A Beginner’s Guide To Carnival 2004

When I was in Belgium I had the awesome luck to attend Carnival in Malmedy.  Before this moment I had only associated Carnival with Rio and New Orleans, where people drink in the streets, parades were non-stop, and lots and lots of beads were involved.  Belgian Carnival’s not quite the same thing, which is sort of a relief for me.

Thankfully I had my friend as a guide.  We were accompanied by a new friend we’d met a few days ago, who was currently on exchange from Mexico (I bet he was loving the snow), and we picked up a few more friends throughout the day.

There are a lot of things I could say, but basically Carnival is crazy and exciting and a little bit terrifying (to an outsider).  That being said, if I ever went again, I’d be much more prepared and much less terrified.

After sampling a tasty waffle and purchasing some hot wine (both wonderful and delicious), we grabbed a spot where we could watch the parade.  There were numerous marching bands, a lot of people in different costumes, and so much to look at.  Sadly, my memory is not what it once was, but I still remember enough to be semi-helpful if you ever find yourself in the middle of Belgium Carnival.

The “Characters of Carnival”  (I was going to look for the actual names of the characters, but my Google-fu is severely lacking today, possibly due to my inability at French, so enjoy my made up names of the characters):

So much going on!
So much going on!

The Baker:  The guys with the white coats, pretzels, big cheeks and wooden trays.  The purpose of these people (usually men) is to smack women on the butt with their wooden trays.

The Hat-Stealer: The people dressed up like clowns (specifically the pink coat/white pants wearing person on the right).  I don’t know if you can see it, but they have arms on sticks that they use to make their arms longer.  Their purpose (what I could gather) is to steal someone’s hat and put it on another person’s head.

How can there still be more?!
How can there still be more?!

Haguette (sp?): The person with the black & red costume with the crazy feather hat is known as Haguette.  The wooden thing she’s holding opens and stretches out.  Haguette apparently picks people out of the crowd, “grabs” them with the wooden thing, and then you have to kneel and say “Pardon Haguette” before you will be released.

Side note: Since I was such a fish out of water I made sure to memorize that saying just in case I was “caught” by Haguette.  I never was (apparently they take it easy on the non-locals or people who look scared in general), but I still remember those words today.

(And yes, the bakers come in mini-size)

The team
The team

The Waldo Team: Yet another thing I was a little scared of.  These guys/girls wear masks and travel around in groups of 6 or so.  They find someone in the crowd and start mimicking everything that person does until that person relents and buys them each a drink.  I was told that they usually pick on people they know, so I didn’t get followed (*relief*).  They did follow someone we’d met that day and boy did he work them – jogging, jumping jacks, push ups.  Then he bought them each a drink and all was well. 

Clowns and Oranges
Clowns and Oranges

Orange-Throwing Clown Guys: Not scary, but they throw oranges into the crowd, so be careful you don’t get hit on the head by a random orange.  Also, if you decide to throw an orange back at them, please aim carefully and don’t hit one of them in the head with it.  Even if it wasn’t you who threw the orange you will feel a little guilty for being an accomplice.

There are lots of other characters, but those are the ones I was the most afraid of who  were the most active.  I realize that it is possible that things have changed since then (or that my friend was messing with me and giving me wrong information), so think of this as a snapshot into the past.  (Time travel – woo!)

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