Spanish, Turkish, Kurdish


Life has gotten a tad hectic since we’ve returned home. We’re going through one of those bi-yearly turnovers at work where some people are leaving, some are temporarily working in other kiosks, and some are taking last minute vacations before the blackout period we have from midway through November until after New Years.

This means some different scheduling and I’ve ended up working mostly day shifts, which I don’t mind at all, but it often leaves me tired and not incredibly inspired to write. The lack of writing has driven me to the crazy conclusion that I may try to do NaBloPoMo this November, despite the fact that I swore I’d never do it again after the first time I did it back before I moved to Beglium.
I always feel guilty if I don’t write for a long-ish period of time, like I’m letting the people down who read here. Although I suppose the worst time to start loading you guys up with posts is the month where most of your blog readers are probably overflowing. I don’t know…it’s still up in the air. I may try a poetry prompt every second day instead.

But in the meantime, while I’m here and feeling like I ought to write, and while Piet is still procrastinating on nuking the pics from the honeymoon that he doesn’t approve of for bloggy consumption, I’ve decided to share a few anecdotes that, if nothing, else, will reflect the awesomeness of my tan. The tan which you have yet to see because of aforementioned procrastination.

Anyway, we realized the night before we left Tenerife that our plane would be landing in Charleroi too late for us to catch a train back to Gent for the night, so we ended up booking a cheap place right outside Charleroi airport for the night and waking up early to catch a taxi to the train station. we got there early and because it was Sunday there were only one or two trains running to Brussels every hour anyway, so we stopped at Panos for a sandwich.
At the register I ordered a coffee (café for any of you non-french speakers out there) and said in my crappy french “un café s’il vous plais”. And the cashier apparently didn’t understand my “un” because she held up one finger and asked, “uno?”
To which I looked at her oddly, because, hello, we’re in Belgium, if you’re going to guess another language wouldn’t Dutch or English be the way to go? before replying “oui” and paying for the food.
So upon returning from the trip, I was apparently brown enough to be mistaken for Spanish or I suppose possibly Latin American.

A couple days later Piet had an ingrown toenail removed and I ran to the neighborhood super-cheap Turkish general store do get a container that he could soak his foot in. As I was checking out, the owner (who until that point had been speaking with another guy in very fluent dutch), smiled at me and said something I couldn’t even repeat to you now, but I’m pretty sure it was a Turkish greeting or thank you as I took the bucket and left.

And yesterday a very Mediterranean hued man ordered a coffee at work and asked me in accented Dutch what my nationality was. I told him I was American, which he obviously didn’t like, but then I asked what he’d thought I was and he said Kurdish. Which struck me as odd because if he was Turkish, me being Kurdish should be as bad,  if not worse than me being American. Either way, he can bite me and go order his coffee somewhere he finds more ethnically appropriate.

But I personally was a mix of amused and disgruntled by these assumptions of my nationality.
In America, obviously, everyone assumed I was American. In America it’s rarely a question of nationality and more often a question of descent. And 9 times out of ten, people thought my descent was Greek or occasionally Italian, despite the fact that I’m neither. The olive skin tone, wavy dark hair and high bridge of my nose are all very Mediterranean features which I get from my father’s side of the family, even though that side is a mix of Russan and Romanian.
Here in Belgium, it’s different. Belgians look…Belgian: usually pale skin, the brownish-blond colored hair we call “mousy” in America, slim builds, average  height. Dutch people look Dutch: tall, ruddy complexion, blond hair and often blue eyes. Turkish and Moroccan immigrant groups are the big ones here, ****but they tend to get their spouses from their home countries as opposed to intermarrying, so even the second and third generation Turkish/Moroccan Belgians tend to keep their physical and even their language and cultural differences that make them clearly not “Belgian” Belgians.
Point being that, when people here see me, they assume I’m another nationality, not based on my accent, but based on my appearance, which sadly, often leads people to stereotype me and treat me a certain way before I even get the chance to open my mouth. No one in America would treat me any differently because they thought I came from a Greek heritage. No one would automatically try to switch over to Greek to try to speak to me before allowing me to open my mouth. Even if I spoke with an accent, no one would try to switch to another language based on my appearance.

I noticed these things a lot more when I first moved here but as the Belgian climate has drained the color from my skin and my accent has diminished and my Dutch become more fluent, I suppose I either experienced it less, or just noticed it less. But now, with a brown color back in my skin there has been a notable upsurge in assumptions being made about my nationality, what language I speak, who I am as a person.

And while I do find it entertaining to add to the list of countries the people here think I come from, I also find it highly frustrating to have to play guessing games as to how I’ll be treated based on those assumptions.


****UBER DISCLAIMER – this is my own impression and opinion, based off of my own observations as well as some information I get from my husband, the doctor of cross-cultural psychology. There are, as always, most certainly exceptions to the statements I’m making here, but I’m giving what I believe to be a generally true overview of how things currently stand here in Flanders


3 responses »

  1. Pfft. People assume I’m Belgian and look ultra confused when I turn out to be English. I’d never really thought about it while I lived in the UK…

  2. hmmm I never thought about these things…on linking nationalities to looks but I belief you are right. I often think that about the foreign consultants / suppliers coming in the office “oh he is sooooo French ” or something

    I do remember the inverse when going to Canada that I was proud to tell them I had relatives in Canada somewhere. Somehow I thought it was special to have relatives across the ocean. It took me a week to figure out everyone has relatives or ancestors across the ocean there usually in a mixture of 4-5 countries :p

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