After a week of being in the country, I am starting to get used to it. It's happening quicker than I thought-- I think it helps to have an awesome host family and a small town, so I'm not completely overwhelmed.
There are many things here that are completely different from the U.S. The main thing, obviously, is French-- it's everywhere. In the morning, rather than "good morning," it's "bonjour," and it continues like that all day. I still have to translate a lot of things in my mind, meaning that it usually takes a while to get my point across, and my vocabulary and structure abilities are still miniscule. However, I'm finding that there are a lot of cognates--words that English and French share-- which means if I pronounce an English word with a French accent, I'll possibly be understood. Sometimes. Also, I've been more and more able to understand simple speech, and there've been a few points where I've carried on simple conversation(!). At other points, however, I'm completely baffled. My host parents speak some English, so that helps a lot, and I've made use of my French-English dictionary quite a bit. But last night, when I was with my host brothers who speak no English, we ended up having to use an internet translator. But, ça va. C'est normal. And little by little, I've been making progress. I've still got a LONG way to go, but I'm making progress.
There are tons of other little things that are different here, and it's always cool to come upon them. For example, there's no sales tax, which means that when something is listed as 1€, it's 1€. To ride the bus, you only need a special card, meaning there's no fee each time you ride it. You don't really need a car to get from place to place-- there's almost always a bus or train station within walking distance.
The food, of course, is wonderful-- I haven't had a bad meal yet. Obviously, when people prepare food, they take care to use fresh ingredients--there is very little canned or boxed food at the supermarkets. The supermarket bakes bread fresh every day, so you don't buy bread packaged in tons of plastic and full of preservatives. Even at the motel where we had our orientation, which was a Best Western, they served us great food.
Also, in general, things here are much smaller. The cars are all very small-- absolutely no pickups or SUVs or anything like that, and the streets are much smaller too. People usually have to park on the sidewalk so other cars can pass, and many cars have side-rearview mirrors that fold in. Buildings are packed in together, with tiny little passages between them. And distances from place to place are tiny-- I can be in the next town within a ten minute walk, or at the other side of the country within a 3 hour drive.
People here are very nice--nicer than I expected. As you pass people walking around town, they usually say bonjour. You also hear Ça va?, a lot, which is similar to "how's it going?". People are very modest and agreeable, and are always quick to compromise.
You also hear a lot of English. Belgians love American music, so you'll turn on the radio and hear Katy Perry or Bruce Springsteen or any other well-known American music. It's funny-- even though many people don't know what the lyrics are saying, they still love it. The youtube video below illustrates that very well. Viewer discretion advised, however, for obscene language:
Also, because the Flemish-speaking people and French-speaking people often disagree, you see many signs written in English. So it's weird to be going along and see a store name in English, but French and Dutch everywhere else.
As more interesting things come up, I will continue to post them. And hopefully I'll have a camera soon, so I can use pictures to aid my descriptions.