C’est du Belge: 3 things that can undo the Belgians

Let’s talk about the Belgians just for kicks. As you may have already noticed, they are not exactly the friendliest, sunniest, or the most spontaneous and outgoing of folks. They behave more like northerners – detached, reserved, and phlegmatic.

It’s not to say the Belgians lack warmth. They can be nice and polite, but friendliness is often limited to the customary “bonjour”  and perhaps a “ça va?” on the side. Belgians are sociable in a formal, guarded, and almost mechanical way. It’s sometimes tempting to poke them with a stick or tickle them with a feather just to check if they feel anything and to make sure they’re not robots.

But there are a few things that can loosen up the Belgians and temporarily crack their somewhat rigid and bland exterior.


1.    Football

Did you see how the Belgians became real people during the FIFA World Cup? They danced, sang, goofed around, cursed, and cursed some more. Some of them downright turned into clowns. And each time the Red Devils kicked their way to victory, the Belgians got even wilder, crazier, more real. They were suddenly a lot of fun. Just who were those people and what had they done with the Belgians?!

The World Cup was proof of how football can bring the Belgians out of their shells. But the most moving and unforgettable scene of all was the one where linguistic differences suddenly subsided, revealing the ever elusive Belgian sense of unity and identity. For once, they weren’t Flemish or Francophones. They were red together and simply Belgians. 

If the Belgians were an emoji

2.    Politics

Getting Belgians to respond, react, or care could sometimes be like talking to a wall. The emoji above may best capture the Belgians who are just not given to emotion or expression either because they’re very private or they have nothing to express.  But sometimes talking about politics can push their buttons, especially if you bring up the sensitive situation between the Flemish and the Francophones.

For example, try asking a Francophone why the Flemings have more efficient government systems. Or ask a Fleming why the Francophones are more influential and powerful in Brussels. Most of them will likely begin with a diplomatic or dismissive answer, but a little more prodding may reveal their deepest and truest sentiments about an issue that has afflicted their country for more than a century and a half.

The unforgettable “drunken” politician, Michel Daerden

3.    Alcohol (and anything stronger)

If nothing else works, there’s always alcohol, the almighty and universal buster of people’s  inhibitions, defence mechanisms, and sense of self-preservation. Fortunately, the Belgians live in the land of great beer which is just what they need to let their hair down a little bit from time to time.

A warning though. For some Belgians, the transformational effects of booze can be radical. Almost like Jekyll and Hyde. Suddenly they won’t stop talking and their vocal volume shoots up to 100 decibels. In some cases, any sense of class may even go down the drain.

What alcohol can do to the Belgians

The World Cup is over and the Belgians are back to their old, usual, uptight selves. But there’s always politics or alcohol (or both) to get them to lower their guards and snap out of their robotic ways. Hopefully, the sunny weather will also help. And if all else fails, maybe then you can try poking them with a stick or tickling them with a feather.