Chang­ing my mind about pi­geon English

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This week’s win­ner: a bird-themed res­tau­rant in Bruges wins over a scep­ti­cal

Laura Ans­bro

Hud­dling in the rain, my fin­ger jerks over the phone’s wet screen. “It has re­ally good re­views on­line,” my hus­band protests.

“Yes, but it has pi­geons speak­ing the menu in lit­tle speech bub­bles,” I re­ply grimly, “and a chil­dren’s menu. A chil­dren’s menu.”

These are not the marks of a good res­tau­rant. A chil­dren’s menu is the mark of a pretty bad res­tau­rant, in my book. And as for the il­lus­tra­tions show­ing plump pi­geons recit­ing dishes in Flem­ish and (here I shud­der) English, to my mind it is clearly aimed firmly at the poor taste and lim­ited lin­guis­tic skills of the tourist.

The fact that I speak only about 20 words of Flem­ish, painfully learnt from a free app in the pre­ced­ing weeks, is not the point. I have come to Bruges to eat au­then­tic Flem­ish food, and eat it I will, even if I have no idea what I am or­der­ing.

But it is my hus­band’s birth­day, and this is the res­tau­rant he has cho­sen. So, rather than dis­miss out of hand the pi­geons, English, and chil­dren’s menu, I agree to look again at the web­site.

As we stand there, bowed hoods drip­ping on to our soggy tod­dler, an el­e­gant and charis­matic woman sweeps down the steps and sizes us up, im­me­di­ately guess­ing the sub­ject of our dis­cus­sion. “I have a ta­ble for you. What na­tion­al­ity? French? English? Go in, go in and see. Our food is very good, de­li­cious. I have a ta­ble for you. My staff will look af­ter you.”

She re­minds me em­phat­i­cally of a hotelown­ing friend of my in-laws; grace­ful and charm­ing, but with a de­ter­mined un­stop­pa­bil­ity that has you bowled over and toe­ing the line with­out ques­tion. As my feet be­gin their in­evitable walk to­wards the front door, my mouth pa­thet­i­cally qua­vers, “Is it all

‘Yes, but it has a chil­dren’s menu,’ I grimly re­ply. ‘A chil­dren’s menu’

home­made?” in a last des­per­ate bid for in­de­pen­dent thought.

“Yes! Yes!” She ex­claims, “Ev­ery­thing home­made. I must go out, but my staff will look af­ter you. Go, go in.” Pow­er­less to re­sist, we traipse up the steps.

For­tu­nately, the wait­ers do look af­ter us, and the food is in­deed de­li­cious. We or­der from the pi­geon-il­lus­trated English menu (oh shame) but steer clear of the chil­dren’s sec­tion. We ad­mire the pi­geon place­mats with our son, who is much taken with a pic­ture of a pi­geon gaz­ing at an aero­plane.

Af­ter a meal of melt­ingly ten­der pi­geon – what else? – the waiter of­fers to show us the char­coal oven in which the food is cooked. He ad­dresses our son, “And what did you like best?”

“The bis­cuits,” comes the prompt re­ply, re­fer­ring to the savoury crack­ers brought with our pre-din­ner drinks. The waiter laughs.

You can be as big a food snob as you like, but a two-year-old will al­ways bring you right back down to earth. At least he didn’t eat any­thing he’d dropped on the floor this time.

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