Saturday, 23 June 2007

Over the hills and far away

Actually, just 12 miles East over the hillocks, you are in Belgium. It's a totally different world there. A place where people make fun of themselves, smile at others and don't take life so seriously. A place where you can find a table full of grandmas drinking pints of beer in a café. A place where all public places are non-smoking and the law is actually respected. A land where fnding a cash machine is nearly impossible.

About a month ago, we went to Flanders to buy Jérôme a proper Dutch bike. Driving over the border still excites me, like when I was a kid going through the Lincoln Tunnel and seeing the NJ/NY border half way through.

We managed to track down a good store outside of Kortrijk that sold the bike he wanted. Let me just say how bad the Belgian highways are. Not only is there an incredibly complicated ringroad around every single city/town, but you'd have to have ESP to not miss an exit because you get about a 2 second warning. You're driving along, like a bobble head doll becasuse the highways are made of uneven concrete slabs put down during WW2, and suddenly an entrance ramp! Makes you understand the "voiture phantome" phenomenon we always hear about on the Belgian radio station.

Back to the bike, in short : we found the bike but the store didn't take credit cards and the 2 cash machines in town didn't take his card. It was lunch time and the store was closing so we went to the bigger town to get cash, but none of the machines worked. So what did we do? Nope, we didn't give up on the bike...

We got back on the highway, went back to France and used a cash machine we found at the first exit in France.

This may seem totally inane to anyone living in other parts of France or the US where cash machines are abundant and people probably prefer credit cards to cash. But this is Belgium...

I once asked my husband why Lille and the Belgian border towns of Mouscron and Kortrijk didn't have a closer relationship (with only 10 miles between them), like joint transport system or closer business relationships. He explained to me that not so long ago, like when he was a kid, a map of the North of France stopped at the border. Belgium didn't exist.

Too bad there isn't a closer relationship because the Belgians (or at least the Flemish or Bruxellois. Ok, and even the Walloons) could teach the French something about laughing, smiling, customer service and generally being less uptight. Even their king looks like a nice guy...especially compared to Sarko.

More another time on the whole Flanders/Walloonia split. I read a book once that said if there was no King of the Belgians (notice that he's not the Belgian King), there would be no Belgium.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Yeah, it's weird, and I hear French people making fun of "les belges" all the time! What gives?

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