Belgian people

Old Jan 23rd, 2008, 05:18 PM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: May 2006
Posts: 2
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Belgian people

Does anyone know if Belgians are friendly, particularly in Brussels, to tourists who are trying to speak French? I'm learning French, and I want to practice it. I know that Paris is not the best place for a beginner to practice, since people switch to English if your French isn't good, and I'm wondering if the same is true in Belgium. Thanks!
travel_bug31 is offline  
Old Jan 23rd, 2008, 05:59 PM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 49,014
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Well, first of all, Belgium is a bilingual country, with the Wallons speaking French and the Flemish speaking Flemish, which is essentially Dutch. Bruxelles is a French-speaking city.

Second, do you really think it's possible to generalize about whether the people of an entire nation or city will be friendly to you when you try out their language? Well, it isn't. For one thing, I've found that the natural reaction of anyone when confronted with someone having a hard time expressing himself in a foreign language is to switch to that person's language if you know it. More Europeans speak English than Americans speak a foreign language, so that scenario happens a lot. I know I do it here - if I am approached by a French or Italian person who needs directions or is having trouble with a conversation in a restaurant or shop, and is obviously struggling, I immediately try to help them in their own language. It's a desire to be helpful, not the actions of a snooty foreigner.

Anyway, I don't know why you might think that the Belgians would react any differently from the French in this respect. Or why you accept it as a fact that all Parisians will immediately switch to English if your French isn't good. Not all Parisians even speak English!

I can tell you one linguistic faux pas to avoid, though. Don't try out your French in Flemish-speaking areas of Belgium. Because of internecine irritations, shall we say, the Flemish would far rather you speak to them in English than in French, and they won't be shy about telling you that. At least that has been my experience on quite a few occasions, most notably in Bruges.
StCirq is offline  
Old Jan 23rd, 2008, 06:25 PM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 21,432
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Our French friends who worked for the EU in Brussels told us that it was safer to speak in English than in French because of the Flemish-Walloon animosities. The idea was that we could switch to French when we had an indication that the Belgian interlocutor was willing to speak that language.
Michael is online now  
Old Jan 23rd, 2008, 10:18 PM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 2,719
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I live in Brussels and of course you can practice your French here. I wouldn't speak any other language to people here, unless they are obviously English speaking. (Of course that changes when you get out of the city - as others have mentioned, avoid speaking French in Flemish-speaking Flanders). All my daily business here is conducted in French. (I'd like to learn Dutch too, but I am already learning another language at the moment so that's on hold for now)

French is the language that is most spoken in the city, even though Brussels is officially bilingual. It's complicated, but Brussels is actually in Flanders, not Wallonia, and the French speakers here are not Walloons, but simply bruxellois or flamands francophones. (There's also a German-speaking minority in Wallonia, so Belgium has 3 official languages.)

If your French is a bit hesitant, you might find that people try and switch to English - I've found that people here are much more likely to speak (good) English than, say, in Paris. But don't let that deter you! If you say "je suis en train d'apprendre le français et je voudrais pratiquer un peu" or even just "je peux parler français?" I'm sure people will be happy to let you speak French! (Just remember that "soixante-dix" (70) is "septante" here and "quatre-vingt dix" (90) is "nonante", and you'll be fine!)

Just for the record, after 3 years living in Paris and 3 years here, I'd say that people in Brussels are friendlier, on the whole. It's a smaller city so that probably has something to do with it.
hanl is offline  
Old Jan 23rd, 2008, 11:21 PM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 169
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I agree with hanl. People in Brussels seem very friendly and helpful. I have walked into a number of shops and cafes where they only knew French and I had to get by with just a few phrases. Probably to avoid English it would be good to avoid touristy areas. Same goes for Paris.
bubblywine is offline  
Old Jan 24th, 2008, 02:08 AM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 9,642
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Some Belgians will be delighted to let you try your French, others will tolerate it, others will immediately switch to English, a few will inwardly grumble that nobody tries to speak Flemish, some won't be Belgian at all, but foreign expats who don't speak any more French than you do, and some will break into fluent English because they have a British, Canadian, NZ, or Australian SO. (Example: the Egyptian who works at our favorite Brussels friterie has a wife from Michigan.)

Our own experience has been that people in Brussels are generally friendly and helpful in person, but aggressive and clueless once they get behind the wheel of a car, especially at rush hour ;-)
BTilke is offline  
Old Jan 24th, 2008, 02:18 AM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 429
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
"if I am approached by a French or Italian person who needs directions or is having trouble with a conversation in a restaurant or shop, and is obviously struggling, I immediately try to help them in their own language. It's a desire to be helpful, not the actions of a snooty foreigner."
But sometimes it does come across as being snotty or "please I don't have time for you butchering my language" But I do agree that often times the intention is to help a foreigner. When I was learning French, ocasionally I would be asked by people if I prefered to speak in English. I think this is very polite and it gives you a choice. It is discouraging when one wants to learn a language for people to automatically respond in English.
Perhaps you already do this, St Cirq or something that you might consider doing. I am sure that you are trying to be helpful but it may not always come across that way.
travelme is offline  
Old Jan 24th, 2008, 02:20 AM
  #8  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 2,719
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I agree, BTilke, what does happen to Brussels residents when they close that car door and switch on the ignition? It's like Jekyll and Hyde!!
hanl is offline  
Old Jan 24th, 2008, 04:11 PM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 429
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Belgium is ok and the people were nice enough. However, during the entire time that I was there I thought that I should be in France.
I spoke French quite a bit in Brussels but it didn't seem to be as francophone as I would have imagined. I am sure that you will have a great time and that your French will improve. Bonne chance!
travelme is offline  
Old Jan 24th, 2008, 04:23 PM
  #10  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 49,014
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
travelme:

I never said I just automatically switch to someone else's language if I can. I specifically said if I encounter someone who's struggling with a conversation in English, I'll try to help them out.

And invariably the conversation begins with me saying, e.g., " Est-ce que je pourrais vous aider? Je parle un peu de francais." or "Posso aiutare? Parlo un po d'italiano." It's not as though I just do the automatic switcheroo to their language.

Besides, it happens rarely. Most European tourists to the USA don't need help with English. It just happens that I live in a metropolitan area that is a huge tourist mecca and there are lots of foreign visitors.
StCirq is offline  
Old Jan 25th, 2008, 09:41 AM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 3,184
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
First of all I'd like you all to know that there are more Flemish-speaking people in Belgium than French-speaking or German-speaking: 57% Flemish, 39% French, 4% German.
That being said, the reason why someone might switch to English when an English-speaking person starts a conversation in French, is that this person's first language isn't French either! English is much easier to understand than broken French. Another reason is just to be helpful.
MyriamC is offline  
Old Jan 30th, 2008, 02:36 AM
  #12  
 
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 1,056
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Actually, apparantly now more people speak English in Brussels than any other language. (not as a first language mind you... but..)
Lawchick is offline  
Related Topics
Thread
Original Poster
Forum
Replies
Last Post
ACDB
Europe
22
Jul 25th, 2017 11:51 AM
Ryan_Fleming
Europe
19
May 17th, 2011 03:16 PM
_christina_
Europe
49
May 5th, 2008 06:02 AM
CHELLOLIVE
Europe
14
Dec 17th, 2006 05:22 AM
truppidavies
Europe
75
Oct 23rd, 2006 04:39 AM

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On


Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Do Not Sell My Personal Information