Unexpected Traveller: Gare du Midi – lost by translation
Confused by Belgium's train station signs in different languages? Antoine discovers the confusion for newcomers between Bruxelles-Midi and Brussels-Zuid at Gare du Midi.
The Unexpected Parents are visiting. This is their first time in the land of the Belgians and while they are seasoned travellers in their own right, their French is weak and their Flemish is non-existent. I make sure they have my number before they go to explore on their own.
All is well of course, and I worry needlessly. The Unexpected Father makes sure that the relevant information about trams, destinations, tram stop names is in his back pocket. All goes well. Apart from today.
Today, he set forth on his own to the airport as he had a meeting with a business associate. Before leaving, the two of us where lolling in my kitchen making ourselves and our better halves some tea. We had often done this when I was younger, he making the tea and me feeling important because I put the cups onto a tray. It was still dark outside, and as the city awakened, I realised that the comfortable sensation of family is something that can take you back to a specific instant in your past. Mental time travel, I suppose.
You have arrived
He interrupted my reminisces to ask me about the train that will bring him back to Gare Du Midi – the prime train station in Brussels.
“Which platform does that leave from?”
“Could be anyone, Dad, make sure you check the monitors. There is no dedicated platform for that train.”
“Okay. How many stops till it gets to Gare Du Midi?”
“Depends. If it’s the express, which is likely, it would be the third stop from the airport. If it’s a slow train, then it would be the...,” I count the stops mentally, “...fifth one, I think.”
“Okay.” He sounded unconvinced.
“Keep an eye out for the signs at the train stations – you can’t miss those. As soon as you see Gare Du Midi, get off.”
He leaves, satisfied with the directions.
A few hours later, after the sun crept up over the horizon and fought its way through the clouds, I looked at my watch and realised that he probably will be pulling into Gare Du Midi soon. Figuring that he’ll catch the next tram home, I expected him shortly.
Ten minutes later, I got a phone call.
“Hello Dad, what’s up?”
“I think I must have missed Gare Du Midi,” he said nonchalantly.
I have visions of him wandering around Antwerp, Amsterdam or, perhaps, Andalusia.
“I see. And where are you then?”
He reads out the station name and I recognise it for one that is not too far from here. I call a taxi and send them to pick him up.
When he gets back and I hear the story, I realise that the problem is in Gare Du Midi itself. While the entire city is bilingual and pretty much everything is in both languages, the signs at the train stations are not. The French and Flemish version of the station names are on different signs, several feet apart from one another. Dad looked out of his carriage window, saw 'Brussels-Zuid', shrugged and continued reading his paper.
A station by any other name would smell just as bad
Why do they do that?
Odd Signs keep you worrying about your parents? Leave us a comment and tell us about them!
The Unexpected Traveller, who occasionally answers to the name of Antoine, works in the murky world of IT where he does lots of stuff he can't explain to his grandparents. He travels, for fun or for work or for funny work, and enjoys noticing that the world is full of odd and strange wonders. He writes about his stories and encounters on his blog. You can find unexpectedness as it happens on Twitter or spot him lurking on Facebook.
Photo credit: R/DV/RS
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