15 facts every foreigner should know about Belgium

In brief:

 

Monts des Arts, Bruxelles

15 facts to know about Belgium

1. Belgium is a Kingdom

Even if they are very discreet, we have a King and a Queen at the head of the country. Since the creation of Belgium in 1830, Kings have succeeded each other from father to son. Since 2013, Philippe is the King of the Belgians. The Royal Family lives in Laeken (in Brussels) and makes its appearance during important moments, such as during the national holiday held on July 21. The King has the federal executive power (he appoints the Ministers) but his role is more to suggest or warn when there are tensions within the Government.

2. Belgium is a federal state with 3 regions and 3 communities

Belgium is a federal state, which means that there is a central government, but the country is also divided into 3 regions and 3 linguistic communities.
To put it simply: there are 3 regions (Wallonia, Flanders and Brussels-Capital) and 3 communities (Walloon, Flemish and German-speaking) and these regions and communities are under the umbrella of a federal government. This complexity illustrates the difficulty of making progress on certain projects and the small quarrels between regions. However, this complexity has the advantage of making such a small country very diverse.

3. In Belgium, there are 7 Parliaments

Belgium is the one and only country in the world that has 7 (seven) Parliaments. And yes, since there is a federal state, 3 communities and 3 regions, there is a parliament to represent each of these entities. Depending on the subject, it is one or the other of these parliaments that is competent. This creates, of course, some small problems at times. Last example, in 2020 Belgium has introduced a curfew to fight against the Covid pandemic, it is at 10 pm in Brussels and Wallonia and at 00 am in Flanders… We hope that the politicians find their way, because we have a little more difficulty…

4. Belgium is an officially trilingual country

Officially, Belgium is a trilingual country, with Dutch, French and German as official languages. German is only spoken around Eupen (in the Province of Liege in the Walloon region). The two main languages of the country are French and Dutch. In the north, Dutch is spoken, in the south French. In Brussels, there are 90% French speakers and 10% Dutch speakers.
This is why the speeches of the King and the Prime Minister are always translated into French and Dutch. This also explains why the Miss Belgium show juggles French and Dutch, which may make you smile. In practice, the only region where people are “practically all” bilingual is the Brussels region, as well as the German-speaking people. In the rest of the country, bilingualism (at school, on billboards, in public announcements or at work) is not mandatory.

5. The national symbol is only 70 cm long

The national symbol of Belgium is called Manneken pis and is a little boy who… peeing. He is almost as visited as the Statue of Liberty (well, almost…) but he is only 70 cm tall. His best asset: he dresses according to the weather, the events and his mood. So there is always an occasion to go and greet him and discover him with his different costumes. It is located not far from the Grand Place in Brussels. For those who are interested, Manneken Pis also has a friend (Jeanneke Pis) and a dog (Zinneke Pis) that can also be found in the capital.

6. Belgians and beer: a true love story

Belgium is known all over the world for its many Belgian (special) beers. It is also a national pride and a pillar of the Belgian economy. On the one hand, there are still beers brewed in the traditional way in abbeys. On the other hand, there are more than 49,000 Belgians working in the Belgian brewing sector. Where do these beers end up? On average each Belgian consumes 74 liters of beer per year, making us the 18th largest beer consumer in the world (2018 figures). Most of the Belgian production is therefore exported internationally.

 

7. French fries as national identity

French fry baraques (or “fritkots”), are part of the Belgian identity. In Belgium, every neighborhood (or almost every neighborhood) has its own “baraque à frites”.  In a country of 589 municipalities, there are no less than 5,000 fry shacks! Most of them are small family businesses and can be found at any time of the day – and sometimes even at night.  French fries are the national pride, that’s why many Belgians have tried to change the English word “French Fries” into “Belgian Fries”. Story to follow…
The secret of Belgian fries? The double cooking in oil. Double the fat, double the taste.

 

8. In Belgium, weather is an art

Weather is a very special concept in Belgium. It is probably the most common topic of conversation in the country. You can talk for hours about the sudden change in temperature, the arrival of spring in February and the snow flurries in April, the 15 degrees in July and the 25 degrees in November. Clearly, saying that ‘weather is not an exact science’ makes sense here! But this particularity is said to be the origin of Belgian chocolate. It is said that chocolate can be preserved in the sun and that is why we find the best (chocolate) here.

