Saturday, June 12, 2010

Odds & Ends from Belgium to America

I lent out most of my camera lenses last week to a friend to "try before you buy". Hence I'm a little more limited in the range of options for photographs right now.  It's a good exercise in resourcefulness. Not to mention, it's led to a greater appreciation for my newer lenses. All the lenses are really very different in function and form. Wandering along recently, I was thinking about just that- there are a lot of qualities that separate those camera lenses. Somehow, it got me thinking about the differences in our home country, America, and our host nation, Belgium.

One never knows what they'll come across while walking the dog around here, but there are an array of things that pop up which are inherently different than what we might see in the States. I'm not implying that these odds and ends are better or worse. They are simply different.
Of course, there are plenty of similarities. For instance, everyone, Americans and Belgians alike, complain about the weather, or at least make it a conversational tool. Kids, despite nationality, are kids. Parents are all fumbling through parenthood- it seems to be the same worldwide. Most people have cars. The difference here is that when possible, Belgians use their bikes instead.

and I can't say that I would see this sort of car deco quite as often in the States...

We don't see pick up trucks or limousines here. Most cars are automatic in the US, while here, they are standard.
In Belgium, you can't drive til you're 18, in the States, it's 16.

Or, take for example, the street signs...often in two very different languages.
It's, ingenious, if you want to get lost.
Belgian road signs are blue. US road signs are green.
Belgian road cones are internally illuminated.
 US road signs are reflective. (Making no implications here of course :)
Stating the obvious, Belgian cars tend to be much smaller than autos driven in the US. In Belgium,
motorcycles are allowed to pass between cars. Traffic from the right has the right-away. Known as "priority to the right". Unless otherwise posted, yield to traffic turning onto your street from the right. A maddening issue for those of us who are used to a black and white system of stop signs. Additionally, it is acceptable to bring your dog on the metro, into pubs, in stores, and to restaurants.

The issue of date and time is all in perspective, but varies a lot both in application and theory. For example, European format is day/month/year and they often use the 24 hour system for time while American format is month/day/year and a 12 hour clock is used. More importantly though, Americans tend to think of something that is 400 years old as being almost ancient. Comparatively though, many things in Europe are in their infancy at 400 years old. Barns in Belgium are made of bricks and stand for hundreds of years. Barns in US are wooden and last 50 years.
Meandering along, you can see any assortment of domestic animals. Due to a zoning law, green land is made a priority. Hence there are a set number cubic meters of green space, set aside for parks and yard space, proportional to buildings. It strikes a nice balance and it's always fun to bumble along, only to run into someone's sheep from their back yard. I can't emphasize how many folks right here in the neighborhood, less than 3 miles from the city center, have sheep, ponies, donkeys, or cows, strolling through a mini pasture outside their door. Frankly, we find it lovely.

And speaking of meandering- it'd be remiss not to mention the difference in streets.
Cobblestone is everywhere. Everywhere.
Kudos to the Belgian women who walk on that stuff in their high heeled shoes. They do it and do it well.
I'd land on my behind in a second if I tried that. The sense of style is truly alive. On the matter of fashion, scarves, often worn by folding in half, and then sticking the ends through the loop are worn year round with any outfit. Men wear capris pants, striped pants, white pants, and very tight pants –sometimes a combination of all of those.

Belgians laugh. They are, for the most part, cheerful and welcome the company of others. They show compassion and enjoy each other. For example, part of dear husband's actual job is to attend C2 meetings- the 2Cs stand for Coffee and Conversation. There is an emphasis placed on valuing others simply for the sake of enjoying the presence of other people. They have an uncanny ability to make one feel welcome, as if it truly their pleasure to be in your presence. At times I wonder how they do it.
But back to the streets.
Those cobblestones may lead through a beautiful market way, or a solemn avenue.
So much activity takes place on those rough cut rocks. Markets and shopping, peddling and strolling,...they seem to merge everything that Europe is about.

Ultimately though, the cobblestones lead right back home again, where we will ponder both gaping and subtle differences,
and cherish them all.

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