Once upon a time, I studied European Studies. Once upon a time, I hung out with 18 different nationalities every day and was one of the ones who only spoke three languages fluently while others knew four, five. One of the ones who cared about what happened in Brussels. Then, life happened, I became occupied with only Swedish-German things and after two years of European Studies and the frustrations that come with it, I lost much of my faith in the whole thing.
But living in Dizzel, I decided I needed to embrace the good things about this place and one of them is being close to Brussels. So last weekend I got myself on the train and travelled to the Belgium capital to meet my former study mates Laura and Systke, French and Dutch because as I said, 18 nationalities. The weekend catapulted me back into my EU-Master-existence.
I had never been to Brussels (or Belgium which my friends thought unbelievable) and my idea of what the city looked like was mostly based on what the European Quarter looks like. Grey, modern architecture. What a surprise to see real Bruxelles! It’s not at all grey, it seemed French to me, something that my French friend strongly contradicted. She is probably right but my brain could not place these houses and streets – the carpets in the small staircases of the residential houses seemed English, the brick facades reminded me of Holland and the sophisticated baloncy railings had something French about them. My architectual confusion is somewhat tantamount with my whole Brussels experience: so many languages, so many cultures, so many international people. Is this even Belgium?
We did all the tourist stuff, looked at the Maneken Pis (even more disappointing than the Little Mermaid) and ate fries (they make huge servings). We also hung out at Laura’s apartment which I loved because it has a great layout and of course we drank cocktails in a fancy bar (because that is how I’d always imagined my young urban professional lifestyle).
On Sunday, we were invited to my friend Hendrik for brunch. He is, of course, also one of the Eurofolks, a zoon politikon that I met many years ago when we were both attending a Model United Nations Conference. We nearly got lost on the way there thanks to the superinternationality of Brussels – the tram stops have Dutch signage on one side and French on the other. ”Wait”, said Laura suddenly as we were comfortably sitting in the tram. ”De Jacht means the hunt, right?” She had been looking out for La Chasse and luckily, we had our Dutch friend with us and got out in time.
Painting dogs as people seems to be a thing in Belgium
After the entertainment part, I also wanted to educate myself further on Europe so we went to the Parlamentarium which is the EU-Parliament’s visitors center. It is in the aforementioned grey quarter and you pass the metro station where the terror attacks earlier this year happened. On a Sunday like this, however, things were spookily quiet and it was mostly the many signs on the houses between the metro and the parliament that really let you feel where you are: Scottish Fishermen’s Association, Agenzia per la Promozione della Ricerca Europea, Association National des Industries Alimentaires, Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions.
Once at the Parlamentarium, we went through security (they have a poster saying which alert level Brussels is on, it was orange when we were there) and then had to choose our audio guides. Laura who is French but speaks perfect English and German and I hesistated. „Do you want German? Or French?“ I asked. ”Or English? Swedish? Or maybe Danish?” (Like me, she’s recently developed an interest for the unpronoucable Danish language.) The staff looked at us and probably wondered what was wrong with us. Or maybe they recognized us as Eurofolks. We decided for German but after five steps, Laura turned and went back for Danish just because. I mean, if they offer you a free audio guide in 23 languages, you should seize the opportunity, right? (I am immensely pleased to say that I actually understood 98% of what the Danish speaker said.)
The Parlamentarium is great. It’s modern, it’s cool, it’s interesting and it reignited my European spark. When you enter, you walk through a tunnel with lots of speakers in which different Europeans say things in their own language. Then, you’re taken through the history of why we actually started the EU to continue with who sits in parliament right now (how is it possible that I knew only one single name? A name I knew because the person is married to the former Swedish foreign minister?). While that was very informative, it was also somewhat sad because it seems no one cares about our representatives in Brussels. Nobody knows about what the EU parliament really does (and why on earth they all travel to Strasbourg all the time). While we’re all super excited about whether a foreign nation very far from here elects an idiot or not, we seem strangely indifferent to our own political representation. Even when I was studying, my impression was that the EU’s main problem is lack of contact with the regular citizen and while the Parlamentarium is a great tool to get into contact, it seems it is still far from enough.
Since interactivity is king, you could take polls and compare how other visitors felt about these European questions („Are you ready to pay more for green energy?“) and ‚drive‘ around with a small screen on a map of Europe to see different videos from different cities, among then such off-locations as Östersund.
All the non-German leaflets say “EU offices near you”. The German says, “An open ear for your problems”.
There was a small special exhibit about the EU’s film prize, the Lux prize. Did you know the Lux prize? No? Well, see above “communicating with the regular citizen”…
In a staged living room, you could sit down in an armchair and see how the union is influencing different lives of people all over Europe. I sat watching a clip on a Black Maltese with German subtitles while the guy next to me saw a film about a Swede with French subtitles. United in diversity.
In the end of the exhibition, you could state your wish which was then projected on a screen. There were two young Swedish children with us in the exhibition. The screen read, „I wish for Europe to continue to exist“.
(In Brussels, no one can hear you scream: refers to a Borgen episode (yeah, you guessed that) which is about how if you become disagreeable for the national government, you might be kicked upstairs by being sent to Brussels for the EU (no one can hear you scream, since interest in the EU is low.))
I can’t date a Japanese unless he lookes like Keanu Reeves. Wait, he’s not Japanese, right?
Those cups are more classy, but that’s just not me.
I come from Brittany, still, I do like my hair not wet.
We definitely should go. It’s the coolest club in Belgium!
– Then we’re not gonna get in.
Okay, maybe it’s not that cool anymore.
I don’t wanna date a French guy because speaking the same language would be really weird.