Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Some things about Belgium

I have been remiss. What have I told you about Belgium in the 14 months I have been blogging? Almost nothing. Ok, there was the highly informative 'Belgium with toys'. But since then? I think you need a cultural primer. It might have to be in several parts as I gradually remember stuff about Belgium that I may have supressed.


1. Belgium is not France

Some, including a number of the Space Cadette's friends, doubt the existence of Belgium, or think of it as a large French city. But Belgium is emphatically NOT France. The French would be the first to tell you this. They tell jokes about Belgians like the British tell jokes about the Irish. They are keen to emphasise how un-Belgian they are.

Belgians have special words for croissants (couque) and zips (tirette) and bottoms (pet) that the French find endlessly funny, especially when coupled with Belgian accents. They have their own Belgian system of numbering, that whilst much more logical and faster than the French one, is derided as ridiculous by the French. "Nonante?!!" mock the French, clutching their sides, "Quatre vignt dix, voyons!" . No matter that this is the equivalent of an English speaker saying 'four twenty ten" instead of "ninety". No, the Belgian way is the wrong way because French superiority is beyond challenge.

Of course, only half of Belgium even speaks French. The other half are allowed to use any numbers they want. The French are magnanimous like that. French visitors will speak to them loudly in French regardless.


2. There are plenty of famous Belgians

Si si si. The reason noone thinks there are any famous Belgians is that Belgium was in fact only invented yesterday. If I can just drift slightly off topic for a moment, predictably it hasn't turned out to be such a great idea, plastering a boundary around a disparate group of mittel-Europeans none of whom speak the same language in an aribtrarily created 'country', but at least in Belgium noone kills each other about it. This is ethnic conflict for the terminally laid back and quite right too.

Anyway. There are lots of people who were 'Belgian' before Belgium, like Breughel and um, other people. You can suggest almost anyone is actually Belgian if you do it with enough conviction. Watch.

E: Elton John is actually Belgian, you know.

Visitor: Wow, really?

E: Oh yes. He was born in Charleroi. Tom Cruise too.

Visitor: That's amazing!

I have derived this foolproof technique from my finals, where I tested my theory that as long as you give a date with sufficient conviction, and the event in question is at least slightly obscure, it will be accepted unquestioningly by the examiners. It is not entirely excluded that I may have actually made up some events in non-conformist religious history in the eighteenth century entirely. Plausibility is all.

So. There are some famous Belgians, but in any event it doesn't matter, you can say anyone is Belgian. Try it!


3. They say 'please' when they give you something which is plain weird and when you end up doing it yourself you have assimilated and there is NO HOPE.

I mean in shops and restaurants and so on, when they give you your change or your food or whatever. I suspect this makes sense in Dutch, where you say alstublief. S'il vous plaît already sounds strange, and when they actually do it in English it is WRONG. But soon enough, you find it creeping into your speech patterns until you hand a stick to your dog whilst saying 'please' and then you might as well go and jump off the top of the Atomium for there is no escape.


4. Even the Prime Minister doesn't know the Belgian national anthem

This is absolutely TRUE. The Belgian National Anthem is a plinky plonky piece of nonsense called La Brabançonne. But when Yves Leterme, one of the five or six job sharing prime ministers that spin around the surreal carousel of Belgian politics, was asked to sing it, he sang La Marseillaise instead.


5. The King of Belgium does NOT give you a driving licence for your 18th birthday

I know this because when I googled it the only thing that comes up is this blog. That's fact checking for you, right there.


6. There are so many ministers in the Belgian government that if you throw a stone in any direction off the top of the Atomium you are 100% guaranteed to hit one

At any one time 67% of the population of Belgium is holding ministerial office in one capacity or another. The rest are taking it in turns to be Prime Minister.


I do hope this helps. If you have further questions about Belgium do please put them in the comments box.

32 comments:

monk said...

You are very wise. When I'm back we can do a field trip with a clipboard and back packs and see how many situations can be resolved with a simple s'il vous plait. I suspect many, we could perhaps even form a stable government. It's probably your turn to be a minister anyway.

Pochyemu said...

What I've got from this is not so much a fact about Belgium, but a fact about the French. And that fact is: the French are the Americans of continental Europe.

By this I mean, unless absolutely necessary they will speak nothing but French, as pretty much everyone should be speaking French as a rule. Also, can we say Superiority Complex.

