Beer Sign Language in Flanders, Belgium Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Beer Sign Language in Flanders, Belgium

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Should you find yourself thirsty in our galaxy, with its infinite number of languages, there's every chance that you will not be able to convey to the locals that you are in dire need of a drink. Still, if you find yourself in this condition in the Dutch-speaking part1 of Belgium, you can resort to 'Beer Sign Language'.

This Sign Language is not official and is simply a series of gestures commonly used in bars, at parties and anywhere else it is too noisy to order a drink without using a megaphone or getting Celine Dion to do it for you.

1. E pinke

The basic drink in a Flemish pub is a pintje or e pinke2. This is a simple lager, a 250ml glass of beer, cooled and with a nice foam head of about 2cm. The universal Flemish sign is simply making a fist, but showing your little finger (pinkie), like a posh lady might do while drinking tea. Pink in Dutch also means your pinkie, hence the sign. If you feel really thirsty and want to order more than one: just show the amount you need first with your hand (eg, showing the universal3 sign for '5') and then, with the same hand, make the Beer Sign.

A variation of this is nen 33er. This is a glass of beer, but instead of 250ml, it contains 330ml (or 33cl, hence the name). It is not available in all pubs, though. The sign goes as follows: both hands are held, one above the other, about 10cm apart. Both hands have the palms directed to the ground. When they are in this position and you have made eye contact with the bartender, you raise the upper hand a few centimetres. It's like first indicating how big the average Smurf is and then showing how big Gargamel is.

2. Nen Duvel

A Duvel4 is a blond, bitter beer. Something you need when either really thirsty or in need of a kick in the liver. Duvel is also Flemish slang for 'devil', so the sign will be quite clear. Use both index fingers to simulate horns on your head.

3. Ne Palm

Palm is an amber-coloured beer, typical for Flanders. Palm in Dutch means the same as in English; the underside of your hand. The sign is self-evident: just show the palm of your hand. This is sometimes emphasised by pointing to and touching the palm with the index finger of the other hand. Otherwise you would just look like a very friendly person saying hello to the bartender. And, although it is nice to be thought of as friendly, you will remain thirsty.

4. Ne Cola

Cola or Coke. The most widespread beverage known to the galaxy, besides gin and tonic. Just form the letter 'C' with your left index finger and thumb, the same way you would gesture 'something small' (the fingertips of both fingers facing each other).

5. Ne Mazout

Mazout5 is a light fuel oil in Dutch, used, for example, for central heating. You can imagine what this drink looks like (and in this researcher's opinion, tastes too). It is a mixture of Coca Cola and lager: one third coke with two-thirds beer added. You have to be careful, because an enormous amount of light brown foam is produced while you are adding the beer. If you leave it to stand for a couple of minutes, you will notice that the beer and the Coke start to separate, resulting in small flecks of Coke in the beer. The foam just falls apart into a brown smudge. On the other hand, this drink is a nice combination of sweet (the Coke) and bitter (the beer) and can be refreshing on a hot summer's day. The sign is based on the 'Coke' sign, described above. You form the letter 'C' with the index finger and thumb of the left hand and use the index finger of the right hand and place it vertically in front of formed 'C', thus parting it in two. You can compare it with the '$' sign, only you use a 'C' instead of an 'S'. What you are doing, is parting the letter 'C' in half, vertically. You get something like this: ยข. So you are actually saying to the bartender that you want half a Coke. And since Flemish people don't believe in half glasses, they simply add the beer.

Based on this theme, there are several other drinks, such as Kivelah6 (lemonade, mostly Sprite, and beer), a half-en-halfke7, which is Grenadine (pomegranate syrup) with beer, and many more. Most of these are very local: Kivelah can also be sparkling water with beer, depending on the region you are in. No signs are developed for these. The reason for this is that these concoctions are of such a degree of unpleasantness, that no sign should ever be allowed to be developed. This prohibition is based on the Universal Human Rights Declaration by the United Nations8.

What if it doesn't work?

A number of solutions present themselves. You can always run to the nearest hardware store and buy a megaphone or any other sound enhancement device. Making a quick phone call to Sony Music and booking Celine Dion can help, but by the time she arrives, you will probably have died of thirst. Of course, learning Dutch is a simple solution, as may be buying a dictionary. And if all else fails: take a taxi to Zaventem9, buy a ticket home and go to your local pub.

Enjoy, but drink with measure.

1Flanders, the northern part of Belgium, bordering The Netherlands.2Pronounce (written phonetically): 'A 'pi[ng]-kA3Be careful which direction your palm is facing; showing it towards a person can be interpreted as very rude in some countries.4Pronounce: 'duuvAl5Pronounce: ma-'zoot6Pronounce: 'ke-vo-la7Half-and-half8 Actually, it isn't, but it should be.9The national airport of Belgium

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