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Saturday, 22 April 2017

Belgium

I have mixed feelings about Belgium. I like it as a tourist. Living there is something else. I did both. As a tourist, Belgium is famous for its beers, food, and its picturesque cities. Forget about becoming a local as you will always be the foreigner. This may even apply to Belgians from other cities as each city has its own unique dialect which is often hard to understand.

Belgium is a forced marriage between a Dutch speaking north, a French speaking south, and a German speaking east. The 1st Belgian King, who initially refused, was forced to accept its throne. It also doesn’t help that the Belgian north is nationalistic and right-wing while its south is federalist and left-wing. From 1810 to at least 1910, this situation was the opposite of today. To some extent, this explains the underlying Belgian tensions.

I lived close to the city of Mechelen, which used to be the capital of the Netherlands well before the Belgian Revolution of 1830. The first 6 months I lived in a hotel which made me aware of the differences between 2 nations that appear to speak the same language. The hotel owner became a friend which is more remarkable than it appears. We still share some common dreams.

At the day of my departure, my neighbours finally talked to me. Contrary to what you might think, they expressed their regret to see me leave. This shows the level of difficulty in getting acquainted in Belgium. In the late afternoon, the Belgian window lockers come down and every home is disconnected from street life. In the Netherlands, nearly all street facing windows provide almost 24/7 access to what's going on inside.

One of my greatest Belgian compliments was at work: why do your Belgian colleagues accept you (being Dutch!) while they do not accept one of your fellow Belgian managers?? I was surprised by his surprise. It had never occurred to me how special I was, being Dutch. I considered myself part of the management team. The many bilateral meetings indeed told a different tale. Group meetings were no platform for discussion, unlike home.

Belgium hardly has any building instructions compared to Holland. They build anything anywhere and preferably close to highways. From a Dutch perspective, you will find beautiful villas in the worst areas. Their habit of using the 1st floor as a city car parking still bothers me.

Belgians prefer living in the same village where they were born and do not relocate for work. They will just drive more hours, on their badly maintained roads, and in their expensive new cars which are often paid in cash. Belgium is usually in the top of highest global taxes and also in the top of black economies. The Dutch are their exact opposite.

Belgium is a country of contradictions and in almost every way you can (not) imagine. Each day you will be surprised finding another anomaly compared to home. On the one hand, it’s a country of “laissez-faire, laissez-passer”. On the other hand, there's no country with more rules than Belgium. When you expect rules, they're absent. When you don't expect them, you'll be hit.

Fantastig toch (2007) by Eva de Roovere - artist, FBlyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2


Note: the song title may relate to fantastic and trouble (NL: lastig)