Language Divide?

A world of a difference




















I landed in Brussels on a dull, cloudy, winter day in the middle of January this year. As I made my way from the airport to the hotel, it began to rain. Hmmmm, I thought to myself, where have I landed myself? Having spent the last 9 years in Hong Kong and all of my life before that in India, I am accustomed to rainfall in the monsoon season: not in the summer, and definitely not in winter! So was this cold Belgian welcome a taste for things to come, I wondered.


I need not have worried. The only cold thing I confronted was the weather. In the several months that I have been here, every other experience has been a positively warm one - from welcoming smiles from my new colleagues to vigorous handshakes, and from heated rooms to hot coffee everyone so eager to help me settle in and become a part of the team. I have been very impressed, and am totally appreciative of this inclusive and welcoming culture that I have seen at work!

Spring and Summer

In the few months that I have been here, Ive been able to observe a local flavour that I have not seen elsewhere. It is these observations coupled with my experiences with living in a different culture that have made my time here extremely interesting! Here are a few examples:


This is the first time that I'm living in a place that has 4 distinct seasons! In Hong Kong and India where I have lived before, there are three seasons. In India, these seasons are called Hot, Hotter and Hottest. In Hong Kong, they are called Humid, Very Humid, and Way Too Humid! But in Belgium, it is for the first time that I have seen for myself how Spring introduces a buoyancy to people's gaits and brings an optimism to their faces. It took me back to my time in school in India when I was taught poems written by English poets that praised the joys of Spring - back then, I could never relate to it because I had never experienced this season before!


As Spring gave way to Summer, it was with joy that I have observed flowers sprout in the grass and leaves appear on the trees in Parc du Cinquantenaire (which is close to where I live)! And I have thoroughly enjoyed the long daytime hours of Summer, making the most of it to pursue my interests in music (Yeay! TW Classic Werchter and Couleur Cafe!) and travel & photography (Yeay! To Brugge in 60 minutes! To Paris in 90!). I am eagerly awaiting Autumn now - this is not a reaction I might expect to see in my Belgian colleagues, but then I have never seen leaves on a tree change their colour from verdant green to vibrant hues of crimson and orange!

The Language Divide NOT!

I have been awe-struck by the sheer fluidity in languages that I have observed in my colleagues here - the manner in which BeNeLux-ians can switch between French, Flemish, Dutch and English is awesome! What a great skill to have! And yet, when I have complimented my colleagues about this, they have responded with such humility, simply stating that they live in countries that are so small and speak native languages that are spoken by so few that it is a necessity for them to learn other languages. I am not convinced - being an Indian and having worked in Hong Kong and China, I am well aware of the challenges that I faced because I could not speak Cantonese or Mandarin! So, to my BeNeLux colleagues, here's what I have to say about their language skills: Hats off to you!


Of course, since I speak neither French nor Flemish, I have been fortunate that everybody understands me when I speak English. While this has been the case at work, it hasn't always been true when I've been out shopping. I remember a time when I was new to Brussels and I picked up "Lait battu" assuming it was a kind of skimmed milk, only to find out that I couldn't make coffee with it (I did figure out later that it was buttermilk)!


Hong Kong and BeNeLux: Worlds apart

I still miss Hong Kong - after all, it was my home for the past 9 years. I miss Hong Kong's 24x7 lifestyle - where you can buy anything from toothpaste to wine at 2 AM in the morning, or go shopping for clothes or books even on a Sunday! I miss its efficient public transport infrastructure and streets crowded with people. I even miss the typhoons that lash its shores during the rainy season! And I miss its high-rise buildings - I used to live on the 24th floor of a 50 storey building - it is a bit of a "let down" to live in a 4th floor apartment now (it is an interesting fact that more than 50% of Hong Kong's 7 million people live and work above the 10th floor)!


But I have been extremely excited with my stay in Belgium so far. I have learnt so many new things - from "bedankt" and "bon weekend" to eating "moule-frite" and "gaufre avec miel". I have experienced a new culture and seen historic places - from Art Nouveau to Leuven and from Ypres to Amsterdam. I have basked in the sunshine of summer and shivered in the cold of winter. I have visited parks and musea. I have driven on the right side of the road and diligently followed instructions from Jane, my TomTom navigator! I have tasted Gueuze and Kriek, and got an appreciation for why West-Vleteren St. Sixtus is a great beer while people may think I'm mad if I ordered Zottegem. These have all been new and interesting experiences for me. But the most interesting experience of all has been the joy and delight at meeting new people, making new acquaintances, participating in diverse discussions, and of having always felt welcome by every person that I've met in BeNeLux - they have each, in their own way, made my stay here extremely rewarding and memorable.



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Vixabs Vacations Unlimited

October 1, 2007