 30 seconds after being dropped in boiling water.

Billy made a homemade pasta sauce with strong aromas of tomato, thyme, onion, and bacon that were dancing around in my nose and teasing my taste buds. To say that I was anxious for supper is an understatement. At first, we were so hungry our portion amount didn’t seem like enough. And then, it was so tasty that our greedy tummies wanted more.

After the meal was finished, we took a full 20 minutes of digesting time after which both of us felt satisfied and not sickly full. Thank goodness… because the pasta is quite heavy and I think the food hangover would have been similar to the feeling after an Easter dinner. I try to keep the intense food hangovers for family holidays, when it’s acceptable to nap face down on the living room floor.

Slowly, but surely, I am learning to combine food control and total enjoyment in this delectable nation.

The Grand-Daddy of European Festivals: Rock Werchter

On June 25th, I arrived in Belgium, my new home for the next year or so. Belgium is a fun and busy place to be in the summertime. There are multiple festivals every weekend in this tiny country and because of Belgium’s size it’s very easy to hit up as many as possible. In addition to the BIG festivals that are filled with international acts, there are city and town festivals, day trips to the beach, or wine filled picnics.

From the first time I met Billy, he would tell me wild stories of all his adventures at Rock Werchter. An endless list of famous bands, throngs of people, camping shenanigans, and mouth-watering food and drink. I had to go! So plans were made, tickets were bought, and I arrived in Belgium just in time to unpack my suitcase and pack my festival backpack.

Billy’s hometown is ten minutes away from the festival grounds, so I was camping with some Rock Werchter veterans. Billy has been to nine Werchter festivals, so he has packing and festival organization down to a fine art. Very appreciated on my end because the sheer massiveness of this festival was a tad overwhelming. Bright and early Thursday morning, we managed to fit in 5 people, 4 hiker’s backpacks, sleeping bags, mattresses, 5 tents, 4 lawn chairs, and food coolers into a Mazda 2 (the smallest Mazda). After hiking to our camping spot, all-night party campground B0, we got everything set up, got a beer and we made our way to the Wei (Flemish for festival grounds).

Festival goers enjoying drinks and food

The weekend was filled with great friends, sunny weather, and rockin’ bands. The crowd vibe was excited and chill. I thought the festival was extremely well organized and well maintained, an exceptional feat when considering the numbers of people attending. According to the Rock Werchter website, this year set a new attendance record, with 85,000 festival-goers each day and a total of 139,000 unique visitors for the four day festival.

Out of the 81 acts that preformed these were my favourites:

Jack White killin’ it!


1. Jack White– A show that took us on a time-travel journey of Jack White’s impressive hits. White’s five piece band of extremely talented musicians were all dressed in impeccable suits. White was rippin’ it on the guitar, further proving to me that he is probably the guitar genius of my generation.

According to interviews, Jack White tours with TWO complete bands that are completely male or female. Each are amazing in their own right and White chose them while recording and producing in his studio over the past three years. He says that he decides which band to use the morning of the show and never plans a playlist because he prefers to play songs that suit the vibe of the crowd. Kudos to Jack White and his preformance, I think he just became my rock’n’roll hero.

Eddie Vedder


2. Pearl Jam– In the past I haven’t been the biggest Pearl Jam fan. I enjoyed them but never felt much of a connection. After this show, I realize I’ve been missing out for years. The show was big, loud and Eddie Vedder was a pleasure to watch. He is so genuinely grateful to be preforming for all his fans and that sentiment really came through. The magnitude of the crowd was awe-inspiring from the front; they were full of energy, singing along and enthusiastically fist waving.

Before Werchter, I had watched “Pearl Jam Twenty” directed by Cameron Crowe. It has amazing concert footage, insightful interviews and covers the band’s long history. It gave me high expectations for this show and Pearl Jam didn’t disappoint. I can now say I am a full-on fan!

3. The Cure– I have been wanting to see The Cure for the past couple of years and their performance on Thursday night did not disappoint. The sun had just set, the weather was still balmy and many festival goers had a dreamy buzz washing over them.

