Gare Du Midi: Lost By Translation
The Unexpected Parents are visiting. This is their first time in the land of the Belgians and while they are seasoned travellers in their own right, their French is weak and their Flemish is non-existent. I make sure they have my number before they go to explore on their own.
All is well of course, and I worry needlessly. The Unexpected Father makes sure that the relevant information about trams, destinations, tram stop names is in his back pocket. All goes well. Apart from today.
Today, he set forth on his own to the airport as he has a meeting with a business associate. Before leaving, the two of us where lolling in my kitchen making ourselves and our better halves some tea. We had often done this when I was younger, he making the tea and me feeling important because I put the cups on to a tray. It is still dark outside, and as the city awakens, I realise that the comfortable sensation of family is something that can take you back to a specific instant in your past. Mental time travel, I suppose.
He interrupts my reminisces to ask me about the train that will bring him back to Gare Du Midi – the prime train station in Brussels.
“Which platform does that leave from?”
“Could be anyone, Dad, make sure you check the monitors. There is no dedicated platform for that train.”
“Okay. How many stops till it gets to Gare Du Midi?”
“Depends. If it’s the express, which is likely, it would be the third stop from the airport. If it’s a slow train, then it would be the,” I count the stops mentally, “fifth one, I think.”
“Okay.” He sounds unconvinced.
“Keep an eye out for the signs at the train stations – you can’t miss those. As soon as you see Gare Du Midi, get off.”
He leaves, satisfied with the directions.
A few hours later, after the sun crept up over the horizon and fought its way through the clouds, I look at my watch and realise that he probably will be pulling into Gare Du Midi soon. Figuring that he’ll catch the next tram home, I expect him here shortly.
Ten minutes later, I get a phone call.
“Hello Dad, what’s up?”
“I think I must have missed Gare Du Midi,” he says nonchalantly.
I have visions of him wandering around Antwerp, Amsterdam or, perhaps, Andalusia.
“I see. And where are you then?”
He reads out the station name and I recognise it for one that is not too far from here. I call a taxi and send them to pick him up.
When he gets back and I hear the story, I realise that the problem is in Gare Du Midi itself. While the entire city is bilingual and pretty much everything is in both languages, the signs at the train stations are not. The French and Flemish version of the station names are on different signs, several feet apart from one another. Dad looked out of his carriage window, saw “Brussels-Zuid”, shrugged and continued reading his paper.
Why do they do that?
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Related Unexpected Traveller Posts:
- Lost In Translation
- Lost in Translation – Part III
- Lost in Translation – Part IV
- You are What You Eat
- The Well Known Frenchman