[Junior AJA- Belgium Report] 10 things you should know about Belgium!

10 Things You Should Know About Belgium!

1) Belgium = Boring?

Belgium is a small country in Europe, almost hidden between France, Germany and Luxembourg. Most people have heard of Belgium but without using the World Wide Web it turns out they in fact don’t know that much about this country. Sometimes Belgium can give the idea of being a ‘boring’ country. It doesn’t happen often that Belgium can excite or shock the world in a split second. However, despite its size and Swiss-like neutrality on almost every issue, a lot is going on in little Belgium. There is a sea where you can swim, some hills you can climb, a variety of delicious traditional food you can fill your stomach with, plenty of summer festivals you can attend and last but not least there will always be the politics and great weather you can complain about! Keep on reading if your curiosity wins over your first impression!

Belgium country shape and flag

 

2) Politics

Belgium is ruled both by a king and a federal government. For being such a small country the Belgian political system is – not exaggerated – very complicated. The country is administratively divided into communities, regions and provinces, each with different governmental powers and responsibilities. After the Federal elections on the 13th of June, 2010, the newly elected parties could not come to an agreement to form a solid government. Therefore Belgium existed without a government for a total of 536 days, and holds now the number one position for being ‘the country without a government for the longest period in modern history’. The previous Guinness World Record was held by Iraq, with 289 days. In Ghent, a town in Flanders, even a festival was organized to celebrate (and mock) this world record achievement.

The Walloon (French Speaking) Region (Photo: www.belgium.be)

The Brussels Capital Region (Photo: www.belgium.be)

The Flemish Community (Photo: www.belgium.be)

The Flemish Region (Photo: www.belgium.be)

The German Speaking Community (Photo: www.belgium.be)

The Walloon (French Speaking) Community (Photo: www.belgium.be)

3) Weather

If you think the weather in your country is great… try coming to Belgium, especially if you love surprises and variety. It is commonly agreed that Belgium has four seasons, but in fact the country has roughly said four seasons in every season! During winters temperatures can be pretty mild while in summer it often rains all day and it is not even close to being warm. In autumn there are hot Indian summers and spring, on the other side, can surprise you with chilly weather and snow. If each season feels like any other season, wouldn’t it be a great idea to redefine the definition of ‘four’ in “four seasons”? In any case, and no matter what season, a piece of good advice is to always bring your jacket, sunglasses and umbrella when visiting Belgium!

4) Language

As we have seen before, Belgian people tend to make matters complicated while it actually could have been much easier. Another example is that instead of one official language Belgium has three: French, Dutch and German. In the Northern part of the country, people speak Dutch, but have to learn French from primary school. In the Southern part, people speak French, but usually have to learn Dutch. In Brussels people speak both languages, of course not at the same time! And in a tiny community in the East, a few people speak (Belgian-style) German. For this reason, many places in Belgium have not only a French or Dutch but sometimes also a German name. For example, Brussels is Bruxelles in French but Brussel in Dutch and German. Besides that, there are a couple of non-official, minority languages and dialects that are spoken in different areas as well. English is taught since the first year of high school and therefore widely spoken throughout the country as a second or third language by native Belgians. It is clear that languages will always be important for Belgians, but also the main cause for frustrations and disputes.

5) Chocolate, beer and waffles

Don’t be misled: Belgium people do eat and drink other things than chocolate, beer and waffles! It is as if you would say that all Korean people eat kimchi everyday (Oh well, many Koreans do in fact eat kimchi every day!). Nevertheless, these three products have a special value inside and outside of Belgium. Throughout Belgium, every year over 172,000 tons of chocolate is produced with more than 2,000 chocolate shops for both domestic use and export. Perhaps Belgian chocolate is a way for Belgian people to get international recognition, as it is likely the product for which Belgium is most famous.
Beer is the other product Belgium is well known for. There are hundreds of different kinds of beers, of which many are exported to foreign countries. One of the beer brands you can easily find in Korea is Hoegaarden, a type of blonde beer.

And what about Belgian Waffles?! They are popular everywhere else… except in Belgium!

