Flanders, Belgium – (3) – Distance: in Kilometer, Language and Fuel Price

  • You can see a map of Belgium at the first (1) post of this series.  Here, this first map shows the shape of Flanders (mostly Dutch-speaking Northern Belgium) with a very clear distance scale.  The map’s colors happen to show “soil sealment“, as an indicator of urbanization: meaning either a road or a building is on top of the ground.  The central red blob of buildings and roads is Brussels, with just north of it, Antwerp:

Urbanization: detailed ‘soil sealing’ map of Flanders per km2.  Note what 20 km is (12.4 miles).
Click Image for Source and more information.

One of the main things that makes ‘distance’ different here, compared to much larger and more homogenous language regions in the world, is how fast dialects change over short distances here.  You move 10-20 miles and the local dialect is noticeably different, so much that some consider some practically “unique languages”.  It’s a little bit like going to a “foreign country”, at least in that the language isn’t 100% familiar, if that makes sense, similar to deep-south-American and Oxford-English, but not 4000 miles apart, but 50.

Sometimes just a short walk or bike ride will be enough for distinct differences. Psychologically, it can make moving from one area to another seem much further, as it’s also a shift in language subtleties, with in turn its own regional history, particular attitudes, and culinary specialties.  To give an idea, here’s a map for the very different pronunciations of just the word ‘jullie’, which is the plural form of “you”:

Click Image for more info (IN DUTCH)

Other words would map differently, with general dialect regions boiling down to these below (although the region around Antwerp, yellow in the above (golle), is not differentiated here, while it really is distinctly different from the ‘Brabants’ in, for instance, Leuven:

The dialect landscape of Flanders (Northern Belgium).
CLICK IMAGE for SOURCE (University of Ghent) and more info (in Dutch)

And then there’s the gas price, about DOUBLE from in the United States, making traveling a distance by car “financially double as far”.  If driving 100 miles to hang out with a friend is no big deal at all in many parts of the US, the high gas price here would make that seem about double as far.  Here’s a snapshot, with conversion as it was a week ago.  By posting time, prices have gone up:

Gas Prices in Central Belgium in early September 2012.
Click Image to compare to other areas in Europe, showing Belgium’s somewhere in the middle of the price difference range for Europe. (map, with Dutch text)

Not particularly the high gas prices, but the dialects, as well as other cultural elements (uplifted fashion, social solidarity, debate culture, (usually) civilized public alcohol drinking, eye for public esthetics, surrealism, etc.) are all part of a peculiar coziness, een gezeligheid, which I’m told is hard to translate into a word that really grasps the color and feel of this word.

  • GEZELLIG —  So, to expand on that linguistic nuance a little: ‘Gezelligheid’, something that’s ‘gezellig’, gives a certain circumstance or pleasant feeling, a kind of coziness, friendliness, domesticity, familiarity, etc.

Anarchist and rebelious slogans, found on walls throughout the country (old and new), add to a certain “coziness” (??) for me.  I’m sure that’s not the case for everyone, but I find that widespread feisty attitude ‘gezellig’. ;-D   But I could not call it cozy, pleasant nor friendly.  (This wall’s text translates to “Destroy that which destroys you”)
Photos © Michaël Van Broekhoven, 2012

Translated often as ‘fun’, ‘pleasant’ or ‘cozy’, ‘gezellig is usually with others, in good company.  It could be somewhere  (the atmosphere), a person or group, but also an interior can be ‘pleasant’ in that accepting easy-going way.

Etymologically, ‘Gezellig’ comes from ‘gezel’, meaning partner, companion, mate.  Originally it was a person involved learning a trade in the ‘gilden’, something between master and student.  During that period the student, the ‘gezel’ shared a hall, een ‘zaal’ (embedded in the word as ‘zel’) with other ‘gezellen’.  Other words are related too: Gezelschap (company), vrijgezel (single, no partner), metgezel, and levensgezel.

One of the things I love most being back here, aside from family and friends, as well as the familiarity of the region, air, trees, etc, is the Flemish language and the “from near Leuven, yet standardized” (minor) dialect I grew up around.  Language here is SO site-specific, I can’t really get that online.  It’s awesome to be here.

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