Thursday, March 31, 2011


Hogmanay is the Scottish name for the last day of the year, often associated with the celebration of the New Year that lasts until 2 January which is a public holiday.
According to the many existing theories, the word “Hogmanay” could refer to the name of the Scandinavian feast « Hoggo-nott », to the Flemish expression “hoog min dag” that means “great love day”, to the Anglo-Saxon Holy Month “Haleg monath” or to the Gaelic “oge maiden”, new morning, but the most likely source is the French language. “Homme est né” meaning “Man is born” was the last day of the year when presents called “hoguignetes” in Normandy were exchanged.
This tradition is believed to be a heritage from the Vikings who had a strong hold in Scotland: they paid much attention to the passing of shortest days and celebrated the winter solstice. Moreover, Christmas, being a Catholic feast, was banned for round 400 years in this strongly protestant part of the United Kingdom.
Cleaning the house on 31st December, welcoming friends and strangers, giving gifts to colleagues during the first working week are part of the numerous traditions of Hogmanay. The most widespread custom is called the “first-footing” and is supposed to ensure good luck. The first person to enter the house should be a tall dark man as opposed to blond people being after the Vikings’ arrival synonymous of trouble (this custom seems to be paradoxical vis-à-vis the origins of Hogmanay). They initially brought salt, black bun, coal, as well as shortbread and whisky which are the only two gifts left today. An old tradition that has recently been revived is the “saining” which consists, among other things, in sprinkling “magic water” in every room in order to purify the house.

Torch and bonfire ceremonies in Edinburgh and other Scottish cities are the continuation of the ancient custom at pagan parties hundreds with years ago. When midnight strikes, the tune of “Auld Lang Syne” (meaning "long long ago") rings out. This song is the combination of a poem by Robert Burns and the tune of a traditional folk song that calls for a dance.
In Edinburgh and other big cities, festivals take place in the streets during the night of 1 January. The official organiser of the Hogmanay-festival in the Scots capital is Pete Irvine. Praising and promoting the Scottish culture is one of the mottos of Hogmanay. Famous singers, poets and writers take part in festivities to share their Scottish heritage (Resolution Haiku’s, One Day Resolution Concert, etc.). A traditional event of the Hogmanay is the so-called One O’Clock Run, which gathers hundreds of runners willing to take part in a race of a bit more than 1.5 km. The Loony Dook is another after-midnight competition counting 1000 brave swimmers who dive into the River Forth after a short parade through the capital.
Most of the events are financed by the Scottish Government’s Edinburgh Festivals Expo Fund to the extent of 190,000 £ (226 000 €). On the whole, 6 £ million (more than 7 € million) are granted to the 12 Edinburgh Festivals involving Scottish participants, which then have to share the sum between themselves. In 2009, the Hogmanay-festival yielded more than 29 € million to Scotland.
Even though the local traditions are limited to Scotland, the festivities in Edinburgh attract many tourists of all countries. Join them next year and let yourself be carried away by this cultural whirl!

Cécile Leclercq and Vinciane Pirard


A pantomime in Greek or Roman times was originally silent and performed in a form of mime. Nowadays, according to the OALD, a (British) pantomime, usually called panto, is a type of play with music, dance and jokes, that is based on a fairy tale and is usually performed at Christmas.

The origins of the British Pantomime date back to the Middle Ages. It is actually a blend of a 16th century Italian theatre tradition, Commedia dell’Arte and of the British Music Hall, which was popular in the 19th century.

Commedia dell’Arte was a form of popular theatre with music and dance as the central elements of the performance. Dancers and musicians were therefore present in the show, as well as acrobats and clowns. Each character wore a particular costume and a mask, which were representative of his personality and which emphasized his typical characteristics to make him bad or monstrous, or even to ridicule him. Servants, old men, soldiers and lovers are typical characters of Commedia dell’Arte and Punchinello, Harlequin and Scaramouch are the most famous ones. A distinguished Commedia dell’Arte performance is for example “Punch and Judy” (Pulcinello & Pulcinella), a puppet show, which is still very popular in Britain.

British Music Halls, which also influenced the panto, were originally tavern rooms, which provided entertainment in the form of music. Besides popular songs, British music hall performances included comedy, dances, or even magic acts, ventriloquists, juggling, mime artists, puppet acts, etc.

The influence of Commedia dell’Arte coming from Italy and of British Music Halls gave way to what is called Pantomime, which quickly became very popular in England. At the beginning, it was a kind of opera for people of modest means. Today, pantomime performances are different: they always take place around Christmas time in nearly every town of the United Kingdom. However, they usually make no direct reference to Christmas.