 

9. The flat country, kingdom of the bicycle

The flat country is also the kingdom for bicycle lovers. There are about 14.500km of bicycle paths in a country of… 280km long! If you like cycling, you will never be bored in Belgium. Every weekend, you can follow in the footsteps of Eddy Merckx*, a Belgian cycling legend. From north to south, from the coast to the Ardennes, you can easily visit Belgium by bike. In Wallonia, you can venture out on the RAVeL cycle paths, which run along (former) railroad lines. There are also 5 EuroVelo routes that cross the country.
*Eddy Merckx won the Tour de France 5 times.

10. Belgium gave birth to the comic strip

Among the greatest cartoonists and authors of comics, we find an epic of Belgian artists. Tintin, The Smurfs, Lucky Luke but also XIII and Largo Winch, to name but a few, are all Belgian.
For comic book lovers, it’s simple: “All comics on earth, if they are not Japanese or American, are Belgian”. You can go to the Belgian Comic Strip Center, in Brussels, or to the Hergé Museum, in Louvain-la-Neuve, to get all the information you need on the subject.

 

11.  Belgium, the country of surrealism

Belgium is often described as the “country of surrealism”. Why? On the one hand, Belgium has seen some of the greatest artists of surrealism, such as Magritte, known worldwide. On the other hand, Belgians are convinced that the political functioning, the Belgian laws and some traditions are sometimes totally surreal (have little sense or rationality). It’s true that Belgians are very self-deprecating and don’t take themselves too seriously, which can sometimes seem strange to others. In any case, I invite you to discover surrealism when you come to Belgium, either by visiting the Magritte Museum (in Brussels) or by looking for the absurd laws and rules that exist in our flat country.

 

12. There is the most lobby in the world, after Washington

For many inhabitants, this activity goes unnoticed, but Belgium is the seat of the European institutions and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). Brussels is referred to as the “European capital” for this very reason. These institutions bring a lot of lobbyists. What is a lobby? An interest group, a pressure group, an interest representative or an influence group. Brussels is the second most important city in the world for lobbying (after Washington D.C.).

 

13. Belgian artists are the talk of the town

Jacques Brel, Angèle, Stromae, Lara Fabian, Plastic Bertrand, Axelle Red, Lost Frequencies and Alice on the Roof all have one thing in common: they are Belgian. The list of Belgian artists is quite impressive, especially when you know that the Belgian population represents only 0.2% of the world population.

14. Belgium invented the saxophone

Well, it is not Belgium but Adolphe Sax who invented the saxophone. Adolphe Sax is from Dinant and he is the originator of this timeless musical instrument. We don’t talk much about it, but if you go to the city of Dinant, in the province of Namur (I recommend it), you will have the opportunity to visit the Saxophone Museum to learn more about it.

15. Belgians are unique in their kind (and their expressions too!)

I heard that Belgians have a nice accent. Of course, I’m not the best person to know this because I don’t have an accent!
In addition to our accent, what makes our charm (we are told) are our expressions. They are so fascinating that they can even be found in literature, in comics and in books dedicated to Belgian expressions. Our French and Dutch neighbors are fascinated by all the “Belgian expressions” we have developed. It is true that in the north as well as in the south, we claim our expressions and our accent. For example, in French-speaking Belgium we say “à tantôt” to say “à tout à l’heure”. And in terms of numbers, the number 70 is said “septante” and the 90 is said “nonante”. Which, personally, seems logical to me ( 🙂 )
On the other hand, the expression “Once” is a real mystery (for me). It’s an expression that sticks to us in spite of ourselves. In fact, we don’t say “once” in every way. You can experience this on a trip to Belgium (at least on the French side).
On the other hand… it is true that in Belgium we kiss once 😉

Some practical info to visit or live in Belgium

To get all info about Belgium,  the website Belgium.be
To get to know better Belgium as a country, I’d recommend this article of Belgium.be

To visit Belgium

 

Few articles to discover Belgium

In Wallonia

 

 

Dinant: À La Découverte Des Châteaux De Walzin, Vêves Et Freÿr

 

Randonnée aux alentours de Bouillon

 

In the Flanders

 

In Brussels


Quartier Marolles Bruxelles

Bruxelles Parc du Cinquantenaire

 

This article is one of the first I wrote on my travel blog.
I wanted to talk about Belgium, a country we know so little about.
Belgium is the country I call “home”, since it’s where I was born and raised.
Before traveling abroad, I knew little about the history and culture of my own country.
I realized when I returned home that I needed to learn more about it.
I am happy and proud to share a bit of Belgian culture.

> Know more about me <

 

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Have you been to Belgium ?
Are you living or planning to live here ?
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