Sunday, August 11, 2013

Going to the movies in Belgium

I don't know why I haven't posted about this topic before now. I love movies, and I especially love going to the movie theater to see them on the big screen. In fact, it's one of the first things I experienced in Belgium that gave me that sense of culture shock--of suddenly finding myself in an alternate universe where things are almost the same as in "my world" but not quite...

If you go to a movie theater in Belgium, it looks just like a movie theater in the U.S. Here in Hasselt, we have a giant multiplex with 10 or 12 screens that's part of a cinema chain called Kinepolis. You go in, choose your movie and buy your ticket...

And here's the first odd thing about going to the movies in Belgium: All the screenings start at (approximately) the same time. The first one is at 2:00 pm, the second one around 5:00, then another one at 8:00 and the late show is around 10:30. There's some variation--the first showing might be at 1:45 or 2:15, for instance--but in general the times are fixed and they're on the quarter-hour.

Where I come from, every movie has different start times, depending on the length of the movie. The theater allows just enough time to clear and clean the room and then a new screening starts. What's nice about this system is that if you're running late and miss your movie, you can just choose another one that's starting soon. But you do have to check the schedule to find out when your movie is showing, whether it's 3:35 or 7:10 or whatever.

Once you have your ticket, you hand it to the attendant who tears off the stub and hands it back to you. That's perfectly normal. And then you proceed to the concession stand to buy your popcorn... But beware! This is very important: The popcorn in Belgium is SWEET. That's right. They put sugar instead of butter and salt on the popcorn in the movie theaters. 

At Kinepolis, they sometimes have salted popcorn too, but there's just a few sad buckets of it and it's usually kind of stale. Because no one eats it except me.

Also: You can buy beer and wine and take it into the theater. Back in Los Angeles, there's a fancy movie theater called the Arclight, which has a bar. You have to drink your beer or cocktail at the bar, unless it's a special 21-and-over screening, in which case you can take your drink with you but they check your I.D. In Belgium, you just grab your beer instead of a Coke and take it to the register along with your popcorn, candy and nachos.

So now you're comfortably ensconced in your seat with your alcoholic beverage and sweet popcorn, waiting for the movie to start at the designated time... and waiting... and waiting. Hey, wasn't this movie supposed to start at 8:00? Well, here in Belgium, the posted start times are 15 minutes before the movie starts. And by "movie," I mean the previews. So I've learned to show up at the theater at the posted start time. Which I guess is the point.

Finally, the movie starts, and it's great. You're really getting into the story, things are starting to get exciting, the action reaches a critical juncture--and then the movie stops and the lights come up.

Huh? What's happening? Is there a problem? And why is no one reacting?

Well, that's because it's time for intermission. Halfway through the movie, there's a 10-minute break--presumably to let people go to the bathroom and buy more sweet popcorn. It can happen mid-scene, even mid-sentence, without any regard for dramatic tension or story coherence. To me, it's simply outrageous. I'd rather choose when to interrupt my movie-going experience in order to go pee, even if it means missing 5 minutes of the movie.

So there you have it: Your complete guide to going to the movies in Belgium. I wish someone had prepped me before my first trip to the theater. Between the sweet popcorn, the delayed start time and the sudden interruption, I was thoroughly confused. I'm getting used to it now--but I still miss butter on my popcorn.