30 June, 2007

It's OVER!

Finished the exam. 4 1/2 hours written exams and 45 minutes oral. Think my brain liquified and dribbeled out of my ear sometime between 2 and 3 pm...

28 June, 2007

Language week 2007: Flemish

I just realized that I never linked in to Srah, the person who organized language week. (Sorry!)

So today I figured I'd say a few words about Flemish. Cumulatively I've spent a third of my adult life in Flanders. (so far.) S was born there and both kids went to school there-- for a while they spoke with very thick Flemish accents.

People often ask S and B how many languages they speak. And if they think I'm not listening they say four: English, Dutch, German and Flemish.

And although I dislike the idea of them showing off I have to admit that they have a point. Coming from the States where everyone speaks more or less the same it's surprising to me how different Dutch and Flemish actually are. Especially given the fact that the land mass that comprises the Netherlands and Flanders is so small. (Of course I realize that it's now two different countries, but it wasn't always like that. Historically they belong together...)

When we moved back to Belgium in 2004 we put the kids in a local school and were surprised that it took them a while to adjust language-wise. The accent is different, a lot of words are different, and the dialects in different regions are very, very different from Dutch.

The Flemish say things like "Amaai!" and "ja, maar JA!" and "hesp" and "meiske" and "Ik ben terug weg." All of it sounds very funny to their Northern neighbors. They also use a lot of French words sprinkled in like "camion" instead of "vrachtwagen" and "Ça Va?" And they say all these things in a very quiet, polite way.

I was very lucky to have learned to speak Dutch in Belgium. The Dutch sprinkle a lot of English words throughout their speech and are a lot more lenient with people who use them. I found I could be very lazy in Holland as a beginning language student-- if I didn't know a word in Dutch I just used the English one and it was accepted. In Belgium, perhaps because French is the second language, they often wouldn't understand me. It really forced me to bone up on vocabulary and learn the proper way to say things.

I know Flemish and Dutch aren't officially considered two separate languages. But they have a lot of differences between them. I know I've got a few regular lurkers from Belgium who read this blog. Maybe you would like to weigh in on the language issue?

27 June, 2007

Language Week 2007: Nederlands

Mensen lachen mij altijd uit als ik zeg dat Nederlands voor mij de "taal der liefde" is. En waarschijnlijk terecht-- het kan inderdaad een beetje hard klinken. Maar zodra ik M ontmoete wist ik dat wij bij elkaar hoorden en wilde ik hem in zijn eigen taal leren kennen. Ik heb een paar jaar les gevolgd en toen wij in 1996 naar Vlaanderen verhuisden hebben wij besloten geen woord Engels meer met elkaar te praten. echt. Het. was. een. HEL!

Maar op de ene of andere manier hebben wij het overleefd, en binnen zes maanden spraak ik vloeiend Nederlands. Ik heb zelfs twee kinderen in het Nederlands ter wereld gebracht-- de ultieme test. Probeer maar een keer een ruggenprik in een vreemde taal te eisen, dan weet je pas of je ECHT vloeiend bent.

Nederlands is voor mij heel vertrouwd en ik kan mijn gedachten goed overbrengen. Ik kan grappig, geestig en ook knap irritant zijn. Maar ik blijf altijd de echte Betsy als ik Nederlands spreek; iets wat ik nog niet met Duits kan zeggen.

De laatste tijd haal ik steeds Duits en Nederlands door elkaar-- vreselijk! M'n schoonbroer heeft me gezegd dat mijn emails klinken alsof ze door Prins Bernhard werden geschreven. ;-) Hopelijk met wat oefening zal ik snel beter worden met van de ene taal naar de andere overschakelen. Maar Nederlands blijft voor mij een grote liefde. Net zoals M.


People tend to laugh at me when I tell them I think of Dutch as the "language of love". And they're probably justified-- it can sound a bit harsh. But the moment I met M I knew we belonged together and wanted to get to know him in his own language. I took a couple of years of language lessons and when we moved to Flanders (Belgium) in 1996 we decided not to speak a single word of English to each other ever again. Really. It. was. sheer. HELL.

But somehow or another we survived and within six months I was fluent. I even bore two children in Dutch, which was the ultimate test. Just try to demand an epidural in a foreign language-- it's only then that you know you're truly fluent.

Dutch is very familiar for me and I can express my thoughts freely. I can be witty, funny as well as irritating. But I'm always Betsy, a feat that I still cannot claim in German.

Recently I've been mixing up Dutch and Deutsch. My brother-in-law has said my emails sometimes sound like they were written by Prince Bernhard. ;-) Hopefully with some practice I'll become better at switching back and forth between the two languages. But Dutch remains a great love for me. And so does M...