All pantomimes follow a number of conventions and have a number of recurrent characters. The performances bring together wordplays, music and songs, dances, jokes, insinuations, comic effects and involve many special theatrical effects, like slapstick which finds its origins in Commedia dell’Arte. Another characteristic of the British pantomime tradition is the audience participation. Spectators are indeed actively encouraged to boo the villain or to warn the hero of a danger, to children’s greatest delight.

Pantomimes are mainly aimed at children (but adults like pantomime all the same) and are therefore based on traditional children’s stories, like Disney stories (Cinderella, Snow White or Sleeping Beauty) for the most part but also other legends or fairy tales inspired by Charles Perrault, H.C. Andersen and the Grimm brothers. A Christmas’ Carol by Charles Dickens or Peter Pan by J.M. Barries are also very popular. It is the familiarity of the audience with the original story that allows the actors to adapt the plot lines for comic or satirical effect.

Concerning the characters, it always follows the same outline: on one side, there are the Good ones and on the other side, the Bad ones, who are doing everything they can to make life impossible for the good characters. The role of the Principal Boy or Girl is usually played by a girl. The Principal Boy’s lover is also played by the prettiest woman of the cast. The Principal Boy and the Principal Girl end up together and live happily ever after, while the villains, played by men or women, are defeated. Other recurrent characters are the Panto Dame, who is normally the hero’s mother and who is played by a man, and the Good Fairy, who tries to help the Principal Boy or Girl to defeat the villains. The Good Fairy can be played by a woman but also by a man in drag.

Finally, the comic lead plays an important role: it is the man who addresses the audience, especially the children, and encourages them to participate.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Doc Martens

Doc Martens is a British footwear brand which was created more than fifty years ago and introduced a new and revolutionary kind of shoes. It is an icon of British culture even if it finds its roots in Germany and is well-known worldwide.

The brand was named after Klaus Märtens, who was a doctor during the war. He broke his ankle when he was skiing in the Bavarian Alps. While recovering, he came up with the idea of a new kind of shoe. He actually gave army boots a new twist by adding soft leather and air-padded soles to them, which made them more comfortable. The boots did not have much success until he met up with an old friend. Doctor Herbert Fünck helped him to give a boost to his business and in 1947, Doc Märtens boots had already become a must have. At the beginning, 80% of their production was sold to German housewives over the age of forty, who were looking for something comfortable and sturdy. The growing success of the boots encouraged the two friends to extend their brand internationally. In 1960, British shoe manufacturer R. Griggs Groups Ltd. took great interest in the brand and decided to buy the patent rights and to give it an English name as well as a slightly new shape. That is how the Doc Martens shoes as we know them today were born and ended up being a British icon. The British sitcom ‘The Young Ones’ even dedicated a song to them.
Back in the 1960’s, the market target was quite broad since the product attracted different kinds of people, from postmen to police agents, in short, people for whom wearing comfortable shoes was a priority. Associations with different groups contributed to lower the brand’s popularity, as in the 1970’s with the skinheads or to give it a trendy image, when it became Punks’ favorite accessory.

Nowadays, the brand provides a wide range of different models, while remaining faithful to Doc Martens’ original bestseller. Men, women, children… there is something in it for everyone!
As far as the price is concerned, a basic model costs about one hundred euro. However, any innovation causes the price to increase drastically.
If you want to learn more about those fancy shoes, here is a youtube link to their story.
To conclude, Doc Martens boots have gone through a lot of changes to become one of the world’s most famous pair of shoes and are still pretty much fashionable. Jessica Alba, for example, has already been spotted wearing the famous shoes.

Audeline Boucart and Marie Defraigne

Monday, March 28, 2011

Malcom X

Malcolm X, whose real name was Malcolm Little, was born on 19 May 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. He was the son of Louise and Earl Little, who was an African American and a member of an association which fought for the rights of black people by advocating segregation rather than integration. Black people were encouraged to go back to Africa. Because of his membership and his active participation, Earl Little got into trouble with the Ku Klux Klan and Black Legion (that encouraged white supremacy), which forced him and his family to move several times. Despite these problems, the pride of being black was instilled in Malcolm. Eventually, Earl Little was hit by a streetcar and died. It is still unclear if it was a murder or an accident. Malcolm’s mother was in such a state of shock that she was sent to a mental hospital.

From then on, Malcolm became addicted to cocaine and committed small crimes, which lead him to prison. There he came into contact with religion and converted to the Black Muslim faith. When he was released out of prison, Malcolm became a member of the Nation of Islam (NOI), an African-American religious movement and seeking to improve the conditions of Black people of America. At that moment Malcolm Little changed his name to Malcolm X where X replaced his real unknown African name. He was a very active member of the movement and later became minister of the mosque in New York’s Harlem area. He also encouraged separatism instead of integration of Black people in the American society.

