We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Back in the USSR (almost)

Back to Brussels for the first time since 1990 (and the first time since 1988 for more than 24 hours).

The racism is worse than I expected, especially on the part of Flemish speakers against French speakers (not just Walloons). The little things like shop opening hours, the lack of intelligence of policemen, the incompetence or unhelpfulness of bus drivers, trigger my French prejudices about Belgium being a sort of Franco-Dutch nation of retards. Partly it’s the accent and the slow-paced speech. A Belgian professor of mathematics with an IQ of 180 describing integrated calculus would sound like a dimwit to a French person.

It is all the more strange for the attractiveness of the central districts of the town. Belgium is an ancient centre of capitalism: at one time Antwerp was the world’s largest trading centre and either Ghent or Brussels (I forget which) is supposed to have the oldest stock exchange in the world. There is architectural evidence of this: the older houses of Brussels are very individually designed, there was clearly a lot of wealth around in the 17th century, and there are more statues per square mile than any other city I can think of (and most of them look pretty good).

White beggars in Belgium speak at least three languages: French, Flemish and English, they often also speak at least a smattering of a couple of either Dutch, German, Turkish or Arabic. The non-white beggars didn’t speak to me (is this an indication that whites don’t give them money willingly?). As usual in Europe, the East Europeans doing the low-status jobs are ridiculously overqualified: engineering school graduates working as garbage collectors or cleaners, bar staff with medical qualifications.

In one respect Brussels is far superior to Paris: there are street kiosks in the town centre where one can buy snails, as well as the gauffre (waffle) and crèpe sellers that have been exported to other cities. One nastier thing is that in France I can go to a hotel, pay cash, give a false name and show no ID, whereas Belgium seems to have the old surveillance society trick of requiring all visitors to register their ID (this used to include staying at private addresses, but I don’t know if that still formally applies). Another bad thing is the police sirens are the same as in London: the stupid loud whooping noises designed for a grid road city that are confusing in cramped city streets. Parisian sirens are less noisy, don’t pump the adrenalin of police drivers as much (I would love to know if there are fewer fatal road accidents caused by Paris police responding to emergency calls than London), and you can tell where they’re coming from.

I made a walk-in visit to an Emergency Room to arrange for a prescription and found a compromise between the British National Health Service (queue, grubby surroundings) and France (helpful, competent and much, much, much faster, but one pays). The price of the medication was cheaper than in the UK. I shall make enquiries about gun laws and taxes. The disturbing evidence so far is the number of notices about taxes. It is easier to find information about registering for taxes than finding a decent street map of Brussels.

4 comments to Back in the USSR (almost)

  • Paul Marks

    Belgium is one of the few places in the Western world with higher taxes than France (you could look that up without going there of course – indeed actually visiting a country makes it HARDER to find out about it, as one will be mislead by the tiny bit of the country one sees).

    Many of the people of Flanders claim that most of the tax money ends up in either Brusssels (that island in the middle of Flanders) or in Wallonia (spelling) itself.

    Perhaps that is one reason why so many of the them get angry whenever they hear the French language

    I have often thought that the Flemish speakers just might one day turn against the Welfare State – not because of some noble devotion to freedom (that is thin on the ground in any country), but simply to spite the French speakers.

  • Sandy P.

    You should check out livefrombrussels on blogspot.

  • > The racism is worse than I expected, especially on the part of Flemish speakers against French speakers (not just Walloons).

    Speaking French in Flanders is mostly problematic in Brussels and along flashpoints on the linguistic frontier. Up north, people in commercial establishments and public institutions usually will help you in whatever language they are able to speak. When in doubt, leave the choice of speaking French or English to your local contact.

    > I shall make enquiries about gun laws

    not legal advice:
    IIRC, weapons used for hunting or sports do not need a license. A .22 rifle ought to qualify as such.

    To get a license for a weapon usable for selfdefense, you’ll need to give a reason. My guess is it probably has to be a good one, at least something better than “I fear I wil get mugged and the daftsounding police will be elsewhere” .

  • You might think the shop opening hours are bad, but we’ve got one definite advantage over the U.K.: bar opening hours! We don’t have rididculous laws requiring them to close at 11.00 or 12.00 p.m.! We just can keep drinking all night long…
    (Lucky we have such great beer too…)

    The beer helps us forget about the high taxes to subsidize the French-speaking part of the country (more wealth per capita is transferred north to south each year than goes from West to East Germany).

    Oh, and ‘Flemish’ is really Dutch with an accent and some specific words are different. A bit like British and American English, really.