If you live in Europe, you should know where Belgium is. If you don’t and don’t know where it is, we’ll forgive you. Belgium is such a small country after all and it is sometimes hard to find on a map. However, you probably have heard of Brussels- Belgium’s capital city as well as that of the European Union.
Belgium is divided into different regions, communities as well as provinces and its political system is incredibly complicated for such a small country! Belgium has three official languages, and “Belgian” isn’t one of them. Belgians speak French, Dutch (also called Flemish) and German. Belgium shares borders with France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Germany and has an access to the North Sea. As a matter of comparison, Belgium’s territory is almost as large as the state of Maryland (in the US) and hosts 11 million people. You probably have heard of Belgium’s waffles, chocolate, maybe some beers, and I bet you’ve heard one of Stromae’s songs before. In this article, I hope you will learn some more cool facts regarding Belgium. If you have any more, let us know!
1. “French” fries are actually Belgian.
This is very important. They are called “French” fries in English but they are just called “frites” in French. Of course, nowadays every country has its own way of making fries, but originally, it comes from Belgium. However, in the sake of honesty, I must admit that there is no official evidence of that, and my opinion is obviously biased. Several stories have emerged to explain the origin of the french fries; some claim it was invented in Belgium, others say it was invented in France. As no serious research has been carried out to investigate the case, it is still hard to know what actually happened. Either way, french fries are and will always remain a part of Belgium’s gastronomy, thanks to their unique way of double-cooking the fries. It is very common, in Belgium, to eat french fries on their own with mayonnaise or ketchup or basically any other kind of Devos Lemmens sauce. They can be eaten as a snack and very often they will be served in a big paper cone. “Moules-Frites”, in English “Mussels and French Fries”, is a typical dish found in Belgian gastronomy.
2. Belgium has over 1,000 different beers.
Beer is sacred in Belgium. In 2016, Belgian beer culture entered the UNESCO list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity. Belgium counts approximately 200 breweries, but there are in total more than 1,000 different beers. Actually different sources claim different numbers, some say 800, others 1,000, 1,500 or even 2,500. It is hard to tell, as trends move about. As of 2013, the Délirium Café in Brussels holds the world record for the most varieties of beers commercially available with 3,162 beers on their menu. The beers they offer come majoritarily from Belgium, but they also have a huge assortment of international beers.
3. Do you know Tintin and The Smurfs? They’re Belgian.
The Adventures of Tintin is a comic series from Belgian author and cartoonist Hergé. It was first released in 1929 and gained international recognition. Overall, Tintin’s adventures have been translated into more than 80 languages and more than 230 million albums have been sold across the world. Peyo, the author of The Smurfs (in French: Les Schtroumpfs - try to pronounce that in French) is from Schaerbeek, in Belgium. The Smurfs became world widely famous and even got several American movie adaptations. Comics strips are considered as an art in Belgium and we have so many more than these two. Actually if you ever go to Belgium you might see statues of comic characters in some cities and if you ever go to Brussels, pay attention to the walls. Gigantic murals representing comic strips heroes are all over the town.
4. Belgium was the second country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.
The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage on April 1st 2001. Belgium legalized it in 2003. It never struck me as unconventional but I think it is interesting to mention that Elio Di Rupo, our former Prime Minister was one of the rare heads of state in the world to be openly gay. He was in office as Prime Minister from 2011 to 2014 and has been the Mayor of Mons since 2000.
5. Euthanasia is legal in Belgium.
Belgium legalized euthanasia for adults in 2002 and became the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia for terminally ill children without limit of age, in 2014. Euthanasia, or “Assisted Suicide” is often subject to great debate but it is important to remember that it is only applicable to dying people who are in great pain. As of 2016, only four countries allowed human euthanasia: Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Colombia. Other countries in the world and some states of the US also legalized assisted suicide, which is slightly different.
6. Think your taxes are high? Belgium has some of the highest in the world.
It is hard to estimate which country has the highest taxes in the world because it is all relative and depends of the situation. There are a lot of rules that apply in different circumstances and therefore it is hard to compare. However, on average, taxes are usually as high as 50% and Belgium is often considered to be the country that has the highest tax burden in the world.
