Intricate work of the lace maker on Wollestraat
© AA Photo Library
Flemish and French are both spoken in Brussels, where even street signs are in both languages. You can try out your French in Brussels and Wallonia and your Flemish in Ghent, Bruges and in the north; but to use either language in the wrong area may elicit a frosty reaction. Many Belgians speak English to a greater or lesser degree, and this is often the wisest option, wherever you are.
You will usually find that the Flemish and French proper names have similarities; for example, Bruges is Bruges (French) and Brugge (Flemish), Louvain is Louvain (French) and Leuven (Flemish). But there are problematic differences. For example, Ghent is Gand (French) but Gent (Flemish), and Mechelen is Malines (French) but Mechelen (Flemish). If in doubt, especially when checking train or bus destinations, confirm the destination with an English-speaking official.
There are a few public restrooms in Belgian cities, but they are often not clean. Railroad and bus stations, restaurants and the bigger cafés have public bathrooms with attendants. You are expected to pay about 20 to 50 cents to use restrooms.
In restaurants, the menu usually signifies the dish of the day. If you want to choose from a selection of dishes, ask for the kaart (Flemish) or the carte (French).
In the rue des Bouchers area of Brussels, you may find that prominently displayed menus at reasonable prices become suddenly replaced as soon as you are seated. You may be repeatedly offered house specialties at inflated prices. If this is not what you want, move on to another restaurant.
For a quick snack, there are numerous fast-food outlets, stalls and, in large shopping precincts, café counter service. Apart from the universal hamburgers and french fries, there is usually a big selection of broodjes, baguettes crammed with mouthwatering fillings. Seasoned and smoked sausages are sold from street vendors in the northern areas of Belgium. Gaufres, tasty, vanilla-flavored waffles, are another treat, bought fresh from street stalls and spread with jam.
Beer brewing is a Belgian specialty, and there are hundreds of different Belgian brews. Try a bière with your meal at a restaurant. It is perfectly in keeping with the cuisine, which incorporates beer in many dishes. The best Belgian beers can be as fine as wine.