The Cool House: "Bof!" or Belgium wins!

Friday, September 18, 2009

"Bof!" or Belgium wins!

Belgium isn't only famous for surrealism, it's also well known for the Gallic shrug, which in combination with the expression "Bof!" indicates that the user could not give a damn about you or your problem. You don't have the correct change for the bus? Bof! All the stores are closed and you haven't bought a bus ticket in advance? Bof! You are five kilometres from home and all the money you have in your possession is a 20 euro note, not the required 2 euros in coins for the bus. Bof, Bof, Bof! That's not my problem, Madame, it says. You'll just have to deal with it. Significantly in a country that draws its language barriers tightly it is the same word in both French and Dutch.
So it was that after my tussle with the transport system where I emerged battered but victorious, I set out to buy another ticket, or better still a 10-ride card, so I could go to the centre of Brussels to meet the family. Remember that I still have no coins, only notes and it was after 7 pm so the stores that sell tickets are now shut for the evening. I approach the concierge at the hotel and explain my little problem and ask if he can change a twenty euro note. He cannot. He does however tell me that the train station is open and I will be able to purchase a bus ticket there by inserting money into the machine. I remind him that the reason I am asking him to change the note is that the ticket machines only accept coins. His shoulder raise slightly, he shrugs and utters one syllable "Bof"!
I gave in and caught a taxi. Half way through my experiment with public transport, in a city famous for its bus/train/tram system, on my way to a bar that's easier to reach by bus than cab, I gave in. Belgium won. I got into the taxi, gave the driver the name of the bar, which although it is one of the most famous in Brussels he claimed to have no knowledge of; as I couldn't remember the name of the road I ended up walking the four hundred metres but eventually I was reunited with my Belgian family. There I gave 15 euros in notes to Verity who gave me 2.70 euros in change and after trying two ticket machines (the first wasn't working) stuck her chip-embedded smart card into the machine and retrieved for me a 10-ride card.
At the end of the evening I caught the bus back to the hotel with only minor adventures such as waving the paper ticket in front of the digital reading verification points and discovering that I'd creased the card by stuffing it into the pocket of my jeans so it refused to go gently into the slot of the only paper-reader on the bus. I may have looked like some dumb tourist but at least I was back on the public transport system and no one had said Bof! to me in several hours. I know Brussels welcomes tourists - it even has a My Brussels section on the Brussels Tourism Bureau website - but it makes you work really, really hard for that welcome.


Nadine @ BDG said...

oh i love belgium-- for a second i thought your pic was antwerp-- or antwerpen which sounds like a verb to me! have some mussels and frites for me! Tot ziens!

modernemama said...

Ik antwerp, je antwerpt... works for me! (it's the Grand' Place towards the Town Hall)