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Only in Belgium

February 4, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Walking down our street today past the nearby high school, I saw a teacher taking a smoke break … with a student. That kind of act would get a teacher fired in the states, but as we say here, Only in Belgium.

We actually have the Belgian government (not the current one of course … but more on that later) to thank for that saying. A few years ago it used Only in Belgium as a marketing slogan to attract tourists to this small, sometimes overlooked country. It has since become the source of satire and humor by outsiders and Belgians alike.

I sometimes wonder if we over-analyze things happening here and assume the Belgian quirks and eccentricities don’t exist on the same scale in other countries. Then I see little reminders in our lives — as well as reminders in the Only In Belgium blog, which I help maintain for my part-time employer — and I realize that yes, Belgium is a bit odd.

Two weeks ago, some friends made a reservation at a restaurant for the following day. They arrived to find the restaurant with locked doors and a sign reading “Closed for good for personal and financial reasons.” Guess the restaurant took their reservation with a bit of optimism, hoping those financial and personal stresses would be relieved in the next 24 hours. Only in Belgium.

The biggest sales event of the year (Part I at least) just ended a few days ago. It happens every January and July — stores display large signs reading “soldes” and “solden”, the respective French and Dutch words for “sales”. The government allows stores to put items on sale, at a loss, only in January and July. It is illegal for a store to put an item on sale (at a potential loss) any other month of the year.

Shopping malls are filled almost no matter the time of day in January with people searching for a good deal. The pants I’m wearing right now? Got them for €6.50 (about $9) on January 31st. Twenty-four hours later, that price would have shot up. Only in Belgium.

And, as alluded to, perhaps the biggest Only in Belgium of it all: Only here — or in Iraq — does it take nearly a year for a government to materialize. Remember the hanging, dimpled and pregnant chads episode in US politics? That has nothing on the current situation here.

Several times since Jenna and I moved to Brussels someone has asked me Do you speak Belgian? I have to stop myself from laughing, because months before we moved to Belgium, I was pretty ignorant about the country, though I was aware there’s no such thing as a Belgian language. Yet at this point, creating a new, unique Belgian language might be the only thing that can unify this country.

On June 13, 2010, the Belgians elected their new prime minister. Since that day, that prime minister has spent all of zero days in office. Instead, for 236 days and counting, he and the other Flemish-speaking parties have negotiated with their Wallonie counterparts in an attempt to form a government. They haven’t even come close to finding a resolution that satisfies all. Just a couple days ago the King appointed a new mediator after the last one gave up after 99 days on the job.

The 230-plus days without a government has established a modern-day European record. Belgium is approaching a world record currently owned by Iraq. That’s not the company you want to keep.

It does make me wonder, when someday in the future I tell our kids about our life in Belgium, will we be calling it Belgium? I hope so, but with the strange daily occurrences here, the country’s split shouldn’t catch anyone off guard.


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Jan
    February 22, 2011 at 12:37 am

    Jake, gotta react to the first one: i do smoke when students are next to me. Don’t see anything wrong with that, they are 16 and older en perfectly capable in choosing their own destiny. This is yet another example of the double standards used in your country (‘the country I myself love very much as well’): THAT would be a crime but stashing everybody with guns, filling tv’s with violence and sex would be ok to the people with high moral?

    It is these things that make it IMPOSSIBLE for me to defend the States 😦

    Other then that, I LOVE your work, and you know that!

    • Jake
      February 22, 2011 at 12:16 pm

      Settle down, Jan. I wasn’t making negative comments about Belgium, just pointing out some differences. You of all people should know how much I love this country.

      • Jan
        February 27, 2011 at 12:27 pm

        I know that, dude! NO sweat there!

  2. Jan
    February 22, 2011 at 12:38 am

    O and our country is as weird as it comes, not arguing on that but surviving this surreal +250 days says one thing: it is acutally a pretty strong country if you still survive after that many days!

    take care, Cowboy;


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