The flu finally got me. Almost everybody here at home have been sick and at work too so it was my turn. Having eventually learned from past mistakes, I stayed home yesterday and tonight aswell. Sigh. Not skipping salsa tomorrow, though. Anyway, I thought you'd be interested in lerning a bit about the language struggle here in Belgium.
Belgium is geographically divided into two main language regions. French is spoken in Wallonia and Dutch (Flemish) is spoken in Flanders. German is also an official language but it doesn't cause great concern. Brussels as a third region is officially bilingual.
The language issue seems to be a sensitive topic for many and some claim it to be the main source for all political problems in Belgium. Both languages are mandatory in school but apparently the French-speakers have some motivation problems with learning Dutch. It's a no-no to speak French in Flanders. Brussels is situated in Flanders but it's inhabited by mainly
French-speakers. Only 7 % of the population in Brussels is
Dutch-speaking. French is spoken everywhere. Dutch can be heard here and there, just like English, Arabic, Portuguese, even Finnish. Dutch is a West Germanic language. I manage to
understand some bits and peaces, so in theory learning it shouldn't be
too hard, though it reminds me of the highly impacting series called
In practise almost everything is in both Dutch and French here in Brussels. Still, it can annoy people. Before in the Brussels metro you could hear music from the European charts. The problem was that there were many songs in French in the list. The complaints flooded in and the music was changed. Now there is 70% English, 15% Italian and 15% Spanish music played. (After 9 p.m., it's only classical music in the air). Tough line but the people aren't complaining.
Belgium has gotten the dubious record as the country with longest time without a government. Today 510 days and counting (follow the count-up at http://lerecorddumonde.be). The previous record was made by Iraq with 289 days. This has turned out not to be a huge problem, as many services and a great deal of political power is handled on a regional level.
When I have tried to ask people about the political situation, the general comments have been that it's too complicated for a foreigner to understand this, that there is no real solution and that things are going well in any case so I shouldn't worry. The wounds run deep on both sides and just the memories are most likely enough to keep these two regions apart for a few generations or so. A problem is also that Flanders is more prosperous and some see it subsidizing Wallonia, which wasn't always the case. A sizeable minority especially in Flanders has voted for parties that support splitting the country in two. The fate of Brussels would probably be one of the biggest issues.
For some reason, here people have had no problems understanding that I speak Swedish and yet I don't feel Swedish. I'm a proud Finn, no matter what language I speak. It's the same here. Everybody are Belgians, united by the monarchy, Tintin and French fries (that actually originate from Belgium). Apparently the country is close to finally forming a government again. Still, this is only a temporary solution - once again. Will there be peace? Probably not.