As I stepped on a plane in Brussels a few years ago to go to Liverpool for a weekend, I had no idea what to expect. Sat next to an archetypal Scouse woman with the typical curlers (which at that time seemed very unusual to me), I had a nice wine whilst looking forward to meeting my friend at John Lennon Airport. Upon my arrival we did what most people do when they get to Liverpool, we went out.
That night I found out what English people think of Belgians. Talking to an English PHD student, I realised that Belgians are thought to be boring. Us, boring? I would have assumed that a small country known for its political turmoil would at least be considered interesting. But boring?
That same PHD student later showed me a Youtube video of what he believed to be a Romanian talkshow where a presenter uncontrollably laughed at his guest with vocal issues. I had to see this as this allegedly was hilarious. Much to his surprise I told him that this video was Belgian and that this wasn’t a real talkshow. It was part of a Flemish program that shows seemingly realistic situations that are too embarrassing to be real. I was able to show him some more of these videos and convinced him that Belgians have a good sense of humour. Subsequently the subject of music came along. Another surprise was about to hit him, as I apprised him that one of his favourite bands was also of Belgian produce.
Not that bad huh?
Having a nationality of such a small country has its disadvantages. Not everyone knows about our geography, something I can’t blame them for. I once met a man that said Belgium is the capital of Brussels. Well, he already acknowledged the existence of both places, but I just needed to point out that it was the other way around. At the other side of the world we have a country that has no knowledge of Belgium at all. During the World Cup in 2014 I read that Americans thought that Belgium was a beer factory. I can’t totally disagree with that though. We do produce our beers.
Being a Belgian can be quite interesting. No one really knows what to think of us. Some think we all speak French, some associate our country with scum (terror attacks don’t help marketing your country) and others think we continually indulge in our beers and chocolate. Truth be told, there is a big French speaking part, we do have criminals (although I wouldn’t like to think we have more than any other country) and we like our beers and chocolates. In addition to that I can say that we are a creative folk that like our dry sense of humour, nice music and are known for our exquisite cuisine.
As a small player in between the big boys such as the Netherlands, France and Germany it’s not always easy. I think that Belgium might be an underdog, that survives on self-criticism and self-mockery. Being a fairly new country (founded in 1830), we still have a lot to learn. The current political climate doesn’t always make it easy. Am I proud to be Belgian? That I am definitely. Then why have I moved to another country you might ask? Well, because I like being a Belgian abroad even more.