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.