BruxBlog #12: Buck Up, Belgium!

The Arc du Cinquantenaire in Brussels

Day Seventy-Four

Brussels Bureau, Reuters TV

27 July 2010

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky when I hopped on the Métro to go to class yesterday, and when I got off the tram, I saw a sky bright with a few puffy clouds. Then, out of nowhere, just as I neared my destination, it started to rain.

Only in Belgium!

Everyone in Belgium professes to have their own personal raincloud over their heads. I work very closely with Belgians at Reuters, and haven’t heard them utter a kind word about their native land since I arrived. Even friends of mine have described how their colleagues rag on Belgians as a frustratingly gloomy bunch.

Well, I say “Buck Up, Belgium!” because even though you get your share of rain and cold, even though your government’s in tatters over whether to conduct business in French or Flemish, and even though your football team didn’t make it to the World Cup, I’ve got five good reasons why you are actually quite a swell place to be.

(1) Geographically, Belgium has a little bit of everything. A friend of mine just got back from the western coast and said the beaches were awesome (and the weather was sunny, thank you very much!).  From the central and northern plains to the wooded hills of the southeast, Belgium’s a beautiful country to drive around.

(2) Belgians are the most culturally-diverse populace I’ve ever encountered. Whenever you walk down the street, you can’t pinpoint a person who looks “Belgian” like you can with a tall, svelte blonde in the Netherlands.  While they have just as many troubles as any European country with adapting to these cultural additions, there are so many vibrant, thriving ethnic communities here, and they each bring their own flavors to add to the local culture in Brussels.

(3) Belgians are the most linguistically-gifted populace I’ve ever encountered. It’s what living on a linguistic fault line does to a people.  Most Belgians know at least two languages, many of them three or four.  A co-worker of mine, at the age of 27, has working knowledge of six languages — French, Dutch, English, German, Spanish, and Italian.  Flemish politican Bart de Wever, the winner in last month’s elections, gave a press conference after his victory answering questions deftly in French, English, and Flemish.

(4) Belgians are gifted forgers of compromise. It stems somewhat from their mastery of languages I mentioned in #3 — Belgians have the most convoluted political system, so they have to be good at compromise to make it work.  Even when governments collapse, Belgians bring their expertise to the EU, where their expertise comes in even more handy trying to bring together even more disparate political factions over bigger issues… Like Turkey’s accession to the EU, which makes some people quite mad…

(5) Belgians build liveable cities. Antwerp and Brussels are two great cities.  They’re clean and accessible with beautiful public architecture and green space.  There are fun things to do and fun places to go.  They each are culturally distinct.  It’s been a great place for me to live, and I can see why so many people become ex-pats here!  It’s easy to get bitten by the Brussels Bug.

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