However, comparing chauvanistic nations to Americans is nothing new. The French may be the Americans of continental Europe, but the British are the Americans of Europe in it's entirity (we can include Russia in this example), whereas the Americans are the Americans of the whole world...if you can see my point.

Anyway. Whatever. Belgians rule and the French drool and their little Frenchy noses are all bent out of shape about it.

Joad said...

Eddy Merckx? Jacques Brel? Albeit neither clung to their home turf. Much appreciated, and feel much enlightened by your blog

pellegrina4 said...

Very informative and I am most impressed that you got through without mention of the enigma of that naked boychild in no way concealing his 'ablutions'. I'd pay to have him perched on the Atomium.

I always assumed kitchen items bearing the name Brabantia must hail from Gauvresdom. I am probably wrong. I do however, remember a Belgian king with a bizarre moniker, like Baldhead or something. They just have to be different, or at least definitely not French.

Iheartfashion said...

Didn't Van Gogh live for a time in Belgium, or am I just making that up? Either way.

Laura and Ben said...

You'll probably hit upon some actual Belgians by fluke with your method. Famous people who were at least born there include Tony Parker (Mr Eva Longoria), the little guy from Placebo and Audrey Hepburn. I also thought Jean Reno was Belgian but apparently that was just a clever ruse to make me move here.

Juci said...

1. The Swiss have taken it a step further and they even say huitante instead of quatre-vingt. Yay for them.
2. Amélie Nothomb. Vaya Con Dios. Magritte. Rubens. Nothing to be ashamed of.
3. Now you've got me confused. What do the French say when they hand you your change or your merchandise? Don't they say s'il vous plait as well? Is this only a Belgian thing? I can't remember from the last time I've been to France.
6. But he used to, to my knowledge. Beware of the old chaps with the numberplates that have white numbers on red background. They got their driving licenses before the dawn of time when they were just giving them out to all and sundry.

Fat Controller said...

No fair!!!! You've taken all the fun out of the 'Name six famous Belgians' game which I always win with my triple-whammy of Audrey Hepburn, Egide Walschaerts (go on, Google him, you know you want to) and The Singing Nun.

Maybe Belgians don't get their driving licenses automatically on their 18th birthdays-they just drive like that. I have witnessed, on the motorway near Bruges, a car which not only managed to find the only other vehicle on that carriageway at 3am on a Sunday morning, but also contrived to collide with it in the outside lane.

peevish said...

God, I love it when you get all educational. I think I should get a few college credits for absorbing this. Unless there is an exam, in which case, never mind.

emily said...

interesting AND informative -a rare combination anywhere else in the world but not here!

expateek said...

But Pochyemu, don't you think that the people of Staines are the Americans of Surrey? And I'm positive that the denizens of Bracknell are the Americans of Berkshire. That's a fo' shizzle!

I'm just going by the "talking loudly", "being horribly rude" and "looking like candidates for Jerry Springer's show" sort of criteria.

That's how I notice Americans, cuz I is one! ;-)

Lisa said...

My favorite Belgian is Hercule Poirot. Okay, he's the only Belgian I know except for the wife of my husband's childhood family doctor and neighbor. She used to take her boys and MathMan to McDonalds for French Fries after Hebrew School. (fill in Belgian fries joke here)

Make Do Style said...

Chocolate - you didn't mention the chocolate or is that a myth. I was once mistaken for a Belgian in Tunisia due to my French. The French were horrified, I was quite pleased!

Brussels Dave said...

Some things I know:

Jacques Brel attracted disapproval at home because he claimed to be French (or at least didn't correct ignorant American TV show hosts). I cannot find proof on the interwebulator, though.

Audrey Hepburn was born literally round the corner from my apartment, but was nevertheless technically Dutch/British. Sorry, famous Belgian fans, you can't have her.

Phillipe Geluck and Le Chat rock. And they really are Belgian.

Belgian chocolate is also famous although it isn't technically a person, but you can have Pierre Marcolini (warning: choco-porn).

areyoureceivingme said...

What about Plastic Bertrand? Doesn't anyone remember him?? The only effeminate punk... Wasn't he Belgian?

Fat Controller said...

Hercule Poirot possibly doesn't count, being a fictional Belgian detective, but Georges Simenon certainly does, being a Belgian creator of a fictional detective i.e. Maigret

screamish said...

hey! the si'il vous plait thing, yeah! i have waiters and baker ladies saying this to me occasionally giving me change...., it was always a mystery- i guess they come from the The North....

