Jérôme speaks mostly Flemmish and I speak mostly French, but together, we manage, me translating his four-year-old sentences into their English corollaries, for Flemish is Germanic and sounds a lot like phonetic English.
You see, my family is from Flanders, northern Belgium, but we speak French, a fact that has many non-Belgians erroneously thinking we must be Walloon no matter how much I insist–for years, even, as was the case with my French boss. No, no, it’s true–there are francophones among the neerlandophones, and this incites even further the polemic between various factions in Belgium wanting to separate, unite, differentiate, opinionate, debate, all vying to make sense of a country that is essentially fabricated, two halves slapped together to make an hole for political gain.
And, now, after a rough and tumble of lets-learn-to-ride-a-bike-into-oncming-traffic, we play hide-and-seek in my aunt and uncle’s backyard in Brasschaat, Jérôme counting in Flemmish, me in French, and Thierry pretending to be a newly sprouted Christmas tree.
It all makes terrible sense, really, this mish mash of cultures, seeing language is culture and vice versa and how so many of my cousins and I are the embodiments of cultural in motion, our relationships the test tubes for cultural differences, influence, and so on, so many of us with men and women of different linguistic and ideological backgrounds. Our children, then, are the symbolic marriage, the entente, and I find it all so fascinating, especially in light of conversations on immigration, integration, and so on that grip Europe and the Americas.
Around us, children make merry and do as the Americans do on Halloween but as the Belgians do on epiphany–they dress up and go door to door, begging for a handful of treats.