If you finished the sentence by talking about the European Union, chocolate or the Maniken Pis, you get one point. If you answered with the name of the ugliest monument I’ve ever seen, the Atomium, score two. But Belgians would give you most points, say five, for realising that many things other countries are famous for were actually invented in Belgium, or at least are more a part of their culture.
Topping the list are frites. You’ll know them as French Fries. If you thought they were invented by McDonalds, deduct five points. But the French didn’t invent them either. At least that’s what the Belgians tell me. Somewhere in the export chain, the recipe was lost, though. And I’m grateful. Belgians prefer to eat their frites with mayonnaise. One day I’ll find the courage to try it, but my stomach still rebels at the idea. “I’d like some oil with my oil, please.” Hmmmm.
Beer? Aren’t the Germans famous for beer? No, isn’t it the Irish? Actually, Belgium has one of the oldest traditions of brewing, according to ‘the Rough Guide,’ and with over five hundred varieties, it’s got to be the most diverse selection in the world. Ooops. I’m going to be shot for leaving some doubt in that statement. Everyone has their own favourite, which makes it extremely difficult to cater for a party, especially when I don’t drink beer myself – even Belgian beer and I’ve already been castrated for that failing. But I’ve been forgiven because I find the whole industry fascinating. Each pub serves a large but limited selection, and whatever you order will come in a special glass stamped with the logo of the respective beer. Belgians even have the glasses of their favourite beers at home, alongside the collection of glasses for white wine, red wine, port, whiskies and aperitifs.
One of the more surprising claims is techno music. No, sorry, I keep getting confused. Apparently techno music is a poor copy of something called ‘new beat’ music, which the Belgians invented – or were reknowned for. New Beat has 90 to 110 beats per minute and is usually played electronically. Umm.. excuse me, but isn’t that techno?
And I can’t forget diamonds. Many Australians seem to think that Amsterdam is the diamond capital of the world, but everyone in Europe (writer’s license – go with me on this) knows that it’s Antwerp. Rumour has it – even the Antwerp Diamond High Council won’t claim it as fact – that a Belgian by the name of Lodewyk van Bercken discovered the process of using one diamond to polish another. When Antwerp fell to the Spanish in the 17th century, it lost its title as the world centre for the diamond industry. Amsterdam picked up the title when the skilled workmen fled there, which may explain the confusion in my homeland. We were all shipped down under not long after that. Antwerp regained it by the end of the 19th century and doesn’t plan to let the words diamonds and Amsterdam be used together in a positive context any time soon.
My favourite though, is the dog in Antwerp. Score ten points for knowing this – unless you’re Japanese, in which case it’s only worth three points. A number of years ago (I don’t know the number), Antwerp Cathedral was swamped with Japanese tourists asking to ‘see where the dog was.’ It turns out that in 1872, Louise De La Ramee, an English writer, visited Antwerp for an afternoon, if rumour can be taken for truth, and loved it so much that she used it as the setting for a story called ‘Dog of Flanders’. In the story, a boy goes with his dog every day to look at the Rubens painting in the cathedral, dreaming of becoming an artist himself. I haven’t read the story, but it tells of the hardships the boy goes through and how the dog stuck by him. It recently became very popular in Japan to the extent that the cathedral had a statue made to keep the tourists happy.
Any list of Belgian icons must include comics: Tintin, The Smurfs. Comics account for the majority of the publishing industry’s revenue in Belgium.
So, how did you score? I would only have had 1 point when I arrived, but I’m up to thirty now and constantly finding more.