In 1964 he left the movement because he disagreed with the NOI leader’s outrageous behaviour. Shortly after Malcolm founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity. At that point he encouraged world brotherhood rather than separatism and blamed racism after having met white supporters of the black cause. In 1965 Malcolm was shot dead by three members of NOI. Thousands of people gathered at his funeral and television channels broadcast the ceremony live.

Malcolm X has become an icon of American culture for several reasons. First of all, he is remembered to have contributed to the recognition of the black people and culture in the United States. Moreover, he is one of the main reasons for the spread of Islam in this country, as he was the second most influential leader of the Nation of Islam before he left it.

Malcolm X was also a very controversial person. When he was still a member of the Nation of Islam, his message was not representative of all African-Americans as he was delivering a radical extremist message. Throughout his life, Malcolm X went from a radical racism to a mild reconsideration of his black nationalism. Therefore, his iconicity is more easily accepted since everyone could make of Malcolm one’s personal hero and take from his speeches the part that fits with one’s ideology.

The legacy of Malcolm X is very important as well. On the one hand, The Time named his autobiography “one of the ten most influential nonfiction books of the 20th century”. On the other hand, Spike Lee produced and directed the movie “Malcolm X” (1992), which made Malcolm popular in the nineties and provoked a new wave of interest in him.

Sylvie Cujas & Caroline Stoquart

The Emu

The emu is without a doubt one of the most famous and beloved animals in Australia. Let us take the example of Odo, an emu who lives in an Australian family.

Odo is now an adult emu. It is quite a strange bird: it is the second tallest bird on earth (after the ostrich). It is roughly 190cm tall, it weighs about 50kg and can run up to 50km/h. Its feathers are brown on the body and grey on the neck. When it was still a baby emu, Odo was only 12cm tall and weighed 5kg. In six month’s time it has reached its adult size and can now make big leaps: one meter when walking and up to almost three meters when running. Odo cannot fly but it uses its wings while running: they help to keep its balance. It can also swim if needed.

Wild emus are found in forests and savannah woodland; it is less common to find them in populated and arid areas. They also have a seasonal pattern, spending the summer in the north of Australia and the winter in the south. They eat insects and crops that are available as well as stones to assist their digestion (in captivity they also eat shards of glass, marbles, car keys, jewellery, etc.). They do not drink on a daily basis, but when they do drink, it is a lot. Their feet have three toes with claws as sharp as knives, which is useful to kick dingoes (one of their predators). However, when emus are attacked by eagles or hawks, the only way to save their life is to run and swerve or to hide. In the wild, emus live between 10 and 20 years but in captivity they usually live longer.

Let us now look at the economic value of the emus. Already hundreds of years ago, Aborigines and early European settlers saw in them a source of profit. They killed these big birds to eat their meat and used the rest of the carcasses for other purposes. The fat was turned into oil to polish the Aborigines’ weapons and the bones were used to make knives. Nowadays, a commercial industry has developed round the bird and does not limit itself to Australia. Indeed, industrial emu farming also takes place in North America, Peru and China, to name but the most productive countries. Emus are not only farmed and killed for their meat: other parts of their body are also in demand. Their eggs are mainly used in cooking, loved for their size (corresponding to ten chicken eggs) and mild taste. Each emu can yield up to six litres of oil, which is then used in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. Finally, their leather is appreciated and is used to make accessories such as boots and handbags.

Apart from playing an important role in the economy, the emu is also an integral part of the Australian culture. According to a creation myth of the Aboriginals, the sun is in fact an emu’s egg thrown into the sky. The bird’s presence on coins, stamps and the Coat of Arms ̶ next to the red kangaroo ̶ further testifies to its importance as national symbol. The name alone (‘emu’) is wide-spread in Australia, being the name of a beer, a scientific journal and up to six hundred places (mountains, lakes, towns, etc.) across the country.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Plimsolls

The plimsolls are a type of sport shoes designed by the Rubber Company in the 1830s in Liverpool. The shoes are made of rubber soles and canvas upper. In the earlier years the shoes had a sole of leather, jute or rope. But they were not solid enough and the Rubber Company decided to use rubber to link the sole to the canvas with a rubber band. The sole and the cloth are united by a process of vulcanization. The Plimsoll shoe was named after ‘the Plimsoll line’ (or ‘water line’) because the horizontal band linking the upper and the sole looks like the water line and also because if water gets above the sole, the foot gets wet as the passengers of a boat who stand below the Plimsoll line. At first it was used as the typical gym shoe. They were used for this purpose in the physical education lessons or by the army during their training. But their popularity as sport shoes has decreased with the apparition of trainers which are far more comfortable, especially for intense sport activity. Even though they have some serious rivals, the Plimsolls are nowadays fashionable in everyday life (among other things because of the use of colours). Think of well-know brands such as Converse, Keds, Vans, etc. that adapted the Plimsoll model. You can also find Lacoste or Burberry Plimsolls that are customized versions of the original one. Their use is also associated by the school children with the object of corporal punishment.
The Plimsolls have been extremely popular all around the world and especially in the English-speaking communities. For instance in the UK they are known as “Plimsolls” but in the US they are called “sneakers” or “tennis shoes” or “Plimmies”. In Australia, they are named “sand shoes” (also in the UK!) because they were originally designed to protect the feet from sand and they were also practical to walk on the beach. In India they are known as “Keds” (name taken from the brand).

