Us Europeans

The low countries

Antwerpen, BE (View on map)

Another border crossing is on the way. Even though The Netherlands and Belgium may have a lot in common, language and large parts of history included, there are distinct differences between the two countries. Belgians have very little difficulty recognising their neighbours from up north and this is why:

Stef (29) calls Belgium and The Netherlands two worlds apart. He says: `The Dutch are known for being noisy and arrogant. They talk louder and are way less reserved than us Belgians. They will be happy to call anybody their friends, which you only do in Belgium when you really know and like somebody. Becoming friends with Belgians takes a little more effort, because we are not as outgoing and extrovert. We will always wait for the other person to take the initiative. The Dutch are more spontaneous at first sight, but we are more spontaneous with people we know well. In Belgium, you don`t need to set a date before you can meet a friend. But even though we are a little more nonchalant about time, agenda planning is becoming more and more common here as well. But in general, we get along quite well with the Dutch, a lot of people have friends across the border. Whether you talk about individuals or the country as a whole makes, as always, quite a big difference.`

Language
Dutch and Flemish are considered to be one and the same language, with Flemish as a dialect of standard Dutch. In reality, some regions in Flanders speak a language that even the average Flemish person cannot understand. Compared to standard Dutch, Flemish tends to be more formal, has a slightly different pronounciation and in many cases uses different words. Standard Dutch is spoken with a harsh and guttural `G`. Ours is much softer, and some other letters are pronounced slightly different as well. The differences in vocabulary are often funny, because the Dutch alternatives don`t really make sense to us or mean something else.` Both sides accuse each other of using to many words that are originally French. The truth is somewhere in the middle. On either side, it`s just different words that have been integrated.

In Dutch language competitions and quizzes, Belgians usually perform much better than the Dutch. On average, they are better at spelling and know more words. The winners of the TV quiz Tien voor Taal (10 for Language), hosted by a Belgian and Dutch presenter and broadcast in both countries, usually has the Flemish team win. The Big Dictation of the Dutch language is more often than not won by a Flemish person.

The shared language exposes Belgium to quite some Dutch influences and vice versa. Most Belgians have access to all three Dutch public TV channels and Dutch people can view the two public Flemish channels as well. One public channel from Wallony (RTBF) used to be included in the package too. At present, most providers choose to offer their French-speaking audience the international channel TV5 instead. Belgian and Dutch media are also closely intertwined, which leads to both sides being quite well-informed about each other. Not everything is the same though. A Dutch person could well be very surprised to see how much Belgian-specific media Flanders has.

Exhibitionism
Lientje (30) is Dutch but has been living in Belgium for the last couple of years. She explains that the Dutch are often seen as arrogant because they lack embarrassment, they feel free to do whatever they want to. She adds: `Dutch houses have huge windows and you can often just see people move around or watch TV. That would be way too much openness for a Belgian, who likes to hide a little rather than drawing attention to him- or herself. A TV program like De Gouden Kooi (The Golden Cage), where people are put together in a house and whoever stays is allowed to keep the house, would not be imaginable in Belgium. The people in that program make such a big mess out of everything, and the whole world can see it. That`s the kind of stuff a Belgian would rather look away from.`

The perceived exhibitionism is a lot less of a nuisance when it comes to Belgian guys looking for Dutch women. Pieter (28, photo) explains: `Dutch girls are known for being `easier` than their Belgian counterparts. On the other hand, they have the disadvantage of sometimes being overtalkative, and speaking with an accent that not every Belgian can bear for a long time. But at least it`s easy to get in touch with them.`

The liberal way of thinking is also reflected in the Dutch legal system. In recent years, Belgium used to like taking The Netherlands as an example for new laws regarding personal freedom. Pieter says that this tendency is changing: `The Netherlands usually takes things one step further then Belgium. They often have things a few years before we have them. Good things and bad things alike. Like The Netherlands, Belgium has quite a tolerant view on the use of drugs. Marihuana officially forbidden but the worst thing that can happen to you when you smoke a joint is for a police officer to force you to throw it away. For a while, people were allowed to have one marihuana plant in their house, but that obviously led to people planting them for others as well. Drug legislation in Belgium is a bit unclear, but at least it allows for some personal interpretation.`

Moerdijk
`Hollanders` refers to people from the North-Western provinces of The Netherlands, and when a Belgian uses that word without context, it is not intended in a positive way. Belgians tend to have more sympathy for people from the South of The Netherlands, because their language is more similar and they share a bit of the Burgundic lifestyle. They like good food and good company, while `Hollanders` are referred to as rude and hasty. To Belgians, a Hollander is somebody who lives north of the Moerdijk Bridge, a point which Dutch people themselves also consider a cultural border. The Dutch would make the distinction between above and below the big rivers, especially when it comes to the celebration of Carnival. The typical divide further prescribes that the south of The Netherlands, like Belgium, is predominantly catholic, while the north is protestant.

If not by their wild behaviour, the Dutch are recognised by the yellow number plates. Pieter says: `Their driving style is not much better or worse than the Belgian one, but if a Dutch car driver does something wrong, that`s a good excuse for calling him a stupid Hollander.` One thing the Dutch are better at is to avoid drink and drive. That`s something people in Belgium can still elegantly combine, even though they are not proud of it. They know they shouldn`t but they still do. I guess Dutch people are a bit better at observing rules.`

Jokes
Belgians are well aware of the fact that the Dutch, and the French too, like make jokes about Belgians. The downgrading jokes add to the stereotype that the Dutch are arrogant, but apart from that, the Belgians can`t be bothered and simply joke back. Belgian jokes about the Dutch generally refer to the Dutch stinginess, and they are similar to the English jokes about the Scottish. The Belgians can further amuse themselves laughing about each Dutch person owning a cheese slicer and a bicycle, two tools that also exist in Belgium but are far less common here than they are in The Netherlands.

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