Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wed 17 Nov

Fascinating article in yesterday's Le Soir newspaper concerning Belgians and their bank accounts and what happens should they from now on go into their overdrafts. Well, from 1st December, banks will be able to block the accounts of anybody who goes into the red for more than 1 month. Currently, and from what I can make out, the law allows people to be €1,250 overdrawn over the course of 3 months. In return, customer rights will be further safeguarded and extended (not sure how) with a greater ability to be able to compare current accounts alongside one another. I'm guessing (just a guess, I might be wrong, but after a year of living here I do have a weeny little insight into the workings of Belgian society) that price comparison websites and consumer rights aren't big in Belgium. I can just imagine the amount of paperwork involved in trying to change banks. That's if they allow you to in the first place!

A further change will see banks penalised if they knowingly grant overdrafts to people who are obviously incapable of paying them back. I have to say, I can see nothing wrong with either change. This would seem alien in the UK where we're so used to paying for everything 'on credit,' but this is one of the reasons our finances are in such a mess in the first place. We spend what we don't have, aided by reckless banks and successive governments who never tire of urging us to keep on spending: "let's spend our way out of recession.." No, let's not spend what we don't have.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sat 13 Nov - Look, no subtitles!

Went to our local indie cinema this evening and saw a film "Quartier Lointain," a joint Belgian/French venture, in its original form, i.e. in French and without English subtitles. The first time I have ever done this. And, it was fine. I'd say I probably understood about two-thirds of what was said, and understood most of what was going on. There was the odd joke that I missed; when the whole auditorium burst into laughter and I just sat there thinking 'okay, I'm sure that was funny, but I have no idea why.' Although it wasn't too difficult to guess if you considered the context.

In fact, this was probably the ideal first film to see without subtitles. There wasn't a huge amount of dialogue which suited me just fine. Overall, I left feeling pretty pleased with myself and realised what huge strides I've made over the last year. The film itself was wonderful. I absolutely loved it. And there are very few films indeed that I have seen at the cinema and left thinking 'wow, that really was superb.'

It had such a lovely feel to it, was beautifully acted and shot, and paced perfectly. A film to truly admire and enjoy. The music also brilliantly complimented it from start to finish. In short, it's a film about a man who, after a fall near the grave of his mother, finds himself back in time and as a teenage boy again, transported to the small French village where he grew up. The difference being that even though he is back to being a teenager again, it is only his physical self that has changed. He still retains the mind and intellect and memories of his grown up, adult self of the future. A little bit like the film 'Big,' but in reverse. He soon becomes aware of a significant event in his life that is about to take place. He also meets old school friends (again), girlfriends and goes to school and does all the other things he would have done then, but knowing that he has already lived this life once before.

Well worth seeing, although you'd probably be hard pushed to find it, even at the artie cinemas in the UK.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Fri 12 Nov - The Bridge

Today is what's known in these parts as 'Le Pont' (the bridge). As yesterday was a public holiday (being Armistice Day, which disgracefully is not one in the UK), many Belgians (if their employer agrees) have the option to 'faire le pont.' Literally, to make a bridge between the rest of the week and the weekend. In other words, take another day off when a public holiday falls on a Thursday and thus have a long weekend. How wonderful. How this would never happen back home.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mon 8 Nov

Christmas decorations have gone up all around Mons. The lights were switched on for one evening but have since been off. Must have been a practice run. Litte teasers. I don't actually remember the lights going on last year until December. Can't wait. Everything looked fabulous. Christmas: the only thing that gets us through the endless cold and wet weather.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sun 7 Nov

Saw 2 films over the weekend. "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger", the latest Woody Allen to be tediously trailed as his 'return to form.' Of course it was nothing of the sort. Utter tosh. That man has completely lost the plot. It's astonishing to think that a man of his talent, the man who brought us gems such as "Annie Hall" and "The Purple Rose of Cairo" is now making garbage such as "Match Point", "Vicky Christina Barcelona," and this last offering.

