I consider myself throughly Dutch, although I have spent part of my life in Belgium. Our family lived for several years in the Belgian Congo and much of my boyhood was spent there. Just months after leaving the Congo, I was enrolled in a secondary school in Antwerp, Belgium. In the Congo, of course, I and my friends wore short pants all the time in the hot tropical climate. Our Antwerp school had a uniform, but it was no longer strictly enforced. I was the youngest of my class and one of seven or eight boys who were still wearing short pants. I continued wearing short pants to school until I was 16 years old. I generally wore lederhosen as I participated in an Austraian and German Scout camps. Some Dutch boys at the time considered lederhosen too German. My parents were very interested that I learn English, which is part of the reason that they sent me to Scotland for several summers. Some friends there wore kilts, I stuck to my lederhosen.
Just months after fleeing the Congo, I was enrolled in a secondary school in Antwerp, Belgium. It was a college, which in Belgium means a grammar school (academicall oriented secondary school) for boys, run by Roman Catholic priests.
I should explain about Belgian schools. In the 19th century, all instruction was in French. Gradually the schools in Flanders where Dutch is spoken obtained the right to teach in Dutch. For many years students were required to take French. French was the "first
foreign language" which one was supposed to speak fluently after finishing the sixth form. English was "second foreign language" and considered far less important, being taught only one or two hours a week. My Antwerp secondary school was one of the first were
students could reverse that pattern if they so wished. I mention this because Belgian children have been affected by cultural and fashion trends in both the Netherlands and France and those influences have included clothing and fashion. For more information on this see Belgian language trends.
My parents were very interested that I
learn English, which is part of the reason that they sent me to Scotland. While I had studied Engish in school, had never had the
opportunity to speak English outside of school, although I must say that our teacher was very good. English classes were in English
at an early stage. We even had Mrs. Mosses come in -an
Irishwoman mind you--to teach us English pronunciation once a week. She also taught ballroom dancing for which I hate her to this very day.
But I did learn English and my Scottish visits were a wonderful opportunity to perfect it. Actually when I went to Scotland I spoke English much better than French. I learned some German at
school, by speaking to my Austrian relatives and when camping with the scouts in Austria and Germany but I never quite
mastered the grammar. My French only got better a few years later
The school had a uniform but it wasn't any longer rigidly enforced. In the Congo, of course, I and my friends wore short pants all the time in the hot tropical climate. Shorts were no longer quite so common in Belgium, although many boys (especially younger boys) still wore them. I was the youngest of my class and one of seven or eight boys who were still wearing short pants. They were mostly medium length about half way to the knee. More like today's boxer shorts for PE classes. We wore shorts all year round, Few of us changed to long pants even during the cold winter weather. The school uniform was dark blue worsted shorts. Many boys, howsever, wore Scout trousers. There were alsp a large variety of cloth in black, blue, grey, brown, beige, white and green if not in uniform. Some boys wore leather lederhosen. The uniform socks were grey kneesock with turnovers. The boys not in uniform wore a variety of other socks, but virtually all kneesocks. We had ankle socks for our PE uniform.
The school had a choir. Unlike us, they had to wear the uniform, dark blue worsted shorts. The only difference with the regular uniform was that the choristers wore white kneesocks.