Click here to visit the website of the Belgian Brewers to learn more about the different types of Belgian beers and also how to serve it properly: http://www.belgianbrewers.be/en/beer-culture/the-art-of-beer/beer-styles/

6) French Fries

‘French Fries’ are in fact ‘Belgian Fries.’ Because of the alliteration and because it just sounds better, ‘Belgian Fries’ are now better known under the fancy name of ‘French Fries’. Many people would disagree and argue that French Fries are indeed French. However, if you visit Belgium and France you will notice that Belgian people eat a lot more fries and they even have special restaurants and shops that only sell fries, which is not the case in France! What makes Belgian Fries the ‘Belgian Fries’ they are, is that they are at least 10mm thick and crispy on the outside while still soft and tasting like potato on the inside. This is achieved by frying the potatoes twice for a short amount of time on an average temperature of 130° C. When you go and eat ‘Belgian Fries’ in Belgium don’t forget to choose a good sauce with it and some meaty snack. For Belgian people, potato fries are definitely that kind of guilty-pleasure food of which they know it isn’t so healthy, but cannot resist eating.

The traditional way of serving Belgian Fries is in a paper cone. (Photo: http://www.nieuwsblad.be/article/detail.aspx?articleid=R63K3H2M)

7) Manneken Pis

Perhaps the most disappointing monument you might ever visit is Manneken Pis. Although mostly surrounded by hordes of Japanese tourists with exclusive cameras, the statue of a little man peeing is in real life actually very small and less impressive than you would have imagined. So, a warned man is worth two! However, on special occasions, the little statue is dressed up with cute costumes. Also, try to look for his female equivalent ‘Jeanneke Pis.’

Manneken Pis dressed as Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. (Photo: http://www.amusingplanet.com/2011/06/many-constumes-of-manneken-pis.html)

8) Les Schtroumpfs (De Smurfen) and Tintin (Kuifje)

These blue little creatures are Belgian and not French. Many people wrongly assume that they are French because of the French sounding name. The creator of Les Schtroumpfs, comic artist Pierre Culliford, better known by his pseudonym Peyo, was from a French speaking part of Belgium. Later on, the Dutch name ‘De Smurfen’ (The Smurfs) was introduced and used in half of the worldwide translations of the comics. For Tintin (Kuifje) the same can be said: Hergé also was a cartoonist from the French speaking part of Belgium. According to Belgian customs, things are named in a bilingual way to avoid socio-cultural issues.

The most well-known smurfs in a row (Photo: http://www.stripmuseum.be/nl/tentoonstellingen/tijdelijke-tentoonstellingen/61-eendracht-maakt-smurf)

9) Adult life starts at 26

In Belgium you become a real adult once you are 26 and not when you are 18. Of course when you are 18 you are officially an adult. But practically, your life as a child is really over once you hit the 26th number. All of a sudden costly public transport passes are not funded by the government and your parents stop receiving children’s money for you. It is also the age when most students have finished their academic career and have no student cards anymore that can offer them additional benefits. It is the time to start working hard and earning enough money to pay that expensive train pass to go to work every day!

10) Shopping hours

In Belgium, shops are closed quite early. The store hours are from Monday to Saturday and from 10:00am to 6:00pm. Most stores are closed on Sundays with a few exceptions such as the Gallerie St-Hubert and gift shops near the Grand Place in Brussels. The only shops that are open at night time are mostly owned by foreigners such as Pakistani, Indian and Moroccan people. These shops are called ‘nachtwinkels’ (nightshops) and sell drinks and snacks during the night. In Belgium, shopping you do during the day, drinking you do in the evening. Because if you are thirsty you can always visit a bar or a club, they are open mostly all night, or as long as there are customers!

For more information on Belgium and its government: http://www.belgium.be/
For more information about visiting Belgium: www.visitbelgium.com
About the Guinness World Record ‘Country without Government’:
http://www.hln.be/hln/nl/957/Binnenland/article/detail/1252745/2011/04/19/Belgisch-wereldrecord-regeringsvorming-erkend-door-Guinness-World-Records.dhtml

By Lara Chung Deboeck, a graduate student from Belgium, studying in Seoul, South Korea

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