Sunday, October 30, 2011

I'm (almost) legal!

So I finally received my carte d'identité:

(Looks a lot more legit than my State of Maine ID)

I'm not entirely sure why it's necessary-- I've gone more than two months without one and haven't had any problems-- but they are apparently something that every Belgian resident over the age of 12 has to have.  According to Wikipedia, everyone over the age of 15 has to have the card with them at all times unless they are within 200m of their homes, but I've never heard of this, so it either isn't true or isn't enforced.  At all.

Despite everyone saying that the ID is absolutely necessary (the police even have to come to the house to make sure I'm really living where I say I am)  I have only been asked for my carte d'identité under two circumstances, which were getting a bus pass (my passport worked fine) and enrolling at the library (there was nothing they could do for me without my card).  I've heard stories of people being asked for their identity cards when buying alcohol, but this seems to be something that happens only rarely and is easily bypassed by saying that you forgot your card at home.

At the very least, now I have a colorful Belgian souvenir... and it's good until October 2012, so if I want to come back right away, I still have that option.

À la prochaine!

Monday, October 24, 2011

2 months?!

I've now lived in Belgium for just over two months, which is really hard for me to believe most of the time.  Either it feels like I just got here (how can it have been this long already? ahh I don't want to leave yet!), or it feels like I've been here forever (what?  I used to live in the States?  I used to not speak French? weird...)

Other than my family and friends, and of course, my dog, I don't really have a lot of things about the States that I miss.  Today, however, during the break, some of the girls in my class asked me what things they don't have in Belgium that I miss.  My first response was to say that there wasn't really anything (it's mostly true-- there are a lot more things that Americans don't have but Belgians do), but they talked me into thinking a little harder.  I came up with the following list (which has been supplemented since, on the bus on the way home):

• Peanut butter
• Bagels
• Soft Pretzels (not that I ate these like, ever in Maine, but I suddenly got a craving)
• Pat's Pizza
• Skim milk / milk that has to be refrigerated
• Seedless grapes
• Maple syrup

(and since foods were a bit too constraining):

• Wifi at school
• Automatic transmissions
• Having all the 8-year-old girls be less fashionable than me
• Thrift stores
• Not having to pay for public bathrooms

Fortunately, there are plenty of great, Belgian things that make me forget about the things I miss:

• The waffles and the fries (of course)
• The beautiful pastries
• Bread (Everyone here tells me that Belgian baguette is nothing compared to French baguette, but it's sooo much better than any American baguette)
• Nutella in abundance (and Speculoos spread-- apparently in the same way it's possible to transform peanuts into peanut butter and hazelnuts into Nutella, it is possible to turn Speculoos cookies into a butter)
• The chocolate
• Belgian versions of M&Ms, Oreos, and pretty much every American snackfood/candy except Twix
• Paprika-flavor chips (and odd Doritos flavors... fajita, olives (note: haven't actually tried it, but seeing it in stores makes me laugh))
• The so-much-better mayonnaise
• Demi-baguette sandwiches

• Seeing lots of little dogs in coats in random places
• Public transport
• Having a long lunch (it's still weird to me that my "break" here is as long as and at approximately the same time as my lunch used to be in the states)
• Bisous (I thought this was going to weird me out, but I actually like it)
• Getting to try weird-- ahem, different-- foods (I have become so much more adventurous since arriving; some foods I've tried so far: raw beef, raw salmon, snails, oysters, crayfish, mussels, frog legs, pickled onions, bone marrow, foie gras and other pâtés, and a variety of vegetable purées.  Ironically, the raw beef is called a filet americain, or "American steak...")

So in short, Belgium is amazing.
Being an exchange student is incredible.
La vie est belle.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Another culture-filled day for Audrey.  After school on Wednesdays, because we all finish at 12:30, the exchange students from the city (AFS, Rotary, WEP...), and even some of those from nearby towns, all come to Liège to hang out together.  Today, while at their favorite bar (because everything is cheap and the bartenders speak clearly and with their hands), I not only witnessed the exchange students in action, but some Belgian university students as well.  While Belgian universities don't have fraternities and sororities, they do have student clubs, which seem to be the same type of idea only with minimum living together and maximum party.  One of the few Belgian natives at the bar explained to us that this was what we were witnessing, which to us was a group of people in strange costumes (including chains, signs on their fronts, and colorful hats) standing and singing in the street outside the bar.

