In a class assignment prior to arriving in Belgium, I wrote a bit about my stereotypes of Europe and Belgium. While I did not realize it at first, my mind was completely programmed to associate Belgium with France. My mother is French, and growing up I used to spend my summer vacations with my grandmother in Brittany, France. My grandmother lived in Brussels for a couple of years and worked for the European Community. She was absolutely in love with the city, as was my mother who would visit her on the weekends from Paris. Hearing their stories growing up, I subconsciously associated my experiences with France and French culture with Belgian culture.
I hate to admit this, especially publically, but I was royally disappointed when I realized that I was not in fact in France (or at least culturally), but in Belgium. It’s unfortunate that my own ignorance is what led to this disappointment, but because my stereotypes were so pre-programmed, there was no other way to learn about Belgian culture than by being fully immersed in it. I stayed with a Belgian family the first night and couple of days that I was in Brussels, and they really taught me more about the culture and identity of Belgium. After some sight seeing and doing some more research on my own, I have to say that I developed a sort of fascination with the country’s mixed cultures and languages and history. It has given me more of an appreciation of my own culture, and has led me to develop an interest for learning about other cultures, as well.
Finishing up our third week here in Brussels, I have fully come to terms with and have almost wrapped my head around what Belgian culture encompasses. I have come to love the routine I have developed here, and am really feeling at home in Brussels. However, the destruction of my stereotypes has only made me miss France more, especially Brittany, where my grandmother lives.
It’s safe to say that I was a more than excited when Dr. Birchfield pulled me aside and told me she would be taking us to a Breton food truck this past Tuesday after our visit to the European Commission. The food truck served “crêpes” and “gallettes”, which are native to Brittany, France. Galletes differ from crêpes because they are made with buckwhear flour, and generally served with savory ingredients. Dr. Birchfield let us get one of each, and it was one of my highlights of the trip, so far. I chose to get a classic “jambon-fromage” (ham and cheese) gallete, with a pear and chocolate crêpe. The taste of well-made crepes and galletes is so unique and I am thankful that I was able to enjoy them in Brussels. While Brittany is not my temporary home (I was born and raised in Atlanta), a piece of my childhood is there, and getting to enjoy Breton food made me feel homesick yet satisfied all at once. Below are some pictures from the afternoon!
Sum Lok Yu
Thanks for explaining the difference between “crêpes” and “gallettes”, since I’ve been a little confused as to what to call the food from my (new) favourite food truck.
Your discussion about the association of Belgium and France in your mind got me to rethink about my own perceptions of different cultures and identities. On reflection, I’ve realised that despite my exposure to different places and my opportuntities to visit many parts of the globe, I too sometimes conflate the cultures and identities of separate places––when talking about the behaviour and views of the West while I’m back home in Hong Kong I would occasionally fall into the trap of talking as if all the “ghost-people” (Cantonese for [Western] foreigners) are part of one homogeneous identity. I definitely agree with you saying that to truly learn about a culture one should be fully immersed in it, and I’d add that I think it’s important for us to be conscious of how we percieve others and be aware that we might sometimes accidentally conflate different cultures and identities.