Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ink tube?

We've started taking a Flemish class, and we've been practicing with gusto ("Ik kom uit Boston! Ik woon in Leuven, waar woon jij?" "Alsjeblieft, alsjeblieft, alsjeblieft" etc).

Each class is two hours, and we get a 10-minute break in the middle of each class, so we've been doing a little socializing too. Aaron and I are the only Americans out of about 25 students, and here are some of the questions we were asked at break today:

"Why do the political parties have colors?"

"What do you call the tube in the middle of a ball point pen with the ink in it?"

"America is very politically correct; if a man holds a door for a woman, will he get yelled at or sued?"

We also learned that in Russia, roller coasters are called "American mountains" while in Spain they are called "Russian mountains" Moreover, in Russia, the word for "uranium tube" and the word for "tube in the middle of a ball point pen that holds ink" are in fact the same word (upon learning this, I did not crack any cold war jokes, but it took a lot of willpower).

In Australia, are they Spanish Mountains?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

bug in google translate

For some reason, google translates "nederlands" the Dutch word for "Dutch," to "English..."

My contributions so far have not changed anything.

I guess they're still working the bugs out.

It's just as well - I'm already noticing that I'm less dependent on google translate. I just began a class a week ago, but just being in an immersion class lets you pick up on (simple, slowly spoken) conversations and a lot of written material.

Monday, February 2, 2009

garderobe defect

The heartbeat of America.

Sadly, this year Katie and I aren't enjoying the Super Bowl in the company of friends who care more about football than us. There is a university holiday tomorrow, so in theory we could stay up until 5:00 AM watching at a bar, but honestly, without the friends (and chicken wings) ... meh.

We have been able to track Super Bowl's prestige on Google trends, though.

The top 100 searches on google now. Mmmm... chicken wings.

Looking at the peaks for searches for the term "Super Bowl" over the past four years (screenshot up top), notice the huge surge around 2004. Perhaps the game was 4X more interesting that year, but Katie's probably right that the peak related more to Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction.

Alas we'll have to live memorable moments in American popular media history from afar, days after they happen, via web-clips.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

uitgezonderd fietsen (except bikes)

Signage and Cycling In Leuven

Belgium is known for perennially wet streets, and though the buses are free for students and run often, the most common mode of transportation for Leuven students is by bike. Because of the heavy non-motorized traffic, there are a good number of signs and special road markings just for bikes and pedestrians. Trained to walk in the "pedestrian is always right" walkways of the US, it's taken a little adjusting to heed street signage. And though I don't have a bike yet, it will be important to learn what the signage means as the rules strictly enforced by the "stadpolitie" -- a friend of Katie's recently received a 150 euro fine for riding his bike the wrong way on a one-way street.

To help incoming international students get acquainted with the rules and regulations that apply to cyclists, An Goedefroy, a Leuven "Police-Inspector and Studentcop" wrote a simple (6 mb, 88-page .pdf!) guide to biking. Fortunately, the rules aren't really that complicated -- this guide is full of white space and (sometimes funny) pictures -- a quick read that is a helpful introduction to the general rules of the road.

Road rules are basically the same as in the states -- drive on the right, stop at red lights, yield to pedestrians -- and for the most part, the signage is easy to interpret. That said...

I would not have guessed the meaning of these signs a priori.

This does not mean that pedestrians are not allowed, it means that the pedestrian-only zone is now ending.

Signs are modified by special cases, which hang on a sign below. Here, the stop sign is clear enough, but it only applies to bikes.

Once you learn that uitgezonderd means "except for" these signs are pretty clear.

One difference in rules between the States and Belgium is at at four way intersections without street signs, where you don't need to stop unless someone is approaching, then "yield to the right" rules come into play.

Sign B15 would let you know that you had right of way. Without it, even if you think you are on a more "main road," you still must yield.

My suspicion is that these intersections really only happen in rural areas or in low-speed-limit neighborhoods, where any reasonable person would slow down no matter where they learned to drive.

Another difference between Belgium and the US is that white lines down the middle of the road means that traffic goes two ways. On the first day I arrived in Leuven I did not realize this, and there were a few occasions where in my jet lagged state of awareness, I accidentally stepped out into oncoming traffic without looking.

The best part about the guide, though, are the funny pictures.

Re: lower left, I could see a bike going down, but up ... ?

Road-painters' scrap paper?

"They'll get the idea"