The brand wants to satisfy as many people as they can. Therefore they developed a “Period Plimsoll”. During the menstrual cycle a woman’s foot takes different shapes. A research team has studied what effect the oestrogen had on the tissues to create a comfortable shoe.

The Plimsolls shoes are well established in the Anglophone and universal culture. Almost everyone has once worn Plimsolls. They are so popular that they have even been the source of inspiration for a song.

The first Plimsoll shoes were made of white canvas that could be painted with chalks and allowed people to design their own shoes. Nowadays, we can use markers to customize them to draw whatever they want on the plimsoll or we can even customize your own shoes online. As they are not very expensive, they can be put in the washing machine, allowing people to create new designs endlessly!

Valentine Etienne and Mélinda Mottint


Bruce Joseph Forsyth-Johnson, to give “Brucie” his full name, was born in Edmonton, North London, on the 22nd February 1928. He is a British actor, entertainer and presenter, who started his television career when he was still a child. Forsyth also strived for a song and dance career.

Forsyth attended the selective Latymer School in Edmonton, London. He practiced dance in Tottenham and then in Brixton at the age of eight. He started in show business aged 14, with a song, dance and accordion act called "Boy Bruce, the Mighty Atom."

Bruce Forsyth made his television debut in 1939 when he was a child, singing and dancing on a talent show. He continued to sing and dance until 1958. In the very same year, he was for the first time in the limelight as the host of a variety show on ITV called Val Parnell's Sunday Night at the London Palladium. The show's most fondly remembered element was the game 'Beat the Clock', in which members of the public completed unusual tasks to win prizes, assisted by Forsyth. His disrespectful attitude towards the contestants, by gently mocking them, was a highlight of the show. Since then, Forsyth has been a household name. In the 1960s, he did appear in comedy series and presented The Bruce Forsyth Show. From 1971 onwards, Forsyth became more and more successful. The game-show Bruce Forsyth and the Generation Game was a phenomenon, attracting audiences by the millions. Forsyth was now viewed as the game show host par excellence. Forsyth presented a vast number of other game shows, including Bruce Forsyth's Play Your Cards Right, Hollywood or Bust, You Bet! , Takeover Bid, Bruce's Price is Right, Didn’t They Do Well. These shows were either presented on ITV or BBC. Forsyth has acknowledged that he partially had to sacrifice his song and dance career due to his hosting of so many long-running game shows. Brucie appeared in far fewer entertainment shows than he would have wished. Those in which he did appear include the Bruce Forsyth's Big Night and the music show Bruce's Guest Night. Forsyth seems to be an all-round man. He is also seen as an actor in the films Red Peppers and in the sitcom Slinger's Day. He is currently the co-host of the successful Saturday entertainment show Strictly Come Dancing, which has been broadcasted since 2004 on BBC.

From 1953 to 1973, Forsyth was married to Penny Calvert, with whom he has three daughters. According to his autobiography, he dated Miss World 1964 Ann Sidney during her reign. He was married to Anthea Redfern from 1973 to 1979, with whom he has two daughters. Asked to judge the 1980 Miss World competition, he fell in love with the judge, the 1975 Miss World, Wilnelia Merced; they married in 1983, and have one son together, Jonathan Joseph Forsyth Johnson. Forsyth has his own company, Bruce Forsyth Enterprises Ltd, based in Surrey, to run his day to day monetary affairs.

Désirée Andres & Jennifer Dartevelle

Friday, March 25, 2011

Burns supper

[I've had to remove and re-enter this post for technical reasons - LV]

The Burns Supper is a real institution in Scottish culture: it commemorates the life and the poetry of the national poet Robert Burns, the emanent figure of Scotland. The celebration of the national bard is held on the poet's birthday 25 januari. The first recorded supper took place in July 1801 by close friends of Burns as a tribute to his memory. The ritual is linked to the Scottish heritage but also occurs throughout the world as in Northern Ireland, Canada and New-Zealand.

Robert Burns is a Scottish poet born into a family of farmers. As a child he received a poor education but soon enough he came to be regarded as a truly gifted poet. He wrote many songs and poems in the Scottish dialect of English; he also collected and reworked existing Scottish songs. He is not only regarded as the national poet of Scotland but also as a pioneer of the Romantic movement.

