Please enjoy my continuing adventures from a time not so long ago. If you missed the first part of the story, catch up by reading Part One.
And as they say in Antwerp, alsjebielft!
Greetings from Antwerp, Belgium – September 10, 2001
In just one short week my days (and nights) have been filled with too many experiences to describe. Friends write and ask what life is like “across the ocean”. It’s a bit hard to explain, but I’ll try to describe it if you’ll try to imagine.
Visualize your daily life and every destination you need in a week. Now compact all those things into a much smaller land where every street is lined with cafes, pubs, grocery stands, retail shops – everything you need. By walking just five to ten minutes in any direction you can accomplish most any task. Now include a public transportation system to get you anywhere else you want to go, in fact, go ahead and sell your car because you won’t need it anymore.
Now I know what some of you are thinking. I could just as easily be describing New York City, right? Please, keep reading.
Add to the landscape people from all over the world who can speak several languages, all in one breath.
Still too NYC?
Now, take off your watch, you won’t need it. What you will need is to breathe in deeply and prepare to slow down. Take your time. Relax and enjoy all that life has to offer. Food, spirits, friends, sites, sounds, life. Oh yeah, and go get a bike.
Everything is flat so bikes are EVERYWHERE. But remember to watch out because pedestrians have the right of way – on every street, paved path, corner, and intersection. If you hit someone with your bike (or car if you still have one) they put you in jail and ask questions later. Feel like walking right out into an intersection to cross the street? Okay. The cars will stop.
I think a lot of Americans have a hard time adapting to this local speed. It’s just too hard for us to sit back, relax, and be patient. Fortunately, that’s exactly the mindset I arrived with – so I love it. My American friend (and host) gets impatient with traffic and people and waiting. (Sorry Dave, but I bet you know it’s the truth.)
I see the difference in how Americans and Europeans are culturalized (yes, I’m generalizing) when I watch Dave and his friends hang out. Dave looks for what’s happening next. Where to next? Why are we waiting? Where’s my order? His friends, who hail from England, France, and Scotland, are content to sit and enjoy each other’s company without worrying about next. They are enjoying now. They don’t hunt down a server, they wait until one stops at the table. They wait patiently for the tram as Dave checks and re-checks the schedule. I’m sure I’m more like Dave, but I’m trying to adapt quickly.
But I digress. What I really want to tell you about is the food. The cuisine here is marvelous, even if it’s hard to order when I don’t have a translator joining me. I have been served raw meat once but I felt no remorse in letting it sit on my plate. I just ate my vegetables, paid my bill, and smiled on my way out the door. The local favorite, as it turns out, is ironically called an American Beef Sandwich. Never order it. I repeat, never order it. Unless you like raw ground beef mixed with mayonnaise spread on a thin piece of crusty bread.
What is lovely are all the fritz stands – on almost every corner. These open air shops have racks and racks of un-cooked French Fries ready for you to order. They’re served in a paper cone so you can walk around with your snack. You so pay extra for sauces, even Ketchup. But you can have Mayonnaise, Luksauce, Pickle Sauce, Paprika Sauce, Curry Ketchup, or Dark Sauce (which reminds me of A-1).
Repeat after me – “Klein Fritz met Luk Sauce, alsjebielft!”
Good. Now let’s take our large fries with garlic sauce on a stroll. Oh, the alsjeblief means please and you can begin or end a sentence with it – or both. People are very polite in Belgium, and very generous.
In most restaurants you’re served a table standard after you order. At one Italian restaurant they serve sliced fresh bread with herb-cheese-butter sauce and a small bowl of assorted olives soaked in spices and oil. Yum! At the Argentinian restaurant it’s a basket of bread served with five sauces (Spiced Mayo, Hot Red Pepper, Veggies in Oil, 1000 Island, and Herb Butter) and a dish of black and green olives. Double Yum! And at that same restaurant, instead of being offered an after dinner mint, each person is served a small shot of Amaretto. Now that is a sweet way to end a meal. Triple Yum and Cheers!
Oh, say hello to Dave and Alice. Isn’t he adorable? And very generous (despite being American). He’s the main reason I came to Antwerp. His company sent him overseas for work and he extended an invitation to his friends to visit. “Hi Dave.”
A note on dining: Plan on spending a few hours when you go out to eat. First, there is the before dinner drink and table standards, then your starter, followed by an entrée, another drink, dessert if you have room left, and perhaps a special treat when your bill arrives 2.5-3 hours later. Dinner is a very social event, even in people’s homes. It is never a rush. In fact, nothing is ever a rush.
Just as I’m not in rush to tell you my whole story. You’ll have to wait until next Flash Back Friday for more Adventure of A Broad Abroad. But I will tell you this; the story gets very interesting (for me, for you, for the world) on the following day. A day I might have called ‘tomorrow’ except that it will forever be known as 9/11.