Belgian people are subject of a huge amount of jokes and clichés – they eat fries at every meal, have beer running through their veins and only read comic books. As with any stereotype, those regarding Belgium exist for a reason. So to help you tell facts from fiction, let’s address the main clichés you might hear.
Belgium is a small, flat and rainy country.
All true. With an area of only 30.600 km, Belgium is a small country. Its highest point is actually not high at all, at only 694m above sea-level, at the “signal de Botrange”.
What regards the rain, Belgium has a maritime temperate climate with a high amount of rain in all seasons. It rains an average of 200 days per year, but don’t worry it wont last all day! And, unlike what the cliché tends to say, Belgians do not live in rubber boots all year long to avoid puddles. During summer, the temperatures are rising and Belgians escape to the beach to overcome the heat waves. Yes, in Belgium too, sunburns exist!
Belgians are fond of mussels, beer, French Belgian fries and chocolate. They eat them at every meal.
Partly true. Belgians have been brewing beer since the Middle Age, so they’ve had plenty of time to perfect this craft. And nothing matches the beer better than delicious Belgian fries – served in a paper cone with mayonnaise, of course. So indeed, Belgian are passionately in love with their fries, but let’s admit that anyone who’s ever tried Belgian fries loves them too ! But let’s not over exaggerate; Belgians do not eat fries at breakfast, nor even once a week. At least, not all of us…
What regard the mussels, you have to know that it has seasonality, just like fruits and vegetables. We have a little trick to know when we can eat Belgian mussels: every month that ends with “ber”. It means that if you follow this rule, you should better eat mussels in September, October, November and December !
And what about chocolate and waffle? Well it is true that they are part of the Belgian cuisine and have gained worldwide fame. But still, these are not eaten at every meal, but are just really appreciated like tortillas in Spain or pastas in Italy.
We highly recommend you to look beyond those clichés because Belgian gastronomy has much more to offer you. Here is a list of delicious typical meals you should try during your semester abroad : stoemp, carbonnades, boulettes liègeoises, chicons au gratin, and many more…
The Belgian political system is a mess.
Partly true. The Belgian political system is difficult to understand even for those who’ve lived in the country their whole lives.
Belgium has three deciding authorities: the federal Government, the ‘Three Language Communities’ (Dutch, French and German) and the ‘Three Regions’ (Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels-Capital). Each region and community has its own government and responsibilities.
The constant fight between Flanders and Wallonia or between the Flemish and French Communities are at the base of the current country political problems. In short, each one wants more decision-making power and because of their deep history in fighting, they’ve never found any compromise.
Flemish and Walloons hate each other.
Wrong ! The politicians of both linguistic groups are constantly quarrelling, that is true. Due to the political division of the country, they always argue about responsibilities. Even the school system has been separated. But in reality, the Belgian people are not so divided. Although they speak different languages, Flemish and Walloons have lived for centuries with each other. They don’t share the same celebrities or the same references in terms of TV shows, but yet, in most cases, we all live in a rather peaceful and cordial way!
Don’t worry, you can make fun out of these clichés with Belgians they have a great, self-deprecating sense of humor. These past years Belgians even have produced or written a great amount of movies, books and songs exaggerating Belgian clichés.
To conclude, if you need to take one main lesson from this article is that Belgians surely love their beers and fries, but most of all, they love sharing their peculiar culture with any foreigner who’s willing to learn about them. So during you exchange, don’t hesitate to get to them, you’ll see that making new friends in Belgium is a child’s game!