In fact Burns Supper consists of the recitation of his poetry. It is very formal and has a specific running order :

Piping in the guests

A big-time Burns Night calls for a piper to welcome guests. The audience stands and claps in time to the music while the guests enter the room in single file and take their seats.

Chairman’s welcome

The chairman says a few welcoming words, introduces the assembled guests and the evening’s entertainment.

The Selkirk Grace

The meal commences with the Selkirk Grace. A short but important prayer read in the Scottish dialect of English to usher in the meal, introducing the traditional Scottish dish : the Haggis.

The meal

The typical Bill o’ Fare menu includes:

Cock-a-leekie Soup
Haggis warm reeking, rich wi’ Champit Tatties
Bashed Neeps
Tyspy Laird (sherry trifle)
A Tassie o’ Coffee

The drink

It’s ofen customary to douse the haggis with a splash of whisky sauce.

The immortal memory

The chairman introduces the keynote speaker who delivers his speech on the life of Robert Burns: his literary genius, his politics, his highs and lows and most importantly his nationalism. The speaker concludes with a heart-felt toast : To the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns.

Toast to the Lassies

The object of this toast is to speak about the importance of women in our lives, refering to Burns, the women in his life, his attitudes and his views on women.

Reply to the Toast to the Lassies

It is the revenge for the women present as they get their chance to reply.

Most importantly the most important element of any Burns Supper must surely be fun. Now you have all the key elements to organise a Burns Supper !

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Terry Wogan

Sir Michael Terence Wogan is a famous British-Irish radio and TV personality. He was born in 1938 in the Irish city of Limerick.

Leaving his banking career behind, he started a radio career as a newsreader and announcer at the national Irish broadcaster RTE (Raidió Telefis Éireann). He then moved to the BBC, where he spent most of his career. He really acquired popularity around 1972 when he hosted a humorous breakfast show on BBC Radio 2. From then on, Wogan became the centre of jokes, but he also demonstrated his talent for self-parody, as in The Floral Dance. In 1984, he interrupted his radio career to host TV programmes, but in 1993, he came back to BBC Radio 2 with a new breakfast show: Wake Up To Wogan (a.k.a. WUTW), which became very popular, reaching an 8,000,000-large audience. Beside the news bulletins, the programme mainly consisted of music and humorous interventions. Wogan also read the so-called "John and Janet" stories, i.e. pastiche of children’s learn-to-read stories that were made funny by introducing subtle sexual puns and double-entendres. The show being perceived to attract old listeners, Terry Wogan developed a specific lexicon about it. He called his audience the TOGs, i.e. Terry’s Old Geezers or Gals, as opposed to the TYGs, i.e. the young innocent victims that were forced to listen to the show with their parents, on the radio or via the “togcast” (i.e the podcast), and he called himself the togmaster. In 2009, Terry stopped hosting his breakfast programme and one year later, he started a Sunday show on Radio 2 called Weekend Wogan.

Terry Wogan is also a famous TV personality. He started his career on the screen around 1980. From then on, he has been presenting an annual telethon for the big charity appeal of Children in Need , in aid of British charities concerned with children. He is also well-known for having provided the BBC with commentary for the Eurovision Song Contest from 1973 to 2008. His sarcastic and cynical comments, even though appreciated by the British audience, have sometimes caused some contention. Wogan also presented a dozen times the UK Previews for this contest. The presenting of a few chat shows and of his own show called Wogan, thrice a week for 7 years can be added to the list of his television achievements.

Wogan's presence in British homes through his voice on the radio and through his apparitions on the small screen makes of him a popular icon in Britain. As a result, he is often referred to in films, songs, plays and other works of popular culture. As a sign of his popularity, the Time published an Ode to Terry when he left WUTW. Moreover, he has recently been ranked 46 on the Telegraph's list of the 100 most powerful people in British culture.

His talent has also been acknowledged more officially, for example by a lifetime achievement award at the British Comedy Awards in 2009. He was also bestowed knighthood by the Queen, a title which allows him to be called “Sir” Terry Wogan.

Florence Vandevondele & Hélène Verhaeghe

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Beavis and Butt-head

Beavis and Butt-head is an animated television series aired on MTV between 1993 and 1997. The cartoon twosome was created by Mike Judge, who also voices the two main characters. Beavis and Butt-head are a pair of dim-witted teenagers who live in Highland, Texas.

On the one hand, we have Beavis. The blond-haired pyromaniac always wears the same blue Metallica-shirt and is madly obsessed with fire, his typical phrase being “Fire! Fire!”. He has an alter-ego named ‘The Great Cornholio’, who makes his appearance in the series whenever Beavis has consumed too much caffeine or sugar.
On the other hand, Butt-head has brown hair and likes to dress down with a grey AC/DC-shirt. His favourite word is “uhh”, which is most of the time followed by chuckles. Butt-head often insults Beavis, who nevertheless does not understand these put-downs and ends up making fun of himself.
Beavis and Butt-head spend most of the time on a couch, watching music videos and talking about things ‘that suck’. When they are not lying down on their squab, they try to score with the girls or wreak havoc at the burger joint where they work. There, they deep-fry body parts or dead mice for fun.

