A local city map we picked up at our hotel – New International Youth Hotel – written by local Antwerpians, offered some useful hints and survival guidelines about local behaviour. And from how it read, it explained a lot about the people. It read: “Refer to Antwerp as “t stad” (THE city, as if there’s no other in Belgium). Why? We are proud of where we live. Look around you – wouldn’t you be? We even have a saying that “The rest of Belgium is parking space.” Other Belgians consider us snobs for that. Jealousy, what can you do about it?” Hmm, I did some looking, and so far, the only thing that’s worth the praise is your train station and some colourful artwork that made up the graffiti forest under a bridge.
To see the city of Antwerp, we rented bikes. It was a solid plan except that we had to return to the bike depot twice on account of Morgan’s breaking bike. First, because of a flat tire and second, because of the handle bars going loose and making it next to impossible and super unsafe to ride. We returned the bikes early and were refunded for the faulty bike. At one point during our ride I happened to glance down and notice a big glistening glob of saliva on my shoe and pant leg. Having had a recent doctor’s check up before leaving Canada, I knew that my motor functions were up to snuff so I was fully confident that my brain hadn’t given out and allowed me to drool on myself. I knew instantly, someone had spat on me.
Taking a pit stop at a local cafe after four hours of riding, Morgan and I sat down for some traditional Belgian cuisine – mussels and frites. A young couple sitting next to us spent their entire time eating each other’s faces. When they decided to come up for air they would laugh and stare at us. I’m not sure what it was. It could have been Morgan’s bright orange Netherlands futbol jersey, if they were die hard Belgian futbol fans (if Belgium is even big on fubol?), it could have been his pretty, paisley green rain jacket or it could have just been because we looked out of place looking like total circus clowns after a month of travel. Whatever the reason, it was painfully annoying and lessened any warmth we were hoping to get from Antwerp yet.
At the top of that aforementioned hotel map, in big red lettering it read: `Act Like a Local’. The locals suggest that if tourists simply act like as they do, then everyone will get along. By this I am to suppose that in the case of the young laughing couple it would have been appropriate to laugh back in their faces; and the culprit who spat on my shoe, I could have returned the favour with a healthy sized loogie right back. Maybe my interpretation is a bit off?
Further down the authors list of other important hints on Antwerp it reads: “Treat men like nouns: do not only speak of ‘the chair’, ‘the fries’, ‘the water’, but also say ‘the Paul’ or ‘the Michael’. Women are kindly treated as possessions: we call them ‘our Nicole’ and ‘our Isabel’. I had a hard time trying to talk Morgan down from the idea that I would be calling him `the Morgan’.