As an English-speaking American with pathetic foreign language skills, traveling to England is easy. There’s some slight adjusting to do, as I mentioned, but as a native speaker of English it’s painfully easy to get yourself around and get your business done. In that light, arriving in Belgium yesterday and making my way around last night (I am staying in a non-touristy out-of-the-way part of town) and today for meals, exploration and such – for the first time I really got the sense of being in a foreign land. I realize a lot of this sounds rather quaint, especially to those of you who’ve backpacked across Asia and such, but my foreign travel experience is shamefully limited. My French skills are not great, and I’m sure to them I sound like a moron when trying to form a complete sentence. Brussels has some linguistic schizophrenia itself – most signs are in both Dutch and French.
Thus far I’ve encountered a lot of warm and friendly people, and many (but surprisingly, since Brussels is the seat of the EU, not most) with a good command of English, with which they are gracious enough to chat with me. My waiter at dinner last night could understand my English perfectly, but insisted on responding in French. c’est la vie, mon vieux. My dinner was great – something with fish and cheese sauce and a bit sweet.
Anyway, one of the key goals of this journey is self-induced disorientation. I am now starting to feel it. It’s important to realize that many of our moorings – spiritual, logistical, emotional – are tied to language. I’m glad to have begun to reach.