26 June, 2007

Language Week 2007: Française

This picture graced the side of our orange juice cartons when we were camping in France. And to tell the truth it irritated the crap out of me.

Maybe it was because I had to look at it every morning before my coffee or maybe because my kids started using it as a valid argument to change our eating habits. ("If the orange juice box says it then it must be healthy!!!")

Or perhaps it could be due to the fact that I'd initially read it to be the "idéal" thing to feed your family in the mornings. (again, blame the lack of caffeine...)

Anyway, according to Jafaden orange juice company I could have been serving:
  • a glass of orange juice
  • a slice of (white) bread
  • a pot of cottage cheese and
  • four squares of chocolate.
(Which probably would have been healthier than the pain au chocolat that they were eating anyway.)

This week I'm waxing nostalgic about our vacations in the Provence... M is gone and I'm feeling a bit stressed while preparing for the exam. And I guess I can then end this posting on an extremely clichéed note and say:

C'est la vie!

25 June, 2007

Language Week 2007: Deutsch

I saw over on Mausi's blog that this week is Language Week and thought it might be fun to participate. We're supposed to try to post each day in a foreign language-- translation is included below the text...
Laut Mausi ist es "Language Week 2007" und müssen wir etwas in einer fremde Sprache versuchen zu schreiben. Das ist eigentlich ein bisschen komisch, weil dieses die letzte Woche vor der Zentralen Mittelstufen Prüfung ist. Zum üben musste ich heute etwas schreiben, aber hatte Probleme ein Thema zu erdenken.

Im April 2006 habe ich angefangen Deutsch zu lernen. Mit Berlitz habe ich zwei und halbe Monate studiert, und danach sind wir nach Deutschland umgezogen. Ich konnte ein bisschen Deutsch sprechen und verstehen, aber nicht viel. Oft habe ich entsetzlichen Fehlern gemacht, was manchmal beschämend war.

Weil ich die Sprache richtig lernen wollte, fing ich im Oktober 2006 mit Deutsch Sprach- und Integrations- Kurse bei der VHS an. Es war sehr intensiv: 20 Stunden pro Woche was sehr schwer aber auch sehr interessant war.

Ich habe noch viel zu lernen ehe ich sagen kann, dass ich richtig Deutsch sprechen kann. Aber jede Woche fühle ich stärker und kann ich ein bisschen mehr sagen und verstehen. Endlich kann ich Bücher lesen ohne dauernd in das Wörterbuch zu schauen. Jeden Tag versuche ich ein bisschen zu lesen und höre auch gern die Nachrichten im Radio.

Aus Erfahrung weiß ich bereits, dass eine Sprache nicht etwas ist was man in kurzer Zeit erlernen kann. Aber mit Ehrgeiz, Entschlossenheit und viel Geduld kommt es schließlich.


According to Mausi it's Language Week 2007 and we should attempt blog postings in a foreign language. That's acutally kind of funny because this is my last week before my German exam. I was supposed to be writing something today in order to practice but was having a hard time coming up with a theme.

I started learning German in April 2006. I studied for two and a half months with Berlitz and after that we moved to Germany. I could speak and understand some German but not much. I often made horrific mistakes which was sometimes embarrassing.

Because I wanted to learn to speak German correctly I started intensive language and integrations classes with the Volkshochschule in October 2006. It was very intensive: 20 hours per week, which was very difficult but also very interesting.

I have a lot to learn before I can say that I speak German well. But every week I feel myself getting stronger and I understand and can speak a little bit more. I can finally read books without having to constantly look things up in the dictionary. I try to read something every day and also enjoy listening to the news on the radio.

From experience I know that a language is not something that one can learn in a short time. However, with ambition, determination and lots of patience it will happen eventually.

23 June, 2007

Too much hygene!

M was heading to the shower last Sunday and suggested that B come along with him for a good rinse-off and a shampoo.

B peered at him with a look of alarm-- you would have thought we'd asked him to cut off his arms and sell them for profit.

"No way! That would make three!???" he mumbled and went back to his legos.

"Wait-- what?! Three what?"

"Three showers this week!"

(*note for those of you who have already picked up the phone to call Social Services: Don't Worry! When he's this dirty we just lock him in the crate with the dog and let her clean him up...)

22 June, 2007

"Misunderstandings" big and small

Was out running errands this morning and on an impulse I stopped off at one of those fresh-air stands that seem to sprout up like mushrooms on German streetcorners in the summer. This one had a really nice selection of sundried tomatoes and olives, and I asked for 100 grams of three different kinds.

He doled out 150 grams each.

Which irritated me, but, whatever, I figured I'd take them all anyway.

And then he overcharged me 1,50 Euro.