Apparently, as with a fraternity/sorority in the States, before becoming a member, there is a probationary period.  During this time, the members-to-be receive their fair share of hazing and public humiliation; today, they walked around with signs on their front and had to kneel in the street and eat disgusting things.  If they wouldn't/couldn't eat/drink it, it would get dumped on there heads.  There were a lot of fun faces, but I couldn't help feeling really sorry for them, even if said Belgian native claimed that this was pretty mild as student clubs go.

I can't imagine why anyone would willingly put themselves through that-- I'm pretty sure one of the things was dog food.  As they would say here, "dégueulasse."

Monday, October 17, 2011

Today was not my day for buses.  I woke up at 7:30, had my nice leisurely breakfast, then realized that the number on my clock was a 7 and not a 6.  I rushed to pack a lunch and run to the bus stop, where I had to take a bus that left an hour later than my normal one.  I got to school about 40 minutes late.  Fortunately for me, it makes literally no difference to the school whether you're 15 or 50 minutes late (less than that, you can still go to class; more than that, it counts as a full day of absence).  And what's more, the only thing I missed in my class was the end to a movie that wasn't even French to begin with.

The school day passed relatively uneventfully, but I had another bus mishap on the way home.  At the Place St-Lambert (main bus center in Liège), my bus home didn't stop at the normal stop, so I didn't see it until it was leaving.  In an effort to catch the soonest possible bus after that, I ended up getting on the number 75 instead of the number 175.  I had to take it all the way to the end of the line, the only other place the two buses both stop, then take the 175 back in the opposite direction.  I ended up getting home a couple hours late, but I was able to get a good start in a book my English teacher gave me to read (In the Country of Last Things, by Paul Auster-- kind of overly dark and dramatic for me, but intriguing all the same).

When I finally arrived, I had a brief nap before my little brother got home from fencing and wanted to play.  Fortunately he was tired as well, so none of our games required a lot of energy, and I even convinced him to help pick up his toys (it was mostly him standing around and doing small tasks when I asked him to, but I did feel pretty accomplished when he collected all the playing cards that were scattered around the room).

Well, I'm off to bed in an effort to not have a repeat of yesterday; if you're late too many times you lose your privilege to leave during lunch for a week.

Bonne nuit, à tantôt!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

And now for something completely different...

Say hello to my new neighbors:

I just finished my first full day with a new family that lives a little (or so I was told-- it's more like 40 minutes by bus) outside Liège.  My first family was having some difficulty adjusting to having me instead of their son who is now in China, and thought I might have a better stay with someone else, so here I am!  

My new family lives in a big house on the outskirts of a town called Othée.  My host dad (Alan) has an electric company which my host mom (Sophie) works for as well.  They have a seven-year-old adopted son named Constantin who is much cooler than me.  After one day, we seem to be getting along quite well, and I think I improved my standing with Constantin by "fencing" with him.  (Except that he actually does fencing.  Woah.)  I'm settling in pretty well here, though it was quite the shock to my system to discover that the bus to Liège leaves at 7:04 (let me just say again, 7:04.  That's earlier than I woke up at the other house.) and that the bus stop is about a 10 minute walk from the house (that's as long as it took me to walk to school).  I hit snooze on my alarm a few too many times this morning, but eventually dragged myself out of bed around 6:30 to quickly eat and get dressed before heading to school.

I was a bit too tired in a lot of my classes, and nearly fell asleep during physics when the prof dimmed the lights to show us a video demonstration of conservation of energy.  However, this must be common of exchange students, because when the lights came on, the two Rotary boys in my class were both sprawled across the benches fast asleep.

I got home around 3 despite finishing at 12:30 (I missed the 1:05 bus home so had to wait until 2:05), had a very delayed lunch, had my new host parents sign my quizzes-- ah yes, I also learned today that when the profs here hand back your quiz, you have to get it signed by your parents and bring it back to them-- and went for a run.  It was a lot of farm scenery; tractors, cows, the occasional car (what I had thought were just pedestrian roads are apparently for driving, too, despite being about 5 feet wide), and even this bar:

which just goes to show, the countryside can be a pretty happening place.  (But in all seriousness, the town is pretty nice, and there actually are a couple small businesses.)