The second film was much better: "Tamara Drewe." The kind of film that you can sense that Woody Allen is trying to make at the moment, but failing miserably. Still love going to the local arthouse cinema. Every month they always screen about 3 or 4 films in English complete with French and Dutch subtitles. Next Saturday we are doing a first: this time we'll be watching a French film, but without subtitles. Should be fun, or just really frustrating. But, it's free when booked a week in advance. And who said they don't do bargains in Belgium?!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Sat 6 Nov - No Money

There is no money in Mons. Okay, so this statement could be interpreted in many ways. However, I'm being very literal when I say this. As of yesterday, many of Mons' main cash machines stopped dispensing any money. This includes the main Fortis branch on the Grand Place. The reason? A strike of course. Don't ask me to understand who exactly has gone on strike. The banks are still open.

The result was that at one point some machines were allowing you to withdraw only 50 Euro notes, which soon became only 100 Euro notes, and eventually no notes. Nuts. Unbelievable. No, actually, how very Belgian.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Fri 5 Nov

We first came to Mons in September 2009, primarily to find ourselves somewhere to live. Naturally, the wonderful Grand Place made an immediate inpact on me and stuck in my mind. When we returned again 2 months later, this time as new residents, I couldn't wait to set eyes on it again. I had visions of coffee and cake outdoors (not realised for a further 5 months) and hours spent people watching. Instead, my beautiful Grand Place had been taken over by one of the tackiest and ugliest looking fairs I had ever seen.

Not that I'm particularly a big fan of fairs anyway, but I just couldn't comprehend why the local council/mayor had sanctioned such a thing to encroach upon the city's premier sight. There weren't even many rides bar the odd lame looking merry-go-round. Most of the 'fair' consisted of those enormous stalls that give you the chance to shoot at something in return for winning a huge cuddly toy or some other piece of tat. The terrible, shitty pop music that blares out at night topped it all off for me. And this monstrosity occupies the square for a whole 3 weeks.

I know, I'm probably not the sort of demographic that fairs tend to target, but why oh why would anybody allow such a thing to abuse their city's prize possession?

So, I was prepared this year when I walked into the Grand Place to be met by organisers of the fair setting up camp once again. A reason to avoid the centre for the next 3 weeks I think.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Thurs 4 Nov - 1 year!!

Happy Anniversary to us! No, not that one, the other one. Today we celebrate being in Belgium exactly one year to the day. I won't go over and summarise again how things have gone over the last year because I already did that (somewhat prematurely in fact) at the 9 month stage. But, suffice to say that it's been an extremely enjoyable, unpredictable and culturally eye-opening 12 months.

Life here is at times tricky (the language, finding work) but never dull. I'm lucky to be working regularly (for now, although I take nothing for granted when it comes to being an 'independent.'), have met a whole range of lovely people (in particular a couple of Americans who have enriched our lives no end and become really great friends) and have relished the chance to be able to explore other cities in Belgium as well as neighbouring countries. Being part of an island doesn't half cut you off. I've also never felt so pro the EU, warts and all.

You'd never guess that Belgian's capital city is also the home of the EU. Their political system is just an unfathomable mess. How the country survives is beyond me. And how Belgian is still one country is just a mystery. I guess, for now, it's just harder to break up than stay together. But, in my view, the long term outlook for Belgium isn't great. And their politicians, from both sides of the linguistic divide, are quite frankly a bloody disgrace. Even for a political anorak, I've grown tired of the endless wranglings and never-ending negotiations. Just to repeat: there is still no government in Belgium. The general election was on June 13th, 144 days (and counting) ago.

Yet, Belgians as a group, and in particular the Walloons, are a really friendly, polite and respectful bunch (except when they get behind the wheel of a car). Well, all the ones I've met anyway. Bloody unreliable and never on time for anything. Happily let their dogs crap wherever they feel like it. And you'd never guess entrepreneur was a French word because it certainly doesn't apply in Wallonia. But, still, they've been good company and I've never yet had one laugh or snigger at my French. Although the 2 year old son of a Belgian friend did take it upon himself to tell me (more than once) how to properly pronounce the French word for frog ("grenouille"), and got slightly irritated with me when I wasn't doing it correctly.

It's not easy living abroad. Without learning the language it's even harder. But, life is far easier, more relaxed and far far less stressful than it is in England. And people just seem so much happier. Or maybe that should be content. Certainly less aggressive and rude. Post-recession UK sounds pretty hard for an awful lot of people. I think I've chosen the right time to escape it for a bit.

And, I'll be here for another 2 years. Besides, haven't seen nearly enough of France yet!