Because, obviously I have "foreigner = stupid motherfucker" tattooed on my forehead.

I'm finally far enough along language-wise that I can handle this sort of situation tactfully. I suggested that there had been a "misunderstanding" and that I would like the rest of my money back. This was somewhat more effective than the last tactic, which was to loudly demand the rest of my change and refuse to leave until I got it. (Which, actually worked as well, it just took a lot more energy and stamina.)

But this small victory didn't really make me feel any better. Am running on too little sleep and too much adrenaline. Just received a letter from the Verbrauchercentrale- they have formally closed my file on 1&1 and say they can't help me any further. And just to throw salt in the wound they tossed in a "and just because you don't speak "perfect" German is not grounds enough to continue with your case". ("Leider ist auch die Tatsache, dass Sie noch nicht perfekt Deutsch sprechen, ein Grund, für Sie etwas erreichen zu können."-- There's an error in there, isn't there? didn't she mean to write "kein Grund"?)

You know, often things that make living in a foreign country so interesting and worthwhile are the same issues that grind you down and completely ennervate you.

I was about to reference the popular Schwabian saying about "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" but have decided against it. Last night we made the mistake of renting "Blood Diamond" about the harrowing situation in Sierra Leone in the 1990's. (I just looked it up to get the link from IMDB and saw that the keywords were: "Rape / Massacre / Redemption / Goat / 1990s". Sure wish I'd known this beforehand-- there's only so much massacre and goats that I can handle in any given 24 hour period.) I only made it through about 45 minutes before I had to get up and leave the room. In the big picture I guess my problems with 1&1 are small potatoes. At least no one is chasing my children with a machete...

20 June, 2007

Life in the fast lane

I asked him to smile. *groan*

One of M's colleagues has had shoulder surgery and is having trouble shifting in her manual Crossfire cabrio. So she asked for a huge favor:

Could she please give us her car and drive the (automatic) Pimpmobile for a week.

Hmmm. Let me think....

It's 30 degrees out and the sun is shining.


I've never driven a sportscar like this, and M is indulging my curiosity-- this week he's driving the PT and I get the Crossfire. For. a. whole. week.

You know that clichéed advice on making the most out of life: "Do something that scares you"? Well the first few minutes in this car were terrifying-- the engine roars when you even breathe near the gas pedal, reverse is in the "wrong" place on the gearshift and the rear window is the size of a pocket mirror.

But I got over all that all pretty quickly. It's pathetic how much I'm loving this car. I never realized I have a macho adolescent side to me, but he's clamoring to get out. I haven't gotten as far as listening to Snoop Dogg yet-- thank God my time with this thing is limited because I think we're creating a monster...

15 June, 2007


Have got tickets to see the Dalai Lama in Hamburg!!! I saw him last year in Brussels and was awestruck by his charismatic presence. He held a room with 4000+ people captivated for a week-- his talks were extremely interesting and he has this infectuous laugh that makes me smile even now as I'm remembering it.

This time I'm just going for two days. He'll be giving a two-day seminar called: "Learning peace - The practice of non-violence".

I am REALLY looking forward to it!

14 June, 2007

Countdown at the VHS

Two weeks and counting til the Mittelstufe Prüfung. Classes are getting heavy-- we're now going four days a week and staying overtime. Our teacher has switched into manic mode and her stress is a bit contageous. It's like she's made it a personal goal to stuff us to bursting with rules, vocabulary, tips, etc.

I told a friend yesterday that my brain feels like a goose that's being fattened up just before it morphs into a glistening lump of fois gras.

It's all a bit intense at the moment, but a lot of grammar / comprehension is gelling for me at an astounding rate. Can finally read the newspaper and listen to radio talk shows without straining too hard. But now it's almost time to put my money where my mouth is-- am curious how I will measure up when faced with standardized testing....

13 June, 2007

Hips, human trafficking and a close call

I had a couple of funny anecdotes to tell you earlier today.

B was delivering a random lecture on anatomy and informed me that the hip is a "soccer ball and pocket" joint.

And there was one hilarious moment when we were waiting to cross the border from Switzerland into Germany. M made some comment to me in English about the Chinese we were smuggling in the caravan. ???!!!

It turned out he was making an ill-timed joke about our crappy plastic dishes-- apparently he meant to say "China", as in fine porcelain, but his brain short circuited at the last minute due to an overload of sun and fun during our vacation. I'm just glad the windows weren't rolled down.

So the section of my brain which is reserved for Blogger was already brimming over with these stories when I left my class and went to pick up the kids from school. B had a field trip today and started bubbling over with excitement when he saw me. But the main adventure of the day had nothing to do with the park he went to.

