Saturday, November 12, 2016

So Your is From Belgium ... Featuring Bieke @ Quite the Novel Idea + Kathy @ Books and Munches

It's time for this month's So Your Character is From Another Country! This is a monthly or bimonthly segment where I interview lovely volunteers from around the world to give you a firsthand account of being a citizen of their respective country. I'm hoping to encourage international diversity, break stereotypes, and give writers a crash course on how to write a character from these different places on our planet. If you haven't checked out last months's So Your Character is From Slovakia ... be sure to hop on over there and give it a read!

The most I've seen of Belgium is in the Legend of Tarzan, and prior to that I frankly knew about it mostly from French fries, waffles, and the fact that I have some coins from there. Bieke and Kathy definitely shed some light on things!

Disclaimer: The content below may be culturally shocking to some. Each of these posts are as uncensored as possible to preserve the authenticity of the cultures of each of the interviewees.

(None of the Images are Mine)

My name is Bieke, friends usually call me Bee. I'm 25 years old and from Belgium. I currently live in a city called Hasselt, which is fairly close to the border of both The Netherlands and Germany. I spend my time devouring books and sometimes I try to write them too. My characters live under my bed and usually yell at me to start writing and then don't shut up for weeks. It's quite exhausting. When they're quiet I also enjoy watching movies and several TV-shows. 

Kathy, 26 and lives in the Flemish part of Belgium near Ghent.
My hobbies mostly involve reading, blogging, Netflix, and baking. I also like going to concerts and festivals, although that’s decreased an awful lot lately. Adulting can do that to you, I guess? I’ll always, always go and see Papa Roach and Queen whenever they perform nearby though. I have an administrative job at a health insurance fund where I’ve been working for 3,5 years now. 

What do you feel is unique to your country? Landmarks? Celebrations?
Bieke: Waffles! When people think Belgium, they usually think waffles. And chocolate. And beer. Basically delicious food and alcohol. That's a good thing to be known for right?

Belgian Waffles
Kathy: One of the unique things about Belgium is definitely the fact that it’s such a small spot on the map and we still manage to have three different-speaking parts. There’s the Dutch-speaking people, the French-speaking and the German-speaking. So small and still so divided.

As for a landmark, Manneken Pis, without a doubt! Pretty sure most people visiting Brussels – our capital – put him on their “to see”-list. They also tend to decorate him or dress him up certain holidays, which makes it even more unique.We also have the Atomium. 
But there are plenty of other cities to visit as well. Bruges oozes history and the city I work in, Ghent, also has some beautiful buildings. Not to mention one of my favorite cafes, Comic Sans, is situated there. Best Butterbeer I ever drank!

Mannekin Pis
Tell me about your country's environment. What are some of your favorite places?
Bieke: I really love the city where I live in. It has a lot of old buildings and a lot of history that I don't know about. My favorite place in this country of mine? The library, I think. They don't have most of the books I read, but it's big and there are books in it, so I feel right at home there. I also love hanging out in the center of the city with all the cafes and shops. (See pictures) The main languages here in Belgium are Flemish and French. Flemish is the Belgian version of Dutch, which is my mother tongue. There's also a few German parts but I don't speak German myself. As for me, I also speak a teensy tiny bit of French and, obviously, English. I dare say English is becoming my personal main language these days. 

Kathy: Honestly, I think we’re lacking nature and lots of it. There are some spots, some parks where you can almost feel like you’re surrounded by nature but there’ll always be traces of civilization close-by. Sure, we have our share of nature but it simply feels lacking compared to other countries I’ve been to. Although I have to admit I have yet to go to The Ardennes.

But the thing still is that whenever driving long distances in Belgium, I always feel surrounded by industry and never real nature. Safe to say I’m jealous of our Northern neighbors – the Netherlands – because when you’re driving on their highways, you’re surrounded by fields most of the time.

Tell me about your country's food. What are some of your favorite dishes?
Bieke: Well, I'm not actually that familiar with most of the typical Belgian food. Though every year on New Years day, my family does make the same dish and I know that's a common one for this area. My aunt always makes rabbit with either prunes or homemade applesauce. It's delicious. Except for the prunes. Those are gross. It doesn't have a special name, I think. Just Rabbit & Prunes. 

