Aug 212009

(asked by Dan from somewhere)

Recently you were asked what the French thought of the Quebecois and that question triggered a similar one in my mind: what do the French think of another bilingual, quiet country: Belgium? Aside from Tintin and French fries, I’m sorry to say I don’t know much about them, but I wonder what citizens of the Hexagon think of them?

Thanks again for your blog!

Well, first let me say that even if you say you don’t know much about Belgium, at least you know that Tintin and French fries come from there and not from France, believe me, that’s a rare thing among English speakers.

I don’t think the French think anything in particular about Belgium. The fact that Belgium has three very distinct communities prevents people to have a general opinion about the country I guess.
But they have opinions (or not) about the different communities.

Let’s start with the smallest and less known community: the German-speaking one. It’s pretty easy with them, most French people don’t even know it exists, and the ones who do, don’t really think anything in particular about them.

Then you have the Flemish-speaking community. French people tend to not think much about them really either, except some sort of mistrust because they know that most of them are Francophobes (not really against the French, but against the French speaking Belgians), so they cannot be trusted, but as long as they don’t direct their Francophobia against France, they are tolerated.

The French-speaking community now. Well, when a French person talks about a Belgian without being more specific, they mean a French-speaking one (a “Walloon”), after all, they’re the only ones that really matter to them.
First of all, I think the French consider Walloons as the closest thing one can find to a French person abroad. And it’s true that among all the French speaking communities in the world, Walloon Belgians are the one that’s the closest to France, culturally speaking that is, even closer to the French than Québécois are (even though they used to be French).
To tell you the truth, I have two good French-speaking Belgian friends, and if it was not for their accent, I’d forget they’re not French. Of course, that’s not exactly true, if you dig a little bit, there are differences, but they’re really slight.
Actually, many famous people in France are indeed Belgian, but people tend to forget it, that’s how French they seem.
There are even some French people that think that if Belgium were to split into two halves (which may or may not happen someday), the French speaking part should be merged into France.
Personally, I think they should decide, not the French (well both countries should decide together if the situation occurs), but very often when I describe Walloon Belgians, I humorously say that they’re just French people that fell on the wrong side of the border someday.

Apart from that, as the French care about the fine things in life, Belgium is also revered for having the best French fries (of course), but also the best beers in the world (by far).
As you mention Tintin, one must also mentions that if comic books are considered an art in France (they are) it’s mostly thanks to Belgian comic books.

Also, people there seem more relaxed and hedonistic than in France.

I don’t really have much more to say about Belgium really. One the one hand because I don’t feel it’s that different from the nearby regions of France and on the other hand, because I don’t know much about the subtleties of its culture.

And if French people want to pitch in and say what they think about Belgium, please feel free, as well as any Belgian reader if they want to give their two cents.

Finally, I must tell you to visit this post from “Stuff Parisians Like”, it’ll give you more insight on how Parisians (and not all the French in general) see Belgium and the Belgians. And if you don’t follow that great blog that “Stuff Parisians Like” is yet, here is your chance to do so.

More Questions Answered:

  4 Responses to “What do French people think about Belgium and the Belgians?”

  1. Hi David,

    I raise my Chimay Red to you…


  2. Maintenant j'ai envie d'une Faro. C'est malin.

  3. adore the frites - simply the best in the world.

    Too many years ago to remember I first tasted them and have been a fan ever since!

    Not a beer fan - also not a fan of Brussels! But Charleroi and Liege are amongst my favourite cities in the world

  4. But surely, for Parisians, at least, Belgian accent = comically provincial (well, I suppose for Parisians that's true of anyone from anywhere else). My very first exchange visit as a schoolboy was to a very ordinary family in Paris, who taught me how various Belgian sounds were deeply hilarious: and I noticed the same assumption in the film Diner des Cons. Is that also true of the attitude to people from northern France?

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