Well that's all the big news from here.  À la prochaine!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Croustillons, Pommes d'amour, Frites, oh my!

I had a great time at the fair the other day, and all the food lived up to expectations.  I met the girls from school at 5 in front of the school (or, at least, I was there at five-- Belgians do not seem to be as prompt as I am) and we walked over together.  Some parts of the fair were about what I expected:  rides for people of all ages and levels of fearlessness, games involving shooting/throwing things to pop/knock over a target in exchange for a prize, and lots of food.  You could buy french fries and churros and croustillons, which are what the offspring of a doughboy would be: balls of dough somewhere between the size of a golf ball and a tennis ball, deep fried and covered in powdered sugar.  There were also sausages of all types, burger-esque sandwiches, and lots of candy: "Pommes d'amour" (i.e. candy apples), chocolate covered fruits, gummies, and even pralines and boxes of chocolates.  What surprised me, though, was that, unlike my beloved Bangor State Fair (which I admit, is not so beloved-- I have only been twice) back at home, it was not sketchy at all.  All the food stands were surprisingly classy, and some were manned by chocolatiers in white lab coats and gloves selling the same sort of confections you would find in the stores.  Some tents sold escargots and calamari (which maybe aren't so fancy but I always assume they are, because in the States it's the classier restaurants who serve them), and I even saw people buying wine in real glasses.

We went on a few rides, but not too many, as they were relatively expensive (anywhere from 3-6 € each, which hurts more when you have to convert from the dollar), bought some fried food, and walked around the fair.  It was a bit cold and started to drizzle, but it was still fun, and the weather just meant that the hot food tasted that much better.


The not-so scary ride...

... and the very scary one

Notice the lab coats.

Friday, October 7, 2011

So I've finally experienced the "real" Belgian weather everyone's been telling me about.  After a sunny and warm September, this first week of October's damp cold was a bit of a surprise.  It's now slightly unpleasant to stand outside during the break, but also to stand inside because it's crowded and everyone is getting sick.  On the plus side though, I learned some new phrases for describing weather:  like in the States, in Belgium you can say that weather is rotten (pourri), and if it's pouring rain-- 'raining dogs and chats,' as it was described to me-- il drache.

The weather doesn't bother me as much as everyone seems to think it to (want it to?  I think their gray weather is almost a source of pride for the Belgians), so I've been having a pretty good week.  I got my tooth fixed on Tuesday, and felt really proud of myself for 1) going to the dentist by myself, and 2) going to the dentist in French.  Wednesday, since school gets out early (12:35), I was able to make it to Brussels for a 3:00 meeting with AFS.  It wasn't the best of conditions to visit Brussels as I didn't get a lot of time to see the city, but because I misread the train schedule (looked at the weekend schedule instead of the normal one), I thought I had to wait an hour or so to get home, so I walked around the streets near the train station.  I didn't want to get lost, so I didn't go too far, but I must have looked like I knew what I was doing because I even got one American tourist to ask me for directions.  (Apparently the fact that I was wearing an AFS backpack wasn't a big enough hint that I hadn't any clue.)

Yesterday, my class had two quizzes, and I impressed both teachers by taking them.  (I was handed the quiz, so I wasn't under the impression that they were optional.)  I did fine in biology, because the writing was straightforward and because I'd learned it last year, but the other, in French, was much more difficult.  In my defense, though, a lot of the questions were in reference to a play that my class had gone to see and that I hadn't (they hadn't bought a ticket for me because I switched in late).

Other than that, not terribly eventful over here.  There has been a foire (fair) in Liège this month, but the closest I've made it to going is eating the Lackmans (very thin waffles with syrup inside) that my brothers have been bringing home.  However I did make plans to visit this weekend with some girls in my class.  I anticipate it to be very full of hot, greasy food; in other words a great time.

À tout à l'heure!

Sunday, October 2, 2011


I just got back from the post-arrival weekend for the AFS Liège chapter, the first time all of us have been together all year (due to the late arrival of some of the students).  Forty-odd students and volunteers and two days of good(ish), clean(not), intercultural fun.