Robert Smith was looking as eccentric as ever with green eyeliner, red lipstick, and wild mad scientist hair. He seemed to be in an exceptionally good mood, happy to please the crowd by playing their biggest hits. The Cure is one of my most memorable and enjoyed performances of Rock Werchter.

4. Metric– Metric had the difficult task of opening Werchter on the smallest stage, the Barn. No matter, the tent was packed and ready for a sweaty and energetic show. The band was sharp and put together a great party set list that got everyone moving and jumping.

Of course, Emily Haines had all the boys swooning. Her leather short shorts earned her ‘best legs of the festival’. Her performance was entertaining and vibrant. Overall, I was super proud to show off one of my favourite Canadian bands to my Belgian friends, who were very impressed.

5. Wiz Khalifa– Wiz Khalifa got the party started on Friday! I didn’t know much about him before and now I love him. Charismatic and fun show that had everyone singing along, swaying to his hip hop beats, and practicing their best gangsta arm wave. He had a heartwarming shout-out to the crowd about the free download music scene and attributed his success to it. I really got the feeling he was overjoyed to be playing for such a huge crowd at such a renowned festival. It’s always nice to watch someone preform who truly wants to be there.

6. The Editors– This show was another big surprise for me. The Editors are absolutely HUGE in Europe but I haven’t heard much about them in Canada. I thought it was going to be a fairly mellow show, a la Snow Patrol who I skipped, but I was proven wrong. It was an onslaught of hard electic guitar, heavy piano, powerful singing and oodles of fireworks. According to my Werchter veteran friends, the performance from The Editors was a worthy and impressive headline act. I definitely agree and will be revisiting my Editors albums.

6. Nneka– I discovered Nneka while living in Kenya last year and was eager to see her show in Belgium. I had a friend see her live in Tanzania who said she was phenomenal. Her afternoon show was a great opportunity to sit in the grass to chill listening to a smooth and soulful singer. Her performance and comments throughout her show felt genuine and I enjoyed her soulful music on sunny Saturday afternoon.

7. Mastodon– I arrived late for this show and had to stand in a long que to withdraw money but Mastodon’s heavy metal got me pumped up for the day ahead. Great set! I’m planning on getting their albums for days when I’m feeling feisty.

8. Dropkick Murphys– This show was really fun! However, I don’t remember too much of it because of a bit too much sangria. I spent the entire show jumping and dancing. The energetic and raucous music of this punk rock Boston band got me feeling rebellious and ready for a party. Obviously, a great addition to the line up for a heavy last day of Werchter to keep everyones energy up.

9. Black Box Revelation– BBR is a Belgian band that has a very unique sound; part garage, blues electric, with some 60’s and 70’s flair reminiscent of the Kinks and Led Zeppelin. In any sense, BBR was a gritty rock’n’roll show that captured the crowds attention in the heat of the late afternoon. Their sound is mature and full for a band that is incredibly young- Jan Paternoster is 22 and Dries Van Dijck is 20 years old. Amazing! This band has a bright future ahead of them.

10. Florence & The Machine– I was really excited to see Florence + the Machine and I enjoyed it but I also expected more. Her voice was amazing but I think that their set would have benefitted being on a smaller stage. According to my friends, the band played in the pyramid stage two years ago and it was an amazing show. This show was a bit darker and more intense, which is hard to pull off from the main stage.

Florence’s stage presence was different from previous video clips I have seen. Instead of the fragile and feminine songstress with the shockingly powerful vocals, this time she seemed empowered and commanding like a high priestess leading her followers. I’m a big Florence + the Machine fan and even though the show wasn’t what I expected it still makes my top 10.

Overall, I had a fabulous time; Rock Werchter is world class festival, one that I would go to over and over again. My friends and I have only one regret, which is not exploring and seeing more of the smaller acts that attended (especially the Alabama Shakes!). But it was great to have so many awesome acts to pick from. Rock Werchter 2012 was simply the cat’s pajamas.