Tuesday, December 09, 2003

The Belgians demonstrate that they are just as petty as the Canadians

Belgium is not a biligual country. It is a country in which different languages are spoken in different parts of the country. Generalising of course, Flemish people can usually speak French, but are very reluctant to do so. Walloons usually cannot speak Dutch, but even if they can, they generally won't. Signs are not bilingual. As you cross from one section of Belgium into another, the signs change from one language to the other. As most towns have different French and Dutch names, this can be highly confusing if you are just trying to go somewhere. The exception to all this occurs in Brussels, which is the capital, and is a French speaking city entirely surrounded by Flanders (ie by Dutch speaking country). Signs in Brussels are almost always bilingual.

Yesterday, I encountered a slightly absurd manifestation of this. I was on a train from Antwerp in Flanders to Brussels. It was a nice new train, and like new trains in many countries it had LED displays inside the carriages giving information about where the train was going to and which stations it stopped at. In Antwerp and as we travelled through Flanders, the information on the Display was entirely in Dutch. However, as we crossed over the city limits of the city of Brussels, it suddenly changed, and it was giving information in both Dutch and French. Presumably, if the train had continued on into Wallonia, everything would have changed into French only. Given that the display system could clearly operate in both languages and that most people on the train were travelling from one side of a linguistic boundary to the other, some of us would have thought it was sensible for the system to display information in both languages for the whole time.

But that would have implied that Belgium was a bilingual country. And we couldn't have that.

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