Belgium: Have It Your Way

31 May

Have I told you that I now download podcasts? This just happened within the last month. That might be funny to you if you knew that I actually participate in a podcast. These things happen. My sister is a talented chef and she likes Totino’s Party Pizza. Needing everything to make sense is a bad habit to have, especially if you’re going to Belgium.

Magritte: Make a little birdhouse in your soul

That brings me to today’s post. I was listening to a podcast. So I wasn’t just rambling about that in the first paragraph without reason. This particular podcast was so interesting that I thought that you guys should know about it. I think that you should just listen to it yourself, of course, but in the absence of that you can read my quick rehash here and consider yourself in the know.

Belgium has three official languages – Dutch, French and German.  This happens in Switzerland too but not quite to the extent that it does in Belgium.  Right now the Belgians are without a federal government but they carry on anyway.  How?  Well, they have regional governments.  There are basically three main regions in Belgium – Flanders where Dutch is spoken, Wallonia where they speak French and Brussels where most are bilingual.  Oh and Brussels, they speak pretty much every other language because it’s the seat of the European Union.

But it doesn’t stop with regional governments.  Nope, the Belgians also have governments that segregated by language.  Dutch, French and German all have individual politicians looking out for them no matter where they live in the country.  So a French speaker could live in Flanders but still be covered by this group.  Interesting, right?

There is more, of course.  The media for these groups is completely separate.  So if you are making a Flemish TV show in Flanders the Walloons in Wallonia aren’t going to see it.  Not dubbed, not subtitled, not nothing.  They don’t share artists, movies, authors.  Oh, but they do!  They share Madonna, Colin Firth and ABBA because these artists speak English.  The podcast identifies that this is a neutral language for Belgians.  That while the Flemish learn Dutch and English, the Walloons only speak French.  In the past the Flemish person would begrudgingly make the effort by speaking French but this isn’t as common anymore.

Another fascinating thing is that they don’t even share political parties.  The parties from the other region do not even appear on the ballot.  They couldn’t vote for them if they wanted to.  This makes for strange bedfellows.  It also means that there is very little that can be called Belgian.  Except for beer, chocolate and frites, as the podcast is quick to point out.  Or maybe there is one other thing.  As Belgians have been living in a land without Federal government recently and have functioned with a divided country for a much longer time they do have something in common: the surreal.  What else is to be expected from the country that brought us Magritte, huh?  Fascinating.

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