Thursday, June 6, 2013

Pour yourself a cuppa and pull up a chair...

via email (make sure you watch the youtube link and read the conversation over 'tea':

Dear Founding Bettys and Betty van den Betsy:

Didn't know if you'd seen this, and/or if you thought it worthy of inclusion in the blog:

The Rijksmuseum museum in Holland had an idea:
Let's bring the art to the people and then, hopefully,
they will come to see more - at the museum. >
They took one Rembrandt painting from 1642,
Guards of the Night and brought to life the characters in it,
placed them in a busy mall and the rest you can see for yourself! > >

This afternoon, I had tea with the British Army and Dutch Army wives in the neighborhood.  Both had read a couple of my books to prepare for my questions.  I made sure to include some with Evil or Dirty Belgians.

We drank "American tea"  -- "A happy medium dear....not as strong as British tea, not colored hot water as is drunk in Holland" and had scones and Madeira cake.  The Madeira cake was buttery yet dry.....if you could imagine shortbread crossed with cake, that would be it.  Properly made tea -- loose leaf, in a proper pot, in Spode teacups, with milk and sugar.

Regarding tying hair back with "a handy bootlace" "a bit of twine" "a handy ribbon":
British Betty (BB) "I should like to send your Betty a packet of proper hair elastics.  We did have those readily available from any proper chemist when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s."
Dutch Betty (DB) "I thought my English wasn't as good as it should be when I read those bits, why on earth would anyone do that?"

Regarding all the faithful retainers who stay with the heroine or the heroine's family when said family can't afford them:  
BB:  I don't think Americans would ever understand how it would be more important to keep paying the faithful retainers' salaries than to pay for university for strapping young heroines.  It is a moral obligation; I would consider it quite despicable to abandon retainers.
DB:  The Dutch don't quite get that, either.  Or at least those in my income bracket don't.

Regarding the convenient exchange programs between Dutch and English hospitals:  
BB: We do relate better to the Dutch than other Europeans, but I have only seen these exchanges in NATO hospitals.
DB:  I've never seen a British nurse in a Dutch hospital.

Regarding the NHS:
BB:  One should strive to be a private patient in Britain.  

Regarding nurses' uniforms:
BB: Some still wear sister's caps, which Americans always think look like nun's headgear.  Most wear scrubs.  None wear cuffs anymore.

Since BB had read Roses Have Thorns, I asked how the servants knew Sarah was from "the other side of the baize door":
BB:  The accent.  Sarah would have had a posh accent.  The servants would not have.
Me:  What does a posh accent sound like?
BB:  I have a posh accent.  Don't you watch Downton Abbey?
Me:  No.
BB:  You should.  Listen to the different accents.  You can even hear them in old reruns of Upstairs/Downstairs.
DB:  I watch Downton Abbey, and I haven't noticed different accents.
BB:  My dear DB, you are becoming downright American!

The ladies were, I thought, sufficiently warmed up to hit them up with my real question:  what about the Belgians?

BB:  Oh, dear, not until we've had some sherry.
DB:  Did you get it at the British Exchange?  I can't find decent sherry here.
(Note to self:  Time to take advantage of my military ID and shop at the British Exchange.  Wonderful sherry!  Once I find the Exchange, I'll pick up an extra bottle for BvdB)

Me:  So, about the Belgians...
BB:  Not until our second glasses.

Me:  We are midway through third glasses.  Can I ask you about the Belgians now?

This is the point in the conversation where both ladies insisted I not use their names.  They do not want to be quoted saying anything that might not be complimentary about a NATO ally.  "We have to be nice to the Belgian wives at NATO teas, you know."

DB:  You've been to Belgium, haven't you?  What did you observe?
Me:  Well, we only went to Bastogne, which was pretty much a WWII museum and tourist town catering to Americans.  But it looked a lot like Holland, and they even spoke Dutch.
DB:  (Gasps)
BB:  My dear, they speak Flemish in Belgium.
Me:  What is the difference between Flemish and Dutch?
DB: (Snorts and coughs) BB, do you have any gin?

(Gin and tonics served.  I'm allergic to juniper, so was able to stick to sherry.  I think G&T tastes like sugared petrol, glad to have developed the juniper allergy.)

DB: (Drains a good third of her G&T)  Flemish is a dialect of Dutch which can be unpleasant to the Dutch ear.  Unless you are in northern Belgium, near the Dutch border, where the Belgians speak proper Dutch.
Me:  But I could understand Flemish just as well as Dutch.
DB:  You speak Dutch?
Me:  No, but I speak German, and anyone who can speak both German and English can understand enough Dutch to survive.
DB:  (Drinking deeply) BB, could I please have a refill?  Back to your comment....I presume you couldn't hear the difference in the Dutch and Flemish accents?
Me:  No
DB:  Far more marked than the difference between posh English and servant English.  I don't find Flemish attractive.
BB:  I confess I have trouble telling them apart as well.
DB:  But if you were in Bastogne, you would not have heard proper Dutch.  That is Walloon country.  Most of the people would be speaking French.
Me:  My husband speaks French, but he couldn't understand Belgian French.  Most of the Belgians spoke Flemish to me when they realized I could sort of understand them, even though they could speak English.  

BB:  I think we have to address the dirty, shifty, untrustworthy Belgians who mistreat animals and women depicted in the World of Betty.  Her Belgians are just a step up from Travelers.
Me:  Travelers are Gypsies, yes?
BB:  (Also gulping gin)  Dear heavens, Betty is talking about Irish Travelers!  There aren't many gypsies left, Hitler wiped most of them out.
Me: Oh, my.  It was not pleasant flying to Dublin from London with an American passport and an Irish last name.
BB:  I imagine not.  You would be pegged as an American IRA supporter by security.
Me:  I got the "suspected terrorist" screening.
DB:  Back to the Belgians.  Did you not notice how dirty Belgium was?
Me:  Dirty?
DB:  They don't sweep their streets and sidewalks or wash their windows, particularly down south, not like we do in Holland.
Me:  Oh, like we had to do when we lived in Germany?  (We had to sweep the sidewalk and street in front of our house every Saturday, and wash the windows weekly, or our German neighbors would politely tell us to do it.)
DB:  Yes.  The Belgians take after the French that way.
Me:  The French are also dirty?
DB:  You've been to Paris? You see the litter and the dirt and the grime during the day?  It's only magical at night when you can't see the filth.
Me:  Well, Paris was NOT as clean as Germany, Holland, or Britain.
DB:  It even smells bad.
Me:  Well, yes.
DB:  Europe is becoming Americanized; the people are adopting American hygiene standards, so these distinctions are becoming more and more blurred.  The EU is causing even more European homogenization.  In your Betty's youth, there would have been a marked difference between Dutch and English hygiene and Belgian and French hygiene.  The French were kind of smelly, which they disguised with fabulous perfume, and their hygiene standards were dismissed as unimportant in comparison to their contributions to culture.  The Belgians were just like the French, but without the culture.  That is probably what your Betty perceived.
Me:  That sounds like her Belgians.
DB:  But Belgian chocolate is spectacular.
BB:  Better than Swiss chocolate!
Me:  Do they sell Belgian chocolate at the British Exchange?

By this point, I had lost count of the glasses of sherry I'd tossed off, and DB had fallen asleep on BB's couch after her third or fourth G&T.  It was time for the big guns:
Me:  So, why would Betty have considered America "the place where only vulgar characters relocate".
BB:  Because compared to Brits, you Americans are rather coarse and vulgar.  Oh dear, I could have put that better, it must be the gin talking.

I thought it prudent to stumble home at this point.  So glad I walked!