We Europeans

Belgium or bust!

When starting a blog about Europe and its cultures, what better place to start than Belgium? After all, it is the self-proclaimed capital of Europe.

I’ve been living here for 40 years. We are always told to keep out of other people’s politics but, as an admirer and a long-standing resident of this country, I feel as concerned as a lot of Belgians do about all this talk of breaking the country up. Not that we did a very admirable job in putting it together in the first place. But, then, the things we foreigners –Brits, Germans, Dutchmen, Frenchmen, Austrians, Spaniards, Romans, etc. – managed to do to this little slice of Europe over the millennia don’t even bear thinking about…

The tussle today between the two main language communities has much to do with history, though many Belgians seem to be unaware of the fact. It also has to do with money (federal transfers from north to south), much more personal issues such as the encroachment of Brussels residents on the periphery (and here the international community is as much to blame as the Bruxellois themselves) and, unfortunately, simple prejudice and intolerance.

What they and a lot of others should understand is that, other than language, the only real differences between the Dutch and French speakers are behavioural ones. I notice in particular that Flemish people like to get straight to the point, whereas Walloons tend to ramble on a bit. But it is a behavioural difference, and language is part of behaviour too.

Studies by Professor Jan Kerkhofs of the KUL indeed show that a consensus exists on the fundamentals, and that the Flemish and Walloons are closer together in their value judgments than either the Flemish are with the Dutch or the Walloons with the French.

Another Flemish observer is Professor Francis Heylighen of the VUB who says: “Though Flemish and Walloon cultures differ in several respects (as could be expected, the Flemish are closer to the more disciplined, Northern European, Germanic culture, and the Walloons to the more life-enjoying, Mediterranean, Latin culture), they have more things in common than most are willing to admit.”


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