Belgium is the strangest country in the world
“If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me but I didn’t, so it doesn’t.”
That’s how Colin Farrell described Bruges – or as he generally referred to it: “fucking Bruges” – In the 2008 film titled, strangely enough, In Bruges. Although Colin Farrell was only referring to one city, perhaps the same thing could be said about Belgium as a whole. Belgium is a strange and often forgotten little country which is famous mostly for unleashing Jean-Claude Van Damme onto the world and not much else. Sure they have waffles, chocolates and Tintin but really, what else is there?
Whenever anybody says that they are going to Belgium, the standard response is generally “why?”. this may be because, according to some people, Belgium isn’t even a “real country”. It may also be because Belgium is a strange little country caught in-between neighbours that are far more interesting. Who in their right mind would go to Belgium when France, Germany, the UK and even the Netherlands are right there?
1 – The most boring place in the world
According to pretty much everybody, Belgium is a boring place. Even the Belgians agree and according to a recent survey, 60% of Belgians wish that they were born somewhere else.
Jeremy Clarkson – aka the mean one from Top Gear – did a (hilarious) documentary a few years back where he travelled to the UK’s neighbouring countries and took the piss out of them. In one episode Jeremy wanders the streets asking the locals whether they were glad to be born Belgian. He is absolutely shocked when after interviewing many people, he finds just one guy who is happy being Belgian. Even the guy dressed as a penguin preferred his status as a penguin to that of being Belgian.
Many countries are famous for having a national sport. Brazil is known for soccer, the Spanish are renowned for acting stupidly around bulls, and France is known for surrendering to the Germans. While Belgium doesn’t necessarily have a “national sport” they do really have some strange ones. If you believe Jeremy Clarkson, a typical Saturday in Belgium, usually involves a game which he calls “shit yourself rich”. This sport involves dividing a field up into an imaginary grid and everybody betting on where the cow will “have its first shit”. Don’t believe me? Watch the video below if you want a laugh.
2 – The culinary delights
If we learned anything from Pulp Fiction it taught us a really good place to hide a watch, and that they do things differently in Europe. In one scene, John Travolta is sitting in a car telling Samuel L Jackson all about a “Royale with cheese” and the metric system.
Vincent: You know what they put on French fries in Holland instead of ketchup?
Vincent: I’ve seen em do it, man. They fuckin’ drown em in that shit.
What John Travolta/Vincent neglected to mention, is that the Belgians also love to drown their chips in Mayonnaise, in fact they practically invented it. Belgian chip kiosks often come with a wall of mayonnaise and sauce dispensers. After ordering your chips, which is simple enough, you are then expected to submerge your lunch under your choice of mayonnaise.
In fact fried potatoes are so popular in Belgium that it is considered their national dish. Moules-frites or mussels and fries may seem like a strange combination, but you try telling that to a Belgian.
Belgium is also world famous for its strange and often highly alcoholic beers. Every town seems to have its own brewery (or several) and a surprisingly large number of these are brewed by monks who have taken a vow of silence, however in true Belgian style, the weirdness does not stop there. What is more strange than a bunch of religious guys silently making beer, is the names they give those beers. Of course there is the famous Hoegaarden, which in English sounds like…well..you know. There are also others such as: Duvel (which means devil), Judas, Satan, Silly, Dulle Teve (which means mad bitch) and Delerium Tremens (which is what you will get from drinking too many of these) just to name a few.
3 – They hate themselves
Belgium has a total of three official languages, which for a country of around 11 million people is a real achievement It is also an excellent way of making sure that nobody gets along. The northern half all speak Flemish (not phlegm-ish) which is just a fancy way of saying Dutch, while the bottom half speak French and a very small part of the population speaks German. To complicate things further, the capital Brussels and the region surrounding it is bilingual in Dutch and French, which means that all of the street signs must be in both languages. This may seem like it makes perfect sense, but often it results in some rather nonsensical repetition of words that are the same in both languages.
