Belgium is perhaps better known for chocolates, the Grand Place in Brussels. It has over 1000 different beers. Some are infused with fruit such as the ominously named ‘la Mort Subite’ or Sudden Death.
In May 2005, I arrived in Boulevard du Jubilee, to start a new job in one if those NGO'S. It is situated in a traditionally Flemish area in the north of Brussels. I soon discovered that Belgium, is a bit odd! I found it mired in linguistic and cultural conflict, with idiosyncratic rules and regulations. In short there is a fair bit of bureaucracy, a little disconcerting for an Anglo Saxon with Irish roots.
To live in Belgium, you have to register with the local Police, including a face to face interview with the 'Old Bill'. Off I traipsed, with my passport, rent agreement for my flat, and a letter from my employer. On completion of the paper work, the policeman told me that his colleagues would call around to my place of abode to verify I was living where I said I was!! Two days later the Police rang my door bell. On verifying my name, they reprimanded immediately. My crime was that I had not put my name on the doorbell at the entrance to the building. This is a requirement under Belgium law!
Opening up a bank account with DEXIA Bank, was an equally challenging experience. Fortunately, a home visit was not required! However, I discovered that Belgium had already dispensed with using cheques, 90% of transactions were by electronic transfer, or credit card. DEXIA, provided services to the public and NGO sector. It became the first big casualty of the 2011 European sovereign debt crisis. It was bought out by the Belgium state and trades now under the name of Belfius.
The final quaint aspect of Belgium bureaucracy was the obligation to register to vote. Elections in Belgium take place on Sundays. Voting is compulsory and those who do not vote must pay a fine. Unless there is ‘good reason’. One good reason is not to be present in Belgium on election day. I never was, and therefore I was unable to vote. Nevertheless, I was able to avoid the fine by signing a declaration to confirm why I would be absent. Don’t you just love Belgium bureaucracy?
It was a shame really, because with three tiers of local and regional government I could have voted in them all!
Belgium would not be noted for its gastronomic skills. But, let me leave you with two tasty little dishes that you must try if for some strange reason you are tempted to go to Belgium.
Waterzooi: A creamy fish stew using eggs and butter, originating from Ghent.
Stoemp: A staple of Brussels cuisine, stoemp blends mashed potatoes and vegetables such as brussels sprouts, carrots, onion and kale. It’s served either as a side dish, or an entrée with sausage or stewed meet.