When I dropped him off this morning he hopped out of the car as always, waved, and ran up the driveway to the kindergarten. Mornings are always hectic-- it's a mad dash from the kindergarten to drop S off at school and then get to my own class on time. I waved to B and another mother who was dropping off her kid and then drove off.

Not knowing that the kindergarten was closed.

As in locked. No grownups. ???

B tried the door and when he realized he couldn't get in he started to cry. Luckily the other uninformed mother arrived shortly thereafter. When she realized what had happened, she took B and her own son and dropped them off at another classmate's house to wait the 1 1/2 hours until it was time to catch the bus with the rest of the class.

I feel completely sick about the whole thing. I have read and re-read the information about the fieldtrip but there's nothing in there about the kindergarten being closed today until it was time to catch the bus. I guess we were just supposed to know. ??? Thank GOD that other mother showed up when she did!

I've heard about these kinds of things happening in elementary school as well, that a teacher will be sick and the kids will just be sent home whether the parent is there or not. This is one cultural difference that I'm having a hard time digesting.

You can bet that from now on I'm going to be walking B all the way up through the door to the kindergarten...

11 June, 2007

Photo post

We're back from our camping trip and it's good to be home. This holiday was much needed-- it was nice to get away for a while and breathe and get some perspective. We seem to have had a good balance between time spent wallowing on the campground and interesting field trips. The scenery along the Cote d'Azur was spectacular, as always, and we got to spend most of our time outside.

I'm proud to say I finished reading my first German novel and think I learned a lot in the process. The Mittelstufe Prüfung is on June 30th so these next three weeks will be a mad dash filled with extra classes and cramming. I think I'm ready for it, though, and am actually looking forward to the challenge.

Just realized that I haven't posted pictures in a while. Here are a few that I've taken in the last few weeks.

Caravan V. Proudly clogging up traffic since May 2007. Seen here just before the maiden voyage.
D playing fetch in the Bodensee.
Collection of statues at a pond supply store near Lindau. I can think of all kinds of great metaphors for this picture...
This is actually an advertisement for a local butcher. WTF?! Is he homeless? Is he crazy? Would you trust this man with your sausage?
Our campsite was 5.7 km from the center of Lindau. There were paths along the coast and over the bridge onto the island. One afternoon we walked into town for a pizza. (and back!) and were pleasantly surprised at how much S and B enjoyed it. Everything is an adventure for them at this age... :-)
Finished his first book!

June 1st, 2007
Taking in the view on the Cote d'Azur.
The boys and I in Monaco. This was one of the few moments we could actually get them to stand still.

The rest of the time they were hopping up and down shouting "LOOK AT THAT FERRARI!" "DAD! THERE GOES ANOTHER ASTON MARTIN"
A certain maniac out in front of the Monte Carlo Casino. Monaco may never fully recover...
S and a friend playing with D on the campground.

07 June, 2007

La vie in French op de camping

So far this blog has been chock full of language gaffes I've made while trying to learn German. But here we are in France and all of that is irrelevant.

I really made an effort to learn French when we lived in Belgium. But since we lived in a Flemish area I rarely had a chance to use it so it didn't "stick".

Any French I might otherwise have retained has now been superceded by German. On more than one occasion I've substituted an "aber ja!" For a "mais oui!" (Much to the consternation of the French, who seem to harbor even more animosity for their German neighbors than for the Americans.)

Yesterday I was in the checkout line of the grocery store and was ambushed by a chatty little old man. I was tired and hungry and understood even less of what he said than I might otherwise have done.

When I got to the cashier he informed her that I couldn't speak any French and they had a good laugh about stupid people who only speak English.

In my mind I gave them both a solid roundhouse kick to the throat.VOILA!

Otherwise all is well. We spent yesterday people (and car) watching in Monaco. Today we're off to a Matisse exhibition and then we'll take a swim. Weather is gorgeous, fruit is fresh and the company is outstanding. :-)

02 June, 2007

mmm MMM I LOVE technology!*

Hello from the slow lane of the Swiss Autobahn! Seat heating is on, I've got a belly full of German sandwiches and Swiss coffee. Life is good! :')

We're on our way to the Provence with the caravan and I'm discovering the wonders of M's Blackberry. Amazing!

*title is a small nod to Sigue Sigue Sputnik, 80's one hit wonders. Anyone else remember them? Christina?

01 June, 2007

He got a couple of wires crossed somewhere

I was cooking dinner the other day when B came in with a very serious look on his face.

"Want to know what happens when you die? Your body stays here on earth, but the rest of you, so like your head, arms and legs, go up in the sky. And if you've been a good person you go up. But if you don't want the worms to eat your body you go down and are burned and they put your ashes in a bowl."