While the bilingual (or trilingual) thing may not initially seem like an issue, you can trust the Belgians to make it one. It seems that the French and Dutch hate each other so much – and everybody hates the Germans – that nobody can agree on anything. Since the Belgians can’t even decide on what to name a street, it’s not that surprising really that they can’t decide on a government either. The country currently holds the world record for not having a government. Which brings me to…
4 – Their government (or lack of it)
On February 17 in 2011, Belgium broke the world record for having no government (well really it was for going the longest period of time without having a new government voted in after an election). The country’s different language groups just can’t seem to get along about anything. After an election in 2010, the Belgians did what they were best at and disagreed to the point where no government could be formed. This carried on for some time, but after 249 days without a government, the Belgian people decided enough was enough and marched into the streets to spark a revolution.
Generally, when countries stage revolutions, they can often turn out to be violent and bloody. People march into the streets – or onto Twitter – and demand change. However in Belgium’s case – as with everything they do – their revolution was a little, well, different.
The Belgians held a ceremony, to celebrate eight government-free months and the handing over of the world record from the previous record holders, the Iraqis, to the Belgians. Now, before you accuse the Belgians of not taking this situation seriously, you should realise that more drastic steps were taken. On the same night, began the “Fries Revolution”. Belgians marched into the streets and angrily ate fries to protest their lack of government.
Surprisingly, this “revolution” did not have the desired result of ending the political stalemate and forming a new government. Which is odd really, because what better way is there to say “we are angry” than to march into the streets and eat chips? In fact it wasn’t until much later that that actually happened.
It wasn’t until a full 541 days of negotiations that a new government was finally elected. And the person that they finally elected to run the country could barely even speak Dutch! Which shouldn’t really matter as it’s only spoken by around 60% of the population.
5 – The monuments
Some countries are so famous for their monuments that you can’t mentally the place from the landmark. Who could imagine France without the Eiffel Tower coming to mind, or Egypt without the pyramids? Belgium however is not one of those countries.
Perhaps Belgium’s most famous “monument” (I use that term lightly) is the pint-sized fountain Manneken Pis. Some of you out there who (like me) are particularly immature would look at the name and say something intelligent, along the lines of: “Haha, it has the word piss in it”. Well, if you laughed at the name of the statue, don’t feel alone, the city of Brussels – the country’s CAPITAL – is laughing along with you.
That’s right, Manneken Pis is a statue of a little boy pissing. Before you think that this is some random statue in an out of the way corner of the city, think again. Manneken Pis, the little boy pissing into a fountain, is actually the symbol of Brussels. In addition to this insanity, the residents of Brussels regularly dress up little Manneken to celebrate special occasions and there is even a museum that houses over 800 of his outfits.
Following in this proud tradition, Brussels also recently introduced a female counterpart to Manneken Pis: Jeanekke Pis. This statue of a little girl squatting was erected in 1987 and, like her male counterpart, little Jeanekke is also a functioning fountain which “urinates” water with a look of apparent joy, literally etched onto her face.
Another weird monument can be found in Antwerp, the Flemish capital of Belgium. Antwerp’s main square boats a large statue of a man named Brabo cutting off a giant’s hand. Of course, as it is apparently compulsory in Belgium, the statue is a fountain and water gushes out of the giant’s severed hand as if it was created by Quentin Tarantino. In fact, this statue is so central to Antwerp’s identiy as a city that many believe that this is how the city got its name. The Dutch name for the city: Antwerpen, apparently comes from the combination of the words “hand” and “werpen” meaning “hand throw”.
I could go on forever about the weird and wonderful monuments in this crazy little county but I will try to wrap this up. Other cities too boast strange monuments, such as Ghent’s cannon with a stuffed toy inside, Bruges with its mysterious upside-down cannon and and Brussels’ Atomium which is is an indescribable large silver monument of sticks and balls.
Before I finish, I would just like to ask you the reader a quick question. Without checking Wikipedia, do you know what Belgium’s national anthem is? The answer is La Brabançonne. If you couldn’t answer that don’t worry you’re not alone. The former Belgian prime minister doesn’t know the national anthem either.
If anybody ever made a film documenting the history of Belgium, it would have to be narrated by Inspector Clouseau.