Friday, July 13, 2012

Jukebox Friday: Jacques Brel - Amsterdam

I've already mentioned Jacques Brel in my introduction to Belgian music. Thanks to a recent Guardian article, I've discovered another gem of his.

Recorded on Brel's live album Enregistrement Public à l'Olympia 1964, "Amsterdam" is a haunting depiction of the exploits of sailors on shore leave in the eponymous city. The song has been covered by artists including David Bowie, The Dresden Dolls and John Denver.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

False friends in Dutch and Norwegian #2

If you don't know what a false friend is, you can check out my first post on the subject.

WARNING: Some of the words listed here may be offensive to some Dutch- or Norwegian-speakers. Read them at your own risk.

Word Dutch meaning Norwegian meaning
eieren eggs the owner
gammel flimsy old
glad slippery happy
uur/ur hour clock
horen hear the whore
pikken to steal the dick
ikke I, me (slang) not/don't
teen toe the tea
recept/resept recipe prescription
plas/plass puddle place

Monday, July 9, 2012

Dunglish #1: famous examples

Wikipedia explains:
Dunglish (a portmanteau of Dutch and English) or Dutch English are the mistakes native Dutch speakers make when speaking English.
The Dutch and English languages are in contact on multiple fronts such as politics and culture. Being closely related, they are mutually easy to learn, but the closeness also makes for some interesting mistakes, especially in the realms of pronunciation, syntax and word meaning. The result is known as Dunglish, or in Dutch, steenkolenengels ("coal English"), supposedly a reference to the rudimentary English employed by 20th-century Dutch port workers when talking to English coal ship sailors. Here are some famous examples for your amusement.

  • While discussing expenditure in the European Union, Dutch politician Frits Bolkestein famously referred to economic prospects as "golden showers", unaware of the term's sexual connotation.
  • Using a literal translation of the Dutch word ondernemer, which means "entrepreneur", former Dutch prime-minister Joop den Uyl once remarked that "the Dutch are a nation of undertakers".
  • The Dutch word goedendag can mean both "hello" and "goodbye". At a meeting between former Dutch prime-minister Gerbrandy and Winston Churchill, Gerbrandy greeted Churchill thus: "Goodbye!" Churchill responded: "This is the shortest meeting I have ever had."
  • In a conversation with John F. Kennedy, Dutch foreign minister Joseph Luns told the American President about his hobby: "I fok horses". (The Dutch verb fokken means "to breed"). Kennedy replied, "Pardon?", a word which Luns then mistook as the Dutch word for horses. He responded enthusiastically, "Yes, paarden!"
  • The Dutch word eventueel means "potentially", not "eventually". This mistake caused a row between the Scottish and Belgian football associations when the Belgian football association invited delegates from various associations over for the "eventual qualification of the Belgian national football team" before the beginning of the play-offs against Scotland. While the Scottish federation accused the Belgians of sheer arrogance, the Belgian association had actually meant to hold the drink after a "possible qualification".
  • Former Dutch ambassador and prime minister Dries van Agt supposedly once said "I can stand my little man", a direct translation of ik kan mijn mannetje staan, which means "I can stand up for myself".

BONUS: Eneco, a Dutch energy company, have an ad using Dunglish for comedic effect. It's not as funny if you don't speak Dutch, but it's still worth a watch.



More Dunglish on the web:
Dunglish on Wikipedia
A Dunglish blog

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Brussels Palace of Justice

Brussels is arguably most famous for Manneken Pis, a tiny statue of a peeing boy that dresses up in a new outfit several times each week. If you're looking for something more imposing, make your way to the top of Galgenberg (lit. 'Gallows Hill'), where the thieves and murderers of Brussels once went to their final judgment. Here, overlooking the city core 20 meters below, stands the Palace of Justice. It stands at 104 meters (341 ft) tall and is 160 by 150 meters (520 x 490 ft) in diameter, which makes it the largest building constructed in the 19th century.



The Palace of Justice is the center of the Court of Appeal in the Brussels Region and the City of Brussels. It was built between 1861 and 1883 by the native architect Joseph Poelaert, who was assigned to the task by the ministry of justice after a design competition had failed to produce any acceptable designs.

Poelaert designed the building in the eclectic style, drawing on multiple sources of inspiration. The design is heavily influenced by classical antiquity, utilizing columns from all of the five classical orders as well as classically-inspired entablatures and door- and window frames. The building is also remarkable for being one of the very first buildings designed with the golden ratio, which has been incorporated into parts of the interior.

View of the cupola from the foyer below.


When the groundwork for the building was laid, much of the ancient Marollen district was demolished and the inhabitants relocated. This action was highly unpopular with the locals, who took to using "architect" as a curse word.

The building was partly destroyed when the Germans tried to burn it during their retreat from Brussels at the end of World War II. It was repaired by 1947, this time with an even taller cupola. More recently, a large-scale renovation of the facade has been going on since 2003. This is very visible, as the dome is now collared by unsightly scaffolding. The completion of this project will restore one of the true highlights of Brussels' scanty skyline to its former glory.



