During my trip to the United States, many people asked me question about my country.
One day, an American girl asked my brother and me where we were from. I answered “Belgium”, she said “What?”, I repeated, she still didn’t get it, so my brother helped me by saying the name of our country, she repeated herself. Oh well, I responded “the tiny country between France and Germany”. This is how most of the Americans know about us.
Long time ago, Belgium was an area from France, not so far from Germany. From the French kings era, Belgium was already splitting between these two nations.
Once 1830, Belgium was its own country, a neutral nation. With the wars, Belgium lost its neutrality several times. Germany and France came across, and made our country divided.
North of Belgium became officially Dutch, like the language we speak in the Netherlands. This country is also on the north border. South, also called Wallonia, speaks French, for France in the south border, and, German, for the German border on the East side.
The Dutch part has a particularity; it is not really like the Dutch in the Netherlands so we call them Flemish. Their language change according to the city they live in (I can’t say region in a region, Belgium is way to small).
In Belgium, we speak not one, not our, but three different languages. So what do we speak in Brussels? Well, according to its localization, we should speak Flemish. But, French like to live there so it became 98% French, 88% Arabic and 6% Dutch. The percentages aren’t correct; it is to give you an idea of how our capital is divided.
Because the French tend a take power of an area, Flemish tend to hate us. They make rule for not speaking French and to avoid French to move into their region.
How come the Arabic came in then? Good question. I guess this is a political reason. They don’t make law strong enough to make everybody know at least one official language, and two…forget about it. French don’t know Flemish and Flemish don’t learn French anymore; so Arabic don’t learn French or Flemish. This is really a shame. When I go grocery, the store assistant can’t ever help, not even give the price before getting to the cashier.
Of course, everybody asked me where I am from. I ended saying Brussels. I always hear back “Oh, I know that city, I’ve been there!” and when I asked how long…”A couple hour, on my way to Amsterdam!”
The touristic places I heard about was most of the time Brussels, on their way back from France, and to Germany or Netherlands. Once again, I heard my country as a transit road.
For those who told me they didn’t go only to Brussels, most of the time, they went also in Brugge. On American TV show, we can see some Flemish cities once in a while.
I could have said “Actually, I am from Nivelles”. They wouldn’t know about it. No one can tell me a Wallonia city though; we have some nice touristic places around here. American only never heard about our area. Sometimes, they don’t even know we actually speak French. They always dream of Paris when you say you are a French speaker
We have to be prouder of ourselves, to reach American ears, and take the time to tell them the Belgian story. It is more than chocolates, beers and Belgian fries, and way much more complicated.
- An Overview of Belgium for Travelers (worldcountrytravelers.wordpress.com)
- Provinces of Belgium (en.wikipedia.org)
- Flemish PM steps in to rescue Great War re-enactments (deredactie.be)