With its combination of humour and implicit criticism of society, Beavis and Butt-head was very popular in the 1990s and drew positive as well as inevitable negative reactions. Some argued that the series allowed a humorous platform for the propagation of social criticism on behalf of a creative and intelligent comedy. Others simply accused it of stimulating dangerous behaviour.
In 1993, for instance, a mother claimed that her five-year-old son set fire to her van, thereby killing his two-year-old sister, after being ‘fire-inspired’ by an episode of Beavis and Butt-head. The story led to a virtual ‘fire fighting’ and any references to fire were cut from the series; henceforward, any ‘violent’ acts of pyromania had to take the fire exit. As a consequence, the creators made Beavis say words similar to ‘fire’, such as the oil-using ‘fryer’ or the minimal-pair ‘liar’.

In 1996, the teenagers appeared in their own film: Beavis and Butt-head Do America. One year later, the last episode of the series was broadcast and MTV started airing Daria instead. This spin-off from Beavis and Butt-head was based on their dry-witted classmate Daria, whom they loathingly called ‘Diarrhoea’.
On 14 July 2010, MTV confirmed the rumours that in the summer of 2011, new episodes of Beavis and Butt-head will be aired on American television. Mike Judge will once again generate the series and eventually voice the two main characters. The boys will still be teenagers at high-school, but the series will be updated, so that fun can be made of current targets such as Lady Gaga.

Dutch experiences not recollected in tranquility

Over the past years at the University of Namur, I have been looking forward to trying and going to a new environment, to meet different people, to discover other pleasures. I yearned for liberty and discovery. All this I found in some of my literature (and linguistic) classes, but my heart started weakening to bask still and all in its ignorance of the current way of life in the North-neighbouring country.

Utrecht! Utrecht! Burning bright
Through the canals of de stad
Why thy heart remains immortal?
Is it thy sinews I’ll recall?

Utrecht was an unknown city to me, certainly full of treasures to be found but no means at my disposal to dig them up. Until I got the opportunity to get as far as possible from my native city. I had never taken in the sights nor inspected the target town before. However, I had paid a visit a few years ago to far-off family living there, allegedly in the most peaceful though not remotest district of the city centre. But in those years, I was still too young and foolish to pay attention to the resourceful outside world surrounding me. For this reason, the only thing I can now remember from my quick visit is the house in which my host lived and -more accurately- its interior design. The plafond of the living room was decorated with a voluminous modern lamp, hanging in the air like a zenithal sun, high enough though to prevent its shining rays to blind anybody who would have a direct look at it.
This particular reminiscence serves me in no way to begin my story in an illuminated manner, but nevertheless sheds some light on how the eyes of an adolescent on the height of things –here: the height of a wall- can be filled with imagery likely to speak the truth about my host’s rank, but also telling you a lot -or nothing- about a given society.
First of all, as the enormous amount of light provided by the lamp described above probably needs more energy than a Hilton Hotel’s hall, there could be reason enough to think and generalize that the Dutch are not a stingy folk. This view would be totally mistaken and as different from reality as chalk and cheese.
Although their well-known lactose tolerance finds no limits, these people can’t help making cheeseparing profits. If like mice they happen to invite you in their hiding place, don’t expect from them a generous cup op English tea to warm you up. Don’t sit down until you are asked to. If water boils nevertheless, don’t be shy: grasp your own tea bag in the caddy, otherwise you will end up colouring your lukewarm liquid with a consumed, tasteless flavouring.
Besides these ‘scroogy’ features, the Dutch like to seem well-entrenched in society. In order not to appear lazy, Utrecht’s inhabitants fake a busy life. If you happen to meet someone you know in the street and ask him or her ‘om gezelligheid’ for a cup of coffee –beverage they prefer to its English variant, by the way-, you will not get a straight negative answer. He or she might first search for a hidden diary in his or her rucksack or handbag, then skim through its filled in pages and finally assert that an appointment (‘een afspraak’) can be made over three weeks or so…

Utrecht! Utrecht! Burning bright
Through the canals of de Stad
Who would dar’st compare thy wealth
With the sinews of thy heart?

From 1 September 2010, the only thing I can clearly remember is the sunny weather. After having unloaded the panel truck - carrying all the furniture from home - which my parents managed to borrow for the back and forth trip to Utrecht, and before taking a bow for my parents’ departure, I had in mind to take a walk on the green side of the area. But as they did not seem to be willing to fly away and subsequently let me fly on my own for the very first time, I was to postpone my runaway and started bird-watching for their flying-off. Preempting my genitor’s footsteps, the sun went down and the sky became dark. At the glow of a naked light bulb hanging in the furnished but empty-looking room, signs of tiredness could be read on my father’s face. Hence, I knew that I was soon to discover how the wings of responsibility were to fly over my eternal laziness.