We received instructions via email to pack a picnic lunch, wear walking shoes, and to bring a camping mat and sleeping bag, but didn't really have any idea what we were doing.  My Belgian Maman drove me Saturday morning to a location out in the country at 10:00, which was an adventure in and of itself.  We left late, had to stop for gas and to buy a sandwich (we were out of bread), had to pick up a sleeping bag from a friend, and find the location (more difficult than it might sound), which resulted in a lot of driving at high speeds down narrow, hilly streets and making wrong turns.  I have never been so glad (or glad at all, really) that I'm not allowed to drive.  Belgian roads + Belgian drivers/pedestrians + manual transmissions = too much for Audrey to handle.  But I digress.

I got to the orientation only half an hour late (oops), and wasn't even the last one there.  We introduced ourselves for the volunteers/newcomers and compared locations: everyone is somewhat jealous of the fact that I live in the center of a city, but mostly are happy where they are.  We deposited our overnight bags in someone's van and took off on a hike through the countryside.  It was mostly farmland and some forest, with some adorable brick houses that I wanted to photograph but felt creepy doing so.  We stopped in the shade (thankfully, it was really hot and sunny) for our picnic and arrived shortly after at our destination.  It was an adventure park/ropes course called Forestia, the same one I visited with my family here.  We did a few ropes courses, saw a few animals, and watched a lot of the Japanese boy dancing and rapping in Japanese.  He doesn't speak tons of English or French, so nobody knows if dancing is that much different in Japan or if it's just that he has a very particular style of dance, but in either case it's entertaining and a way for him to bond with us.

We were given a snack of orange juice and chocolate covered waffles (a staple, I've found, in the diet of the Belgian youth) and carpooled to the Maison de la Dîme in a town called Louveigné, where we were spending the night.  We set up our beds and realized that, because it wasn't explicitly laid out in the email, that none of us had thought to bring a pillow (even though we really should have inferred that, if we need a sleeping mat and sleeping bag, there probably aren't pillows at our disposal), but nobody was too plussed.  We hung around for a while, and got one of the volunteers to show us around the town (he lives there) before dinner.  In a cruel-yet-amusing twist, the AFS volunteers wouldn't let us use silverware-- or our hands-- to eat our spaghetti.  When I tried to use my hands to mix my sauce and pasta, I got my hands tied behind my back (like so many other would-be cheaters) and my face shoved in my plate.  Unfortunately for me (and for the unknowing AFS volunteer who put my face in my food) I have terrible luck with breaking my front teeth, and the false bottom-half of my tooth broke off when I hit it on my plate.  It was a little bit distressing for the volunteers and I to deal with, but once we decided that I wasn't in pain, that everyone seemed to know plenty of dentists, and that the AFS insurance would cover everything, it ended up being kind of an amusing story.  And it gave us an excuse to throw spaghetti at each other, which is always fun.

After everyone cleaned off their faces and the dishes were done, we had some group bonding via card games, talking about our experiences so far, and a once-over of the AFS rules and concerns.  The volunteers told us that they didn't care what time we went to bed as long as we were up at 8:30, so of course we decided to sleep as little as possible.  Music and dancing was followed by card games and talking, then by late-night tiramisu (best idea ever).  It eventually degenerated into a spin-the-bottle truth or dare and then into girls versus boys movie charades (middle-school games apparently never get old).  Around 3 am we finally decided that we needed some sleep and retired to our oh-so-comfortable, pillowless beds.

We started off the day with sugary cereal and sing-along music, which are both always nice, then packed up our stuff and split into groups for some more talking about our experiences.  After some cheesy but fun activities showing us how easily things can be misinterpreted, how lack of communication can be difficult, etc., and a lot of talking about any problems we were having and how we could work on fixing them, we went outside for a barbeque with our host families.  Mine couldn't make it, so I mostly hung out with other AFSers and the families of Karamea and Sofia, who were happy to see me again.  We ate multiple servings of sausage and baguette, and followed it with a dessert buffet, so we were well-stuffed by the time we had to go home.  I came back with the family of Emile, the Canadian boy who goes to my school.  My family was a bit shocked to see me down half a tooth, but, of course, knew a good dentist who they said they would call.

For now, I'll be doing some last-minute homework and catching up on some sleep, and trying not to worry about explaining to the dentist my tooth's history.  Bonne journée!