Living in two time zones

One of the fundamental laws of physics can be reduced to “you can only be in one place at a time”.  The greatest challenges in quantum physics have been in trying to explain “action at a distance”, even when you flip a light switch, it doesn’t get dark until the circuit that was broken by flipping the switch no longer provides electricity to the light bulb and the light that had already been produced passes beyond you. You may not be capable of measuring that short interval of time, because the electricity and light are traveling at the speed of light over very short distances, but the light is not affected instantaneously.

Yeah, give me a challenge.

I am living in two worlds. Well, from some vantage points it may look like fourteen, but from an Earthbound observation it appears to be two.

My wife is fluent in two languages, Flemish and English, she is comfortable in French (I’m working on breaking her of that nasty habit), and can get by in German and Spanish. It is fairly normal for Europeans to speak more than one language. I have a talent for languages, but at 55 I’m having a little trouble picking up Flemish. I thought it would take three months, it’s been three years and I am far from fluent. I type mostly by sight, so getting used to the keyboards means my typing will slow down, but my spelling won’t be affected. The layout is called AZERTY instead of QWERTY.

Azerty keyboard

AZERTY keyboard

But language is not the only thing I need to know in duplex in order to survive in Belgium, so I have started making other conversions in my daily life as I prepare to infiltrate Flanders. Fortunately I will not be the only stranger in a strange land. When Lieve left Belgium, Baudouin was king and the currency was Belgian Francs. She moved to England so she missed the conversion to the Euro and Albert II’s entire reign.

I’ve been comfortable with the metric system most of my life, in fact I prefer it. Lieve has always stayed with Celsius temperatures, so I’ve been adapting to thinking in both measurements, and finding my lag time in converting annoying only in that I forget which measurement I’m using. Following the weather on my computer, set to Celsius, and then watching the evening news weather forecast isn’t a problem, but during a cold spell if I check the long term forecast on the computer I have to remember those sub zero temperatures are sub freezing, less than 32°F, and not below  0°F which is -18°C.

Measures of volume are easier in metric, I still have trouble remembering when an ounce is a measure of weight or volume, so working in grams and liters is much more comfortable. Unfortunately, we have cookbooks in several languages, with the ones from England being the most difficult to translate as they use imperial units, based on an ounce of 0.96076 American ounces, and pints of twenty imperial ounces or 1.2009 American pints. Temperatures are often expressed as gas marks, which can be be a number or a phrase. 350°F equals 177°C, which is gas mark “4” or “moderate/medium”. I was totally lost the first time I came across the line, “set oven to 4”.

I don’t have any issues with the Euro, the coins make as much sense as American coins, which are still beyond Lieve’s comprehension (she can’t follow why the relative size of coins don’t reflect their value, why a dime is smaller than a nickel, although that holds  true in every currency). She still calls dollars “pounds”. Coin values in Euros follow the decimal system that we use here and Britain adopted in 1971, and one and two Euro coins are common in use, meaning a handful of change may turn out to be worth 20€. The notes are much more interesting, and denominations are not only different sizes, they are different colors. What she has pointed out is we need to learn the value of a Euro, what should a loaf of bread cost, or a kilo potatoes?

I’ve been bi-coastal most of my life, my mother lives in the Pacific time zone and my father has stayed in the central time zone for the most part, while I’ve been in the Eastern time zone for most of the last thirty years. Belgium is in Central European Time zone, GMT (now called UTC) plus one hour. They use daylight savings, or “Summer time”, but the dates time changes is different. My mom will be nine hours “earlier” than we are, which means if I call her at noon it will be 0300 for her. The latitude is 50°N, making the daylight hours different, Philly is 39°N and Dallas 32°N.

At least they drive on the right, as in correct, right hand side of the road. Trying to get used to left side driving while living in the states could be disastrous. Although I did enjoy driving a left steer vehicle back in the 70s, easier to parallel park being on the curb side. Although with the price of Gasoline (Petrol for the English, Benzine in Flemish) will likely curtail my driving more than anything else. The average price today (4 March) is 1.53€ per liter. That’s 5.78€ per gallon, or $7.96 per gallon, well over twice the price in New Jersey today. On the other hand, I don’t recall a single pot hole during my time in Belgium.

There are a number of adjustments to be made, some can wait until I get there, some have to, and some I can make while I wait. Trying to place my mind in both locations is a healthy exercise, but it can be dizzying.


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