Compared to the straight clean lines of Helsinki, the convoluted pattern of the Brussels street map seems like a warp in the fabric of space itself. Is it just paranoia, or do les Rues, les Avenues, and les Chausseés aim to lead me astray on purpose? Knowing the general direction of my destination is no good when the streets always seem to end up in place that I thought was impossible. And this is when I get lost. Being sure that I am somewhere that I am not, I cannot but lose myself in that deceptive maze of crooked streets.
Does the city have it in for me? Why do the pavement stones rise up to stab at unsuspecting toes and reveal hidden pools of water that splash me to my knee? Who placed posts of all kinds in the middle of the street for absentminded wanderers to walk into? Is the roadwork real, or the city’s way to impede me again? What is this strange place and what does it intend with me?
Brussels is indeed a strange place. Not only are its streets warped but so is the language. Snippets of beautifully distorted English surround me on the metro. The letter h appears and disappears in the most intriguing places as angry becomes hangry and heart becomes art. We no longer go to the the bar but to bar and it is not a choice but a tsoice you make. And in between these re-made words, acronyms and abbreviations fall like mysterious codes and spells. There is coreper, efc, ecofin and many more known by most of us Brussels expats, but the list is so endless that nobody can master the entirety of this language, as ccitt follows fifg misep and infse. In this brand new broken language, where sentences are restructured and vowels distorted, the army of acronyms build bridges and create walls between those working on security, fishing, economy, environment, aid and education.
This is the language of my Brussels. The language formed by the hoard of Brussels expats overtaking the city. With more than 30 thousand EU civil servants in a city of a million inhabitants and an additional host of lobbyists, ngo’s, journalists, representatives, diplomats and family members of all the aforementioned, the total number of people drawn here by the institutions has surely well surpassed 100 000 by now, representing a significant part of the population. Together we form the so-called Eurobubble where the language spoken is this re-created English. As a group we, the Eurobubblers, tend to reject Brussels, deem it unworthy in comparison to our hometowns. But still we stay, while the list of our complaints about this town get longer.
Perhaps that is why get lost. perhaps it is because I wandered into this alternative reality where the centre of Brussels is Round Point Schuman, the place to be on a Thursday is called Place Lux (or Plux) and everybody is a intern, officer, coordinator or manager. Perhaps I followed the wrong map all along.