Talking Dutch: The War of the Noses


A long-running battle between rival sweet traders on Ghent’s Groentenmarkt has taken a new twist

Derek Blyth on the cuberdon question

Sometimes, while you’re reading a Flemish newspaper, you come across a headline that makes no sense at all. Here is one that had me scratching my head while I sheltered from the rain in a Brussels cafe – Snoepkar omver gegooid in nieuwe ‘neuzekesrel’, it said in De Standaard.

You know what you’re meant to do when you come to a sentence like that. Take it one word at a time and break down those compound Dutch words into their different bits. So here we go.

A snoepkar is, reasonably enough, a kar – cart, selling snoep – sweets. And this sweet cart had been omver gegooid – overturned. But then you come to the puzzling part of the story – in nieuwe ‘neuzekesrel’ – in a new little nose riot.

Alert readers of Flanders Today might just remember that we have had little nose riots before. They are a speciality of Ghent, like veggiedag donderdag – vegetarian Thursday, and insectengerechten – insect cuisine. 

The Ghent War of the Noses, as historians might one day call it, involves two competing cart vendors on the Groentenmarkt who sell cuberdons – those incredibly sweet, purple, local specialities that are cone-shaped, or, as the Flemish are convinced, look like noses. Hence their nicknames for them: neusjes – little noses.

When you bite into them, incidently, they release a sticky liquid that dribbles down your nice clean clothes. 

Sticky situation

Beide handelaars beweren dat ze de beste snoepjes hebben en zeggen dat de tegenstander op ongeoorloofde wijze klanten afpakt – both traders claim that their sweets are the best and that their rival steals customers using unscrupulous methods.

It sounds familiar, like Pepsi vs Coke or Apple vs Samsung. Only the Ghent situation is in danger of turning into World War Three.

In 2011 werden er al eens klappen uitgedeeld in de ‘neuzekesoorlog’ – In 2011, the ‘noses war’ led to an exchange of blows – en in april trok de Gentse burgemeester de vergunning van de twee verkopers voor twee weken in na een nieuwe vechtpartij – and in April the mayor of Ghent suspended the two sellers’ trading licences for two weeks following another street fight.

And War of the Noses has now taken an unexpected turn. Op de Groentenmarkt heeft een ontevreden klant van een cuberdonverkoper donderdag het kraampje van de verkoper volledig vernield – on Thursday an unhappy customer who bought cuberdons from a seller on the Groentenmarkt destroyed the vendor’s cart, said a Ghent police spokesperson.

De klant had donderdagmorgen snoepjes gekocht aan het kraam, maar zou niet tevreden geweest zijn over de kwaliteit – the customer had bought the sweets at the stall but was disappointed by the quality.

Even werd gevreesd dat het incident een nieuwe confrontatie vormde in de Gentse ‘neuzekesoorlog’ – at first, people were afraid that this incident was another outburst in the Ghent ‘War of the Noses’.

But it was probably just another annoyed customer who had dribbled purple sticky liquid down his nice clean clothes.

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