It took a few seconds to realize in what place I was awakening the next morning. I first did not recognize the white, pallid walls. I rose my head out of the king-sized bunk bed I had not in the least found difficulties to get asleep in. From the floor above, I looked up enthusiastically to my new living room -and painter studio, library corner, TV-room and kitchen area all at the same time!
From a very first breakfast alone in front of my cereals and milk, I could scarcely foretell that the absence of company would inch by inch temper down my seize-the-day-conversion of the first weeks. Consequently, take my advice personally: whoever you are, don’t lock yourself indoors nor drop the key in the pan, unless you are two easy-going nuts. Half-jokingly now: don’t wait until the last week before the academic festivities actually get started for making your home choice in Utrecht. And this, in order to make sure to land up in a shared living place. Moreover, it is much more likely to cost you half the price of what I used to pay for this luminous, far too big flatlet I lived in. Last but not least, this sentence proves that I have been contaminated by the typical Dutch avaricious mentality that I disparaged above...

Leonard Leroy

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

De Leute in Leuven!

Some people have several said to me: “What? Leuven, it’s not an Erasmus!” I totally disagree with that way of thinking. I must admit that Leuven is still in Belgium but I really felt that I was living an Erasmus experience especially when walking in Namur and hearing French words became a strange experience. It’s true that I was only sixty-two kilometers far from home, but I discovered a lot of things in that town. I learnt to know a different region in my country and I am really glad of it because I now see Belgium differently. An Erasmus is not only a matter of improving a language. Indeed, I gained also in autonomy, I discovered a new culture, a different way of learning and I met new people. By the way, I have to say that Flemish people are not cold (contrary to what I heard about their way of behaving). I met there the most spontaneous person I’ve ever seen. She had always something interesting to say, she immediately spoke with me the first day of my arrival and she was really kind! So don’t rely on what people say, just go there and see by yourself!

What can I say about Leuven? I would say that it’s a beautiful town. It’s not so big, only two kilometers in diameter but there is a lot to see. If you happen to walk in the beautiful streets of this town, I recommend you to pass by the Stadhuis, which by the way was magical at Christmas time, Sint-Pieterskerk, het Groot Begijnhof, de Centrale Univesiteitsbibliotheek and to eat and drink something on the Oude or Grote Markt.

The centre of Leuven is really picturesque, especially during Christmas, when all is illuminated. Nevertheless, you have to be careful not to crash into a bike, because they are completely inherent to the city; which is the reason why you get a bike riding lesson in the beginning of the year if you are an Erasmus student. I did really want to have one but after having heard about all the fines (and the total amount of them!) that you can get with a bike, I chose to move on foot. You should however remain cautious, those vehicles are really dangerous and I was very close to make an accident with one of them on several occasions.

One of the many reasons for which I chose Leuven was that I had heard that the administrative stuff was easy to regulate and I can definitely confirm this. The service of Erasmus students is just perfect. We had an Erasmus coordinator and she was always available and ready to help us. I heard that some students were not as lucky as we were but at the KUL, they answer to your mails very quickly, they check all the official documents that you enter, they organize info-sessions about the exams, the courses,… It was really reassuring to know that if I had any problems, they would be there to help me find a solution.

The housing service is also particularly well-managed. I went to it on 28th July in order to know what I could do to find a room. Somebody gave me a dozen of sheets with all the rooms that were available during my stay. All I had to do was to visit the rooms, to choose a street and the amount of the renting and it was done. My room was in the Kortestraat. This street is really great and very lively. It was in the centre of Leuven between the Oude Markt en Grote Markt and I felt really safe. That aspect was really important to me, and Leuven responded fully to my hopes. The town is guarded by dozens of policemen. They are really part of the landscape and that was quite reassuring. I thus advise to choose a room in the centre because it’s better to walk ten minutes to go to your class and to be close to the “going out centre” than the other way round. My building counted thirteen or fourteen rooms, so that it was difficult to feel really alone. I got on very well with one of my roommates and we saw each other very often. Sometimes we chatted in one another’s rooms, sometimes we went out,… She taught me some words in “West-Vlaams” as “De leute” which means: “Have fun!”. I knew that several dialects existed but I didn’t realize how different they were. I didn’t understand everything when somebody spoke to me in dialect but I didn’t feel guilty since my roommate had told me that she didn’t understand her fellow students when she arrived in Leuven.

The KUL offers you a lot of things that are really useful during your stay: busses and sport card are free and you can posses a culture card for only fifteen euro’s. So Valentine and I went to play basketball every Monday, and I’m now very familiar with basketball vocabulary.