Konijn met pruimen (Rabbit with Prunes)
Kathy: Ha! We all know Belgium is famous for its fries. And chocolate. And beer. I love them all! It’ll be my eternal frustration fries are called French fries when they’re actual Belgian and the French really don’t make them as good as we do. Not to mention Bicky burgers – look it up! You can only get those in Belgium as far as I know and they’re delicious!

Oh, and I shouldn’t forget our beef stew, which is made with beer. Pretty sure a lot of people see French fries, stew and mayonnaise as a typical Belgian dish – I know I do.

Bicky Burger
Belgian Beef Stew
Tell me about any different speech patterns in your country. Slang? Idioms? Words for things such as “biscuits” instead of “cookies”?
Bieke: Oh yeah there are lots of different accents in this country, but I'm not familiar with most of them. I prefer to speak normal so everyone can understand. Hah. XD I actually don't really like Dutch and I don't have any favorite Dutch sayings or anything. I'm American at heart, I think.

Kathy: Oh boy. Well, apart from the Flemish / French / German-speaking division, there are definitely some dialects going around as well. Pretty much every Flemish province has their own dialect. I live in East Flanders, which – I think – is pretty easily understood when we’re talking. West Flanders is way harder since they have a lot of slang in their vocabulary. But when Limburg is going full-out dialect, I seriously do not understand a word.

One example I can think of is how people use different words to say “window sill”. I’d say “vensterbank”, but someone in West Flanders would say “kassinne” and in Antwerp they’d say “raaigel”.

Describe briefly a regular day in your country. 
Bieke: That's easy. I wake up, take care of my morning chores before I have breakfast and relax until I have to cook and do dishes in the evening. I don't have a job so I have lots of free time!

Kathy: A regular day really is a regular day. Waking up early to get ready for work, drive over to work, work all day and then head home to get annoyed with traffic. The only traffic jam-free days are Wednesdays, really. All other days, I take over fifteen minutes longer to get home – which is a lot considering it’s possible for me to be home in ten, haha.

Then it’s coming home, hoping the neighbors across the street don’t have a day of loud music or shouting about all evening. We do live in quite the calm neighborhood but you always have some people who don’t really take into account others wanting some peace and quiet after a day of work.

How does your country compare to others, especially the States since my audience is primarily American? Environmentally? Politically? Culturally?
Bieke: Well... We have a king and queen? They don't do squad, but we still have them. Well, no that's not true. They get paid to go on vacations, I guess that counts as doing something. I'm not really aware of how different Belgium is though. I know we were the second country that approved gay marriage after the Netherlands. Does that count?

King Phillipe & Queen Mathilde
Kathy: One of the first things I had to think of is the fact that it’s so ordinary for Americans to just head to another state – be it by car or plane – to simply pay a visit. This while the United States are… well, huge. Definitely compared to Belgium and here people are already complaining a city is “too far off” if it’s an hour away. Which, honestly, is pretty funny since you can get to the other side of Belgium in about two hours.

Culturally we have a mix of everything, I dare say. There are a lot of Belgians, but also a lot of families who originate from Iran, Morocco, Turkey… Walking the streets, you can definitely see a lot of different skin colors. Although that doesn’t mean they’re not real Belgians, though. It is a fact that a lot of them don’t speak proper Dutch – at least as far as I’ve personally noticed.

When it comes to politics, we have our royal family although it feels to me that’s more for show. It’s not like our King actually decides on a whole lot.
I just looked it up to be sure and apparently, the whole of Belgium has six governments. Six. How’s that for being weird? Countries ten times bigger than ours make do with just one…

Briefly describe three of your country’s historical events that you feel are important.
Kathy: The first thing coming to mind is Belgium’s independence starting 1830. Although Belgium is tiny as it is, it’s still a huge step for a country to truly be independent.
Apart from that, I’d definitely have to say WWI and WWII. It’s a weird thought knowing Belgium was in the middle of both those wars, being surrounded by the Netherlands, Germany, France and the United Kingdom. We were simply caught in the crossfire – especially during WWII since Germany didn’t even made a war declaration.