All photos in this post and more can be found on Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, July 2, 2012

"I will show them how a Belgian woman can die."

This article was written by Josse M., a prolific blogger who happens to be my father-in-law. He has graciously granted me permission to translate one of his articles for A Norwegian in Belgium. You can find the original article (in Dutch and with more pictures) on his blog.

Gabrielle Petit (20 February 1893 – 1 April 1916) was a heroine of the Belgian resistance in World War I.

Gabrielle Petit (1893-1916).

Her father placed her, together with her sister, in an orphanage after her mother died. When she turns 16, she leaves the orphanage and goes to live by herself in Brussels. As a single woman, life is anything but easy. She is often depressive, and even attempts to commit suicide.

When World War I breaks out, she is engaged to a soldier. She volunteers for the Red Cross.

She joins the British Secret Service. She goes to England via the Netherlands. Here she undergoes a brief training to prepare her for railway espionage. Her code name is “Legrand”. She reports German troop movements by railway to the Allies. She travels through Belgium in disguise. She writes the reports on small sheets of silk paper which she hides inside her clothes.

Back in Belgium she began her work in the area between Ypres (Ieper) and Maubeuge in France. She constantly ventured into enemy territory, where she observed and reported the German troop movements. Sometimes she did it disguised as a commercial traveler and refugee, sometimes as a nanny. Her reports were precise and quick and amazed her superiors.

Aside from intelligence work, she kept herself busy with the distribution of the secret newspaper La Libre Belgique.

She also helped in the expansion of an underground mail service (‟Mot du Soldatˮ – The Word of the Soldier) and succeeded in smuggling several men over the Dutch border. It was a life on the razor's edge.


In June 1915 she was arrested for the first time, and was released due to lack of evidence. The Germans, however, keep following her, and on 20 January 1916 she is arrested. She was betrayed by a German posing as a Dutchman. Throughout her detention she remained standhaft (German for ‟steadfastˮ, as it says in the interrogation reports). She didn't betray the name of a single one of her fellow combatants.

One small detail: the Germans were looking for Miss "Legrand".

One month later the verdict fell: she got the death penalty. She refused to appeal for pardon and wrote on the wall in her cell in the prison in Saint-Gilles: ‟I do not ask for a pardon, to show the [Germans] that I don't give a damn about them.ˮ On 1 April, at six o'clock in the morning, the time had come. A police van drove her to the execution grounds in Schaerbeek. 45 minutes later the sentence had been carried out. The next day, a German poster reported that "the saleswoman Gabrielle Petit" had been executed for her "richly paid" intelligence services.

Her statue can be seen on Place Saint-Jean in Brussels. Her cell in Saint-Gilles has served as a place of pilgrimage for some time.

After the war, in May 1919, her body was exhumed to be reburied at the cemetery in Schaerbeek. In her honor, Gebrielle Petit was given a state funeral in the presence of Queen ElisabethCardinal Mercier and Prime Minister Delacroix.

The statue on Place Saint-Jean in Brussels is a faithful reconstruction of that final moment. With clenched fists and her head held high, Gabrielle Petit looks the German firing squad in the eyes. She has refused to wear the blindfold. The inscription on the base reads, in French: ‟(...) I will show them how a Belgian woman can die.ˮ Also inscribed are her legendary last words: ‟Vive la Belgique! [...] Vive le...ˮ – the shots fell before she could shout ‟Roiˮ - King.

Memorial to Gabrielle Petit on Place Saint-Jean in Brussels.


If you're one of my Dutch-speaking readers, you may want to check out Joski's other writings on his blogs Berichten uit het verleden and Ochtendhumeur, nostalgie, verhaaltjes, plaatjes, originals, flauwe kul en...brede opklaringen.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Belgium in the news, week 26

Campine landscapes

I was recently at a birthday party in the Campine (Dutch: Kempen), a natural region in the east of Flanders (not to be confused with East Flanders). Having spent so much time in a crowded Ghent, I was struck by the pastoral beauty of this area.

The name of the region comes from the Latin Campinia or Campina, which can be translated as 'region of fields', i.e. 'countryside'. Campania in southern Italy was named in a similar way. It's easy to see where the name comes from when you find yourself among the vast fields and (slightly less vast) forests. It reminded me of Normandy, which I consider a compliment.

The Campine is rich with folklore, perhaps most notably the tale of Kyrië the Gnome King (Dutch: Kabouterkoning Kyrië). According to the legend, the hundreds of gnomes that inhabited the Campine disappeared after the Gnome King was killed by a hunter's rifle.


A statue of Kyrië the Gnome King can be seen
in Hoogeloon, Netherlands.

Here are some pictures to illustrate the beauty of this region. Click the pictures to embiggen - you'll be glad you did.

Photo: Encephalartos.

Photo: Encephalartos.

Photo: Encephalartos.

Photo: Encephalartos.

Photo: Geert Orye.

A wildlife overpass in the Campine. Photo: Paul Hermans.


Photo: Peter Van Osta.

Photo: Paul Hermans.

Photo: Donderwolk.

Campine landscape painting by Frans Van Giel.