There is something really strange about being alone in a country where you don’t speak the language. You are at the mercy of other people and you are certainly at a disadvantage. I think my time abroad has really put certain situations at home into perspective.
At work if a person came up to the register to purchase clothing I was required to rattle off a few statements about our return policy and our current sales. If this person did not speak English they often stared blankly at me. I now understand that feeling fully.
I’m still able to get by ok, for instance, I didn’t know I cut in front of a woman at the supermarket tonight and she said a bunch of words at me but I got the general gist of ‘hey I was here first’ and I let her go instead of me.
But Brussels is one hell of a country. I want to say rhst French is hard…but it’s not just French, it’s also Dutch and Flemish.
So, day one in Brussels involved me scrambling around the city alone for approximately six hours before my friend Emily arrived from Berlin.
What an adventure. I originally tried to find the tram, as the online directions to my hostel suggested, but the tram didn’t seem to exist. I resolved to find the station Emily would later arrive at and sit there for the remainder of my day. So I got a ticket, hoped for the best and got on the underground. It was really nice, actually. Then I asked a family if I was going to the right place and then there were a lot of shaking heads and words I didn’t understand.
The mother asked me if I spoke French, Flemish, Spanish ANYTHING?! It was hilarious how limited I was. Then her twelve year old son, a really sweet kid, comes over and says English, yeah? And I’m immediately excited. He tells me I missed my stop and I should get off at the next one.
A British woman reinforces what they said, and tells me she and her friend are going to the same place but when I ask her if it would be ok if I followed her to tbe destination (something my friends and I have willingly done with other people in other cities) she pointed at a map and darted off. That was rough.
BUT amazingly enough I happened to be at the station my original directions, the one with the tram, included. So I went to street level and looked for the landmarks and sure enough I was in the right place. All luck.
However, it took me a bit to get there. I was a little lost but almost certain I was parallel to the correct street, I just didn’t know in which direction.
So I entered a shoe store and asked the sales associates if they spoke any English and both immediately said no. I showed them the street I needed anyway and they knew the answer I needed, just not in English. Then the older woman took me a to a nearby waffle man who knew how to say ‘two streets over’ and that was how I found my hostel.
Later I had the lay of the land and I met Emily at the station. We got dinner and I had the most amazing milkshake I have ever had. It had solid chcolate at the bottom.
And that was day one, folks.