7. Voting is compulsory in Belgium.
Voting is a civic duty in Belgium and it is compulsory. Non-voters face a moderate fine. Usually 90% of the population goes to the polls. There are several options when voting and voting blank is one of them; in that case no one and no party receives the vote, proving that the most important aspect is that everybody participates in the election.
8. Did you know that Belgium didn't have a formal government for nearly two years?
In 2010-2011, Belgium spent 541 days without an official government, surpassing Iraq for the world record! The political failure to form a new coalition government led to endless negotiations; on top of regional issues regarding the outskirts of Brussels, it brought to light deep divisions between Flemish and Walloon political parties. Even if everyone was doing just fine, the country was not. I do not remember any big change or even a tense atmosphere at that time; the country continued to work just as it always did. A serious concern though, was that the country could implode if no solution was found. The northern part of Belgium was led by separatists and it was not too crazy to think that Flanders could just decide to leave and take its independence. Even if there are real problems and divisions between Dutch-speaking and French-speaking Belgians, I do not recall this crisis to be representative of what the population wanted. I have never met anyone who wanted the country to split (although I am aware that it certainly is what some people want). I believe it was more of a political disagreement that looked unsolvable.
9. Public TV pranked the people by fakely announcing the implosion of Belgium.
Divisions between the North and the South are not new. In 2006, amidst an economic crisis and political differences, the RTBF, one of the two main broadcasting channels of French-speaking Belgium, decided to unexpectedly prank the people. At around 9 pm, the ongoing programs suddenly stopped and a famous TV news anchor appeared on screen, apologizing for interrupting the TV show we were all watching. He announced that this was a special broadcast because of recent breaking news, namely “Flanders is unilaterally declaring independence”, meaning the end of Belgium as a country. The setting of the show was exactly like any other news broadcast, but of course, it was all fake. The program showed many politicians hurrying to the royal palace, then the King of Belgium stepping into a plane and fleeing the country. That night, every Belgian held to their screen puzzled and terrified at the same time. It was all a video montage and some hints had been dropped to make people understand that it was a prank. The opening of the show started with “This might not be a fiction,” and later changed to “This is a fiction,” then a small icon representing the symbol of a satirical TV program appeared on the screen. Later on, many more hints appeared. My family understood it was a prank right away, I did not. I was genuinely scared, and so were many people. The special TV show aimed at sending a shock wave to make the people and the politicians understand what could really happen if nothing changed and if problems got worse. Of course it triggered many critics and a majority of people called it a sick joke.
Link to the full TV broadcast.
10. After the terrorist attacks in Paris, cats helped during the police operations in Brussels.
How does this sentence make sense? On November 22, 2015 the Belgian national police service had asked the media and people on social media to remain silent during police operations in Brussels and to not spread the word on anything happening. Because terrorists also use social media, it was critical to remain quiet. So, during the raids of the police in Brussels, people started tweeting pictures of their cats to drown any information that terrorist could use, in a flow of cat memes. Soon enough, the whole country followed the trend, and even people from other countries started to do the same, for the sake of the success of the police operations. With the hashtag #BrusselsLockdown, cats helped keep the progress of the operations secret. The police publicly answered the next day on its Twitter account and thanked the cats for their help.
11. What do a saxophone, a pair of rollerblades and the Big Bang Theory have in common? Belgian origin of course!
Adolphe Sax, from Dinant in Belgium, invented the saxophone in 1846. The very idea of rollerblades comes from Jean-Joseph Merlin, from Huy in Belgium. Finally, Georges Lemaître who was a Belgian Catholic priest, an astronomer and professor of physics was the first person to propose the theory of the origin of the universe, called Big Bang or the “hypothesis of the primeval atom”.
12. Speaking of inventions, Belgium once presented a song at the Eurovision Song Contest performed in a completely made-up language.
In 2003, the band “Urban Trad” performed their song called “Sanomi” and eventually came in second! At that time it was mandatory for the participants to sing in the language of their country and in order to avoid having to choose between the three languages of Belgium, they decided to invent a new language that could represent everybody.
Belgium is often known as a country of surrealism; thanks to our famous painter René Magritte, but also because there is a kind of craziness in the air. Some situations mentioned above are the kinds of stories that are common in Belgium but are unlikely to happen anywhere else!
We hope that you have enjoyed learning more about Belgium. If you want to discover or rediscover cool Belgian music artists, follow this link.
And as always, be sure to let us know what you think and if you have any additions.
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