As far as the academic stuff is concerned, I followed five courses: Populaire genres, Nederlandse volkskunde, English linguistics: synchronic –theoretical, Mediasociologie and Communicatiewetenschap. My favourite course was undoubtedly communicatiewetenschap! I really appreciated this course because I learnt a lot about aspects of communication that are relevant to my present and future life. I learnt to be critical of the media, also to be cautious and I discovered aspects of human behavior that I didn’t know. It was really interesting and even though the exam was quite difficult, I warmly recommend this course. Mediasociologie was also really interesting. We studied the media in the frame of different aspects as age, gender, social class, education,… We had broad possibilities regarding the courses to choose and that is also a reason to go in Erasmus: it’s the occasion to get familiar with different subjects.

Last year I read all these articles to choose my destination and to reassure myself, so I will address this last sentence to all the students who may want to study in another university in the future. I must admit that I sometimes felt a bit anxious or alone because everything was so new, but now that I think about it, I’m really glad to have lived in another town during five months and I really enjoyed those moments. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and you have to take it because the KUL, and all those universities, can bring something new to you, and you won’t see your life in the same way after such an experience.

A last thing that may be useful to know is that if someone is trying to “chat” you “up” and that you are not interested, don’t use the excuse of “I’m an Erasmus, I don’t speak Dutch” because they will switch in French or English. Flemish people are often bilingual or trilingual so think about it and don’t overuse that sentence!

Is maith liom Corcaigh (I like Cork)

Christmas time: city centre by night

On August 27th, I left my beloved Belgium for a country I hardly knew anything about: Ireland. I had read in my guide book that the best way to discover Cork was to arrive by boat. This is why I departed from Roscoff (Brittany) to set out on a fourteen hour journey through the Celtic Sea. From the beginning, I knew I was about to experience some of the most enriching months of my life.
Green telephone booth in Kinsale

I immediately started registering random stuff about Ireland: it is a country where telephone booths are green and where chewing gums are not sold on campus. I also noticed that the mayonnaise has a different (/bad) taste and that it is perfectly normal to serve pasta bake with French fries. Irish people call clovers shamrocks and dwarfs leprechauns. Supermarkets are open 24 hours a day and most shops do not close on Sundays. Also, you should not be surprised to bump into a couple taking wedding pictures in the university gardens or to receive emails inviting you to the funeral of a student. Funnily enough, Irish people (including professors) like to wear training pants to go to the theatre. But the strangest thing is perhaps that one can order a glass of milk or a cup of coffee in French Fries shop.

Main quadrangle

Campus is one of the most beautiful places in the city and the prospect of passing by the main quadrangle is enough to get you out of bed to go to college. If I had to pick two classes out of the four I took, I would choose Anglo-Irish literature and Introduction to Modern Irish. The first one is a very good introduction on Irish poetry, drama and novels in English, for which you will get to write essays and to read Irish novels. If you follow an introductory course to Modern Irish - which by the way is a very interesting and beautiful language – and if you want to practice, you will quickly discover that Irish people tend to answer ‘I’m fine thank you’ to the question ‘where are you from?’ Indeed, “the language is there but it’s not spoken”, as described in this video.

There are lots of things to do in Cork during weekends. Do not miss the various festivals such as Cork film festival or Cork culture night where you can visit writers’ houses or enter the City Hall to watch short films for free. If you want to meet up with friends for lunch or dinner, there are lots of cool places you should try, such as the sushi bar Dashi in Cook Street or Captain Americas in South Main Street. Crane Lane, An Brog and Franciscan Wells are very good pubs and live concerts are organised in some of them.

To prevent you from feeling confused or embarrassed, here are a few things you might need to know: It is first important to know that Irish humour is particular. Also, if an Irish person answers “I will yeah” to one of your requests, do not expect anything, it means No. If people talk to you about ‘crack’, do not run away immediately, they might simply be talking about the ‘craic’ (Irish for fun) they had last night. You will also soon discover that Irish girls tend to dress rather provocatively at night but are super friendly. So do not look at your roommates with a look of surprise when you see them dressed to hit the dance floor for the first time.

Last pint of Bulmers (Irish Cider)

Having to leave Cork was definitely the most difficult part of my stay. However, I managed to say goodbye to this wonderful city by leaving it step by step. Sandrine and I planned a trip to Galway and Dublin before catching our flight back home. Needless to say I still miss Cork and more particularly the way Irish people tend to overuse expressions such as fuck sake or fair enough and how they add ‘like’ at the end of every sentence. Getting used to speak French again was pretty difficult, particularly during the first week when I kept apologizing in English if I happened to hit someone with my umbrella on the street. Unfortunately, bad weather is something Belgium and Ireland have in common.

Marie Defraigne