My grandfather was barely born during WWI and he went through a lot at concentration camps during WWII. Knowing some of the things he saw and survived back then, makes me wish our country was situated elsewhere but… well, we can hardly move a country, right?

What are some stereotypes about your country that irk you? What media portrays your country badly be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
Bieke: There are stereotypes about Belgians? I guess we aren't all drinking beer and eating waffles, chocolate or french fries every day. Other than that I wouldn't know what stereotype you could have in mind for Belgium. 

I've heard a lot of references to Belgium in movies, but none that weren't right in some way. I guess Belgium isn't really a popular country to use in movies and stuff. The only one I know is In Bruges and I haven't seen that one yet.

Kathy: Oh, the best one is about the division between the Flemish and the Walloons – so basically between the Dutch-speaking and French-speaking part of the country. Apparently, we loathe one another but that’s not exactly true. At all? Sure, there are differences, but we don’t hate each other. There’s just this thing called a language barrier that makes things a bit harder.

In saying that, it sometimes gets on my nerves that people automatically assume a Belgian to speak French. That so is not the case. I’m from the Dutch-speaking part and, although I had French at school, I barely speak it. Having to explain to people that “Yes, I’m from Belgium but no, I don’t speak French” is ridiculously hard since they don’t tend to believe me? I wouldn’t know why I’d lie about something like that, but hey.

Also: the Walloons are not necessarily lazy and the Flemish people aren’t necessarily hard workers. I don’t even get where they got that from but apparently, it’s a well-used stereotype around here? Ridiculous, if you ask me.

Another one that strikes me more as funny than anything else is that Belgians are supposed to live on beer, fries, and waffles. I can tell you right now that it’s been years since I drank beer and I maybe have one waffle a year, haha.

What media portrays your country well be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
Bieke: Again, no clue. Of course, there are movies made here in Belgium, but I don't watch those. Same with books and TV shows. We have our comics of course, like TinTin and stuff, but I don't care for those. We had a movie a few years back that was nominated for an Oscar. No... We had two. One year we had Bullhead and last year, I think, we had Broken Circle Breakdown. I've seen the first and it was amazing! Am I failing at representing my country right now? xD

Kathy: I pretty much had to consult my boyfriend for this one since I’m not really into Belgian shows / movies and only read English books – which equals no Belgian books, oops.
He knows of two movies he feels portrays Belgium pretty well, but they are, of course, in Flemish. “Aanrijding in Moscou” and “De Helaasheid der Dingen”. The latter is actually a movie adaption of a book written by Dimitri Verhulst. I have no clue whether those movies are available with English subtitles though… Probably somewhere since the internet is simply amazing when it comes to movies and subtitles?

Who are your top three favorite characters native to your country in books, movies, or shows?
Bieke: Oh yeah, I'm failing big time because none come to mind. Ahaha, I'm so bad at this. I'm sorry, seriously. I don't have any favorite characters native to Belgium. 

Kathy: Not fictional, but… shout-out to Matthias Schoenaarts?! I think he’s one of the most internationally known Belgian actors out there and that definitely deserves to be mentioned, right?

Apart from that, Belgium is definitely known for its comics. I don’t read them anymore, but back when I was a kid I was the biggest fan of Suske en Wiske – also known as Bob et Bobbette. Lucky Luke was a very, very close second and.. well. I think the Smurfs became my favorite later on. Apart from the actual comics, I couldn’t stop watching the cartoon!

Thank you, Bieke and Kathy, for this very informative post! I hope everyone enjoyed reading it. Come back next month for So Your Character is From Germany ... Featuring Fraise Fruitrouge!

Are you interested in participating in this project? Slots for Australia, Canada, England, Scotland, New Z
ealand, the Philippines, Liberia, Algeria, Thailand, Peru, China, Slovakia, and Belgium have been filled, but if you are from any other country, shoot me an email at howellvictoriagrace(a)gmail(dot)com.

Do you have any Belgian characters? Did this inspire you to write a Belgian character or set a book in Belgium? Are from this or been to this country and you have further input? Feel free to share! Do you have any questions for Bieke and Kathy? Be sure to thank them!

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