Happy birthday! You are 190 today! To compare, the UAE is 48, I think you’re looking pretty good for an oldie.
Let’s face it, Us, Belgian citizens aren’t used to celebrate you properly. We don’t plan a fancy reunion weekend for you. We don’t bake a black yellow and red cake. We don’t colour our faces or dress with your colours. I don’t know one person who actually watches the official parade on TV and I’m not even sure there is a firework anymore. Compared to Americans, we are boring (although boring is kind of an advantage these days…). No one gets a Belgian flag tattoo (If you did, please send me a picture, I’ll post about you!) or goes for Belgian “tricolore” bed sheets, roaster and a motorcycle (same, if you have, please, please contact me, we have to meet).
However, I’ve never seen Belgium celebrated so much as abroad! We turn patriotic the minute we cross the border. Yeah, I know, how hypocrite of me, right? I said I love you, but I left you. We are better apart you and me, you know it! Plus, I keep writing to you very often, so we are sort of in a long-distance relationship that works better than an actual relationship. It’s a WIN-WIN, at least until I have to come back, then, we might need a therapy.
Of course, when you’re a diplomat, your national day is the most important day of the year (I’ve been told to buy the best dress for that day, didn’t get a dime for it though). You have to make your country shine on the local community. We organize big events, parties, fund raisers,
French Belgian fries’ dispenser, Smurfs encounter, etc. Balloons, flags, colours, everything is there! I have never had a black, yellow and red cake in Belgium, but it seems to be the norm everywhere else in the world! Oh, don’t worry, it’s not only for you Belgium, you’ll see the exact same macaroons pyramid a week before in blue-white-red for the French, it’s just the classic national day package.
Expats also celebrate their national day abroad, it’s the get-together-time for all fellow Belgians and talk (badly) about you and the Dutch and French neighbours! It’s like a family reunion. It’s comfy, we laugh, we didn’t want to go, and some parts are horrible, but globally it’s fun and we will do it again next year. It’s a very important date, the 21st of July. Although in many places due to the climate or other factors, embassies celebrate Belgium on November 15th, the King’s day. This year is, of course, a different story and celebrations won’t have the same scale.
I’ve moved out of the country and changed. I mingled a bit too much with people who fancy their flag and it got to me. Or maybe it’s because this is what defines us over here, we are the Belgian diplomats. We are supposed to own it I guess… We can’t hide, that’s how we are labelled. We’re lucky we don’t have to have a flag in front of our house to tell EVERYONE, like ambassadors do. But when we’re having a party, we put the flag at the door just to let people know there will be beer Inside. When I’m invited to a party, I usually put a Belgian touch to my look, although we don’t have any national official outfit. We constantly represent you, Belgium, and we have to behave accordingly. That part is tricky, I won’t lie to you.
But something lingers in my mind: are we still Belgians? Are we still in touch with the way you, Belgium, think and act? When you expatriate, at first, you watch the news of your country, you feel the need to stay connected. But I must admit I stopped watching Belgian news after 6 months of expat. I thought it was too narrowed down and didn’t offer a proper image of the world I live in. The Middle east is NEVER on the news in Belgium (except when it’s bad news). Thanks to my husband’s job I was made aware of important events or elections (they are pretty common MANDATORY things in Belgium). When the covid-19 crisis started, I watched Belgian news again, only to get seriously in a bad mood. To be fair to you, it’s a unique crisis and every country messed up (a bit to a lot, some completely trumped it up) in the way they reacted to it. Nobody (apart from Bill Gates) saw this coming and no action plan was ready. Even the WHO seemed like a baby bird that fell out of the nest. Hence, like a child, harder on his parents than on others, I was harder on you, my homeland than on other countries. I was even furious some days. I think you, Belgium, deserved a better reaction. You deserved to out-stand other EU countries and take back your right place in the EU ranking. You’ve been the queen of social security for years (maybe because I was working there? Or not. Haha haha). What happened? It’s like every day was April’s fools. First you had no mask then you bought masks from a scammer and lost money then you had masks but said people should not wear them, to finally imposing the masks when it was already too late. And this continues on every aspect of the crisis, the contact tracing isn’t really working yet. But it will be ready somewhere end of august, really??? It’s hard to defend you abroad when neighbours come with press reviews about you!
Belgium, don’t misinterpret me, You’ve been good to me, I won’t deny it. The more I travel the more I see your advantages and your strengths. But hey… the more I also see your weaknesses. I mean, between us, do you really need those 7 governments, 10 provinces and 589 communes? Do you even know every Minister (48, maybe 49 after publishing), mayor (589) and governor (10)? What role did you leave to our great King and Queen? Don’t hide behind the saying “France and Germany have many layers too”, didn’t you learn at school that it’s not because your neighbour jumps from the bridge that you have to do so too? Did you realize your complex structure slowed down the reaction to the Covid-19 crisis? Yes, I’m sure you did, but I don’t see any talks about simplifying it for the future crisis!!! Breaking news, there will be crisis again, it’s not “The little house on the prairie” down here. Complexity is beauty, but you’re a country, you need to be efficient and flexible, not just a pretty hot mess (leave that part for me).
I’m not good at politics. In fact, I had to google many times to write this post because I had no idea exactly how many Ministers etc we have. And I know we have a beautiful country with 2 different cultures living inside, which is hard to organize but hey Belgium, I HAVE THIS AT HOME TOO! My husband is Flemish and I’m Walloon, guess what, we can reach an agreement in less than 2 years! So, maybe you should work harder on your own marriage, just saying.
I won’t be too hard on you, I know things like this take time so, I’m telling you, you have 10 years to get better. You have to set an objective for your 200th birthday: get your life in order and show vision for a better future. Be the leader you have the potential to be! Remember you’re at the heart and start of Europe, be that inspiring Belgium!
You’re a natural leader because of your people! Just like King Albert II said “ça, c’est du Belge”. He meant that there is warmth, talents and potential in Belgium. Your biggest advantage isn’t your weather (it’s horrible), your soil (empty since 1981) or your traditions (maybe too much alcohol driven), but it’s your citizens. They, we, live to complain, yes, but deep down we’re good, hard-working and understanding, we rather grab two beers than a gun when we’re having a brawl.
Be inspired by them and while criticizing your own institutions, take measures to change them for the better and accomplish great things. Have the balls to kick the wolves out of the fold.
This being said, go, have fun on your birthday, but please, start working soon (when you’re recovered from your hangover) on the new you, I need a bit of help to sell you abroad. Because I’m good at diverting but I don’t lie… So, you better get your ducks in a row soon.