Belgium is in the centre of world news these days and while everyone is focusing on the terrorist attacks and the dangers, I want to show you a positive, fun side of this beautiful country I now call home. So here are some of the typical things that make Belgium unique. Some of them might seem very strange at first sight, but once you get to know and love this country, you cannot imagine it any other way.
All kinds of interesting facts about Belgium
1. Belgium can function without a government for 589 days and people find it acceptable. Some things just take time, they say. Others argue that it is actually even better this way because we didn’t have any tax increases during that period.
2. Belgium has three official languages and none of them is called Belgian. People speak Dutch, French, and German in different parts of the country.
3. Belgium’s football team – the Red Devils – is number 1 in the world on the FIFA ranking. Football (soccer) is the only thing that can unite all Belgians and make them forget all the differences and disagreements, even if for a short while.
4. You can find more than 30 types of different waffles and 10 types of potatoes in an average Belgian supermarket. In fact, most Belgian waffles in Belgium don’t taste anything like Belgian waffles in the U.S.
5. Belgium has world’s best chocolate. Giving foreign chocolate as a present might be taken as an insult by Belgians. After all, they are the ones who have the very best chocolate in the world. The truth is that Belgian chocolate is very good; much too good actually, and they are absolutely right to be proud of it.
6. The Belgian national symbol is a peeing boy, Manneken Pis of Brussels. The little guy has hundreds of different costumes for all kinds of occasions and somebody takes the trouble of changing his clothes two to three times a week.
7. Belgians have invented French fries and you can find world’s best fries at no more than 5 minutes driving distance from pretty much anywhere in the country. Every little village has at least one fritkot – a kiosk or a van serving Belgian fries. You probably heard that Belgians eat fries with mayo. As strange as it might sound, it’s absolutely delicious! It has become my absolute favourite Belgian food and it wouldn’t occur to me to eat fries with ketchup ever again.
8. You can drink a Belgian beer every day for 4 years and never have the same beer twice. There is some uncertainty about the exact number of different Belgian beers, but according to most sources there are at least 1,000-1,200 original Belgian beers brewed in Belgium. On top of that, there are many different types of beers under the same name. That explains why you can find a café that serves more than 1,700 different Belgian beers in Brussels (look for Café Délirium).
9. Every single Belgian beer has its own special glass and I have difficulties to imagine how a café can store 1,700 different kinds of Belgian beer with the matching glasses, but somehow they do. We are just an average half-Belgian family and our basement is filled with all kinds of different beer glasses. We hardly ever use most of them, but it would be unthinkable to serve a beer in a wrong glass, so we have them just in case.
10. Belgium’s highways are lit at night. I am so used to it by now that I only understand how spoiled we are when they switch the light off or when we travel to other countries.
11. You can make friends in Belgium just by talking about the weather. Really. Belgians are obsessed about the weather and so you always have an easy conversation topic available. Contrary to the popular belief, it doesn’t rain all the time in Belgium, but we do get a fair bit of rain. In any case, enough to give us something to talk about.
12. Cooking books top book bestsellers lists for years. Belgians love to cook. And to eat. Belgians love the Burgundian lifestyle, fine food and drinks. Count at least 2-3 hours for dinner at a restaurant.
13. Belgians say that they are ‘born with a brick in their stomach’ and every Belgian tries to buy or build a house as soon as they can.
14. The ultimate Belgian dream is to retire at 50 and run a B&B in the South of Europe.
15. Belgians are pretty open and will talk about pretty much anything, except money. Children usually don’t have the slightest idea of what their parents earn.
16. Belgium is world known for comic strips. The most famous are probably the Smurfs, Tintin, and Lucky Luke. There are more than 800 registered Belgian comic series.
17. Belgian favourite pastime is shopping or going to the seaside. Ideal weekend is spent in Knokke, the posh resort with many luxury boutiques on the Belgian coast.
18. Belgium has some of the best music festivals in the world. Tomorrowland, Rock Werchter, I Love Techno – these are just a few examples of the music festivals attracting thousands of people from all over the world.
19. Belgians make carpets from flowers and they are really good at it. Don’t miss the 2016 Brussels flower carpet in August!
20. Belgium has beautiful historic cities, like Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp or Leuven, and it is also home to the smallest town in the world, Durbuy.
21. Some of the world’s most famous painters are Belgian: Rubens, Ensor, Magritte, Delvaux, van Eyck… to name just a few.
22. Belgium is multicultural and multilingual to its core and you will notice it in all kinds of details every single day. I’m not even talking about tens of different nationalities living together, this is about Belgium and Belgians. Here is my favourite example.
Belgium is a great country to get confused and lost while driving around because the same city will have different names in Flemish, Walloon, or German speaking parts of the country. Don’t look for ‘Liege’ road signs if you are on a highway in Antwerp, because the sign will say ‘Luik’. And when you finally manage to get to Liege, you will need to look for ‘Anvers’ in order to find your way back to Antwerp.
I still remember the first time I got lost in Belgium. I had a map with me, but road signs were pointing to places which were not on the map. I ended up driving around for several hours. I remember asking people for directions and they looked at me as if I was from another planet. I was asking for directions to Mons while the signs were showing ‘Bergen’ and it was less than a half hours drive from where I was! It took me several weeks to realise that Gent is actually the same place as Gand. Here are some more examples: Namur = Namen, Leuven = Louvain, Ieper = Ypres, Braine-l’Alleud = Eigenbrakel, Jezus Eik = Notre-Dame-au-Bois, etc etc… you get the message (and a GPS) when you have been driving around for hours.
Belgium is a unique country. It is very multicultural yet authentic and true to its values. It’s a great place to live and a wonderful travel destination and I sincerely believe it will stay this way.
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