Pochyemu said...

@Expateek You know it! We are America's poster children, you and I. Loud. Really loud. And chatty. We set the bar high for our countrymen, no??

Not Waving but Drowning said...

Don't forget the chocolates which are soooooooo MUCH better than the French ones.

GG

Metropolitan Mum said...

Ahhhh, Belgium, mon amour. You've written this post for me, right?!

And before you through yourself of the Atomium: whole Italy and Germany say please as well when they hand you something. Yay for the polite nations!

redfox said...

Hooray for Belgium lessons. This was an extra good one.

Pochyemu is EXACTLY right, I have long held that the French and Americans are spiritually extremely similar, specifically in the nature of their/our chauvinism, in fact probably one another's closest cousins in this regard. Indeed I think the degree to which and manner in which both groups are likely to deny it to the skies is precisely symptomatic of that similarity.

Sinda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sinda said...

The only things from Belgium are YOU, CHOCOLATE, POIROT, and MY NEIGHBOR (who brings me CHOCOLATE). I love you each madly.

expateek said...

@redfox -- I pretty much think Pochyemu was speaking tongue in cheek, as was I [note to self: must check with Poch on this one, was she?]...

Perhaps a bad idea to generalise about a whole country. Certainly there are stereotypes, but P can vouch for how soft-spoken we both are. [Poch! Wake up! Back me up here!]

I completely denied my birthplace for years, whilst overseas (specifically, the DUBYA years: 2000-2008) because of the paralysing embarrassment of being an American.

Of course, now that I've "denied" my American heritage, am I even more culpable? It's a Catch-22(BEST AMERICAN NOVEL OF THE 20TH CENTURY!)

Oops. Shouting again. Sorry about that.

Wait, this post was supposed to be about Belgium, wasn't it? Dang. Sorry.

redfox said...

Oh, I am being silly too -- and am American! (And can be, and have been, quite stung by/cringing about American stereotypes.) I just also have pet theories I like to spout about the similarities between ridiculous echt-Frenchness and ridiculous echt-Americanness. Probably, though, you're right and it is a bad idea to have theories about (e.g.) Frenchness, even silly ones.

expateek said...

@redfox -- whew, that's better then!

We probably both need to have a big bloggy scarlet "A" on our chests (for "American", just so that people know where we're coming from), and so they're clued up as to when we're actually mocking ourselves.

We can, after all, mock ourselves.

We're not all po' faced wretches!

And having blathered on about all of that, I'm no longer particularly fond of "the French", having dealt with them in closer quarters of late. Familiarity breeds (dis)content, eh?

Overall, and after all, it appears we're in total agreement! :-)

expateek said...

Familiarity breeds contempt, I know.

I could have made it more succinct.

A Woman Of No Importance said...

Those monks, Trappistes, they were born in Belgium, right?! And thay make effing fabulous biere!

And did we forget Patrick Hernandez of Born To Be Alive - Wasn't he Belge? No? The Muscles from Brussels then, Jean Claude Van Damme! And Django Reinhardt, he counts, proper like!

Word verif is mudgos - Does mud go from Belgian Bicycle Wheels?! I think we should be told x

topo said...

Ah, Jean Claude Van Damme. I prefer to refer to him as the MUSSELS from Brussels.

Anonymous said...

Funny that you have left out dear Johnny Halliday (Belgian), and you like him so much!!! Also Axelle Red is Belgian. However,she is not typical and should not figure in this blog, as her music, although French, does not suck properly, so not living up to blog French music standards...

the polish chick said...

waay late, i know (i'm reading all the backlog), but hey! in polish you also say "please" when you give things to people. it translates (very roughly) to "here you go." who knew there was this linguisti-cosmic link between our lands?

also, i like the belgian ninety far more. i've always found four twenty fifteen to be ridiculous. like the numbers a stroke sufferer would invent. gah!

black said...

bridal online shop bridal gowns wholesale wedding dresses high quality bridal gowns wholesale custom wedding dresses wedding apparel wedding dresses top sellers wedding dresses2010 new arrivals 2010 new arrivals wedding dresses beach wedding dresses Luxury Wedding Dresses plus size wedding dresses wedding party dresses bridesmaid dresses junior bridesmaid dresses flower girl dresses mother of bride dresses wedding shoes wedding bags wedding accessories evening dresses prom dresses cocktail dresses quinceanera dresses little black dresses