Thursday, February 16, 2006
Lost in Translation
Because ministers here have nothing better to do with their – hugely overpaid – time, one member of the Flemish government has deemed it necessary to order that all Flemish cities should henceforth only be known by their Flemish (Dutch language) name. You see, in 1988 the national government decided that municipalities close to the language border and certain large cities should be referable both by their Dutch and their French name. So Antwerpen (Dutch name) is know by the French speaking population as Anvers. In English it is Antwerp of course. Gent (D) is Gand (F) or Ghent in English, and Brussel (D) is Bruxelles (F) is Brussels (E). So far so good.
Now that the authority to take decisions over these extremely important matters is transferred from national (federal) level to the three communities (French speaking, Dutch speaking and German speaking), the Flemish government apparently made it a priority to get somewhat more on the French speaking people’s nerves by forbidding the use of the French names. Needless to say, this move was very important to us, Flemish people, since it offers us such clear advantages as … ehm … and …er… and not to forget …Idunno…
This game has been going on for a while, and it leads to some annoying side effects. Especially to the poor foreigner who has to traverse our country. You see, it is very strictly forbidden to use the French designations for places on the highway and street signs in the Flemish part of the country. People that are caught writing Flemish names of places on signs in the French speaking part of the country will also be shot on the spot for this unforgivable error. So assume that you would want to go to the city of Mons in Wallonia coming from England and traversing Flanders. Would you know you had to follow the signs mentioning ‘Bergen’? Apparently people coming from Brussels and going to Liège via the ring way around Brussels can follow signs pointing out the direction to Liège, until they come to the very point where they have to get of the ring way and take another highway, because there the sign says ‘Luik’ instead of ‘Liège’. Unfortunately, that particular off ramp is located on Flemish territory, making it illegal to put up a sign with the French name of this rather important city.
Another problem is that people with nothing better to do on both sides of the language border, amuse themselves on otherwise boring Sundays by spray-painting over the French or Flemish name on the signs on the borderof their municipality. Of course, because everybody starts to do this – yelling ‘they started it’ as adults do – it has become very difficult to see in which place you’ve actually arrived.
My advice: when you come to Belgium, take a GPS system with you.