Two years ago today, I got off a Lufthansa flight from LAX to Munich and passed through Schengenland customs. I had originally been scheduled to fly on September 12, from San Francisco to Brussels via Frankfurt, but when it became plain that no one was going to be flying on September 12th, I called Lufthansa and changed my flight before the rush. After five hours in LAX getting past security (I had a very scruffy beard and a well-worn passport full of Asian entry stamps, so I got picked for a “special” screening) and ten hours in the air, I passed through customs in Munich, getting nothing but the most cursory glace at my Canadian passport and Belgian student visa from the Bundespolizei, even though it was barely a week after September 11. There was no passport check at all when I landed in Brussels.
My biggest surprise in moving to Flanders was how easy it is to get by here. Language doesn’t constitute a huge barrier either to school or to employment. My landlord doesn’t speak English, but he is old enough that he speaks fluent French, so my lease is actually in that language. I think finding an apartment is the only thing I’ve done here where I couldn’t use English.
There are a lot of non-natives living in Belgium who primarily use English, many of them are also non-native English speakers. There are so many that I’m beginning to think they form a sort of “Euroanglo” culture that merits some study. It is a culture that has adopted largely continental norms, but that still speaks English and has a set of common cultural references taken largely from the anglophone world.