Inside a country: the Netherlands and Belgium

Aug 2010
Welsh Marches
I thought it might be a good idea to have a new thread in our 'inside a country' series, which have proved interesting in the past (so far we have had threads on Germany, Greece and the UK). This time, two in one, the neighbouring low countries, the Netherland and Belgium. Members from there are invited to provide their inside knowledge about the peculiarities and culture of their countries, and the character of their people and what it is like to live there; and those who have visited those countries may also wish to offer their impressions. As in the similar threads, the aim is, above all, to provide personal impressions about life in the country, and about its character in relation to its distinctive history, without getting involved in disputes about controversial politiclal issues.


Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
I have no great philosophical or cultural insights to offer on these countries as I have only made brief visits to each. Holland in the late 70s, Belgium in the early 80s. My most memorable impression of Holland is the casual display of sex workers in the windows of their establishments in Amsterdam, and Anne Franks house. A bit of a juxtaposition. My impressions of Belgium are the Manneken Pis in Brussels, the medieval square in the middle of the city and a rather tacky beer stein which I still have. :)

Louise C

Ad Honorem
Jan 2011
Southeast England
Tall Man in a Low Land by Harry Pearson is a very entertaining travel book about Belgium. I like what he says when comparing the Belgians to the French:

It has always been a tradition in Britain to look to the south for inspiration and colour. You can see that even in the advertising campaigns for one of Belgium's most successful exports, Stella Artois. The posters have for years tried to suggest that this lager comes from France. You can imagine the men in their Soho offices pointing to flip-charts marked 'French sexy, Belgians boring.'

A personal view is that they have got this the wrong way round. It seems to me that the essence of banality is predictability, and who could be more woefully predictable than the French, with their loveof fine wine, good weather, and chic clothing? Let's be honest - anybody can develop a taste for these things, there's nothing big or clever about it. To carefully nurture a fondness for cacti, canaries and chicory, however, as the Belgians have done, takes rare originality and flair. The only mildly eccentric thing about the French is their pop music, and even here they are undermined by their northern neighbours. Johnny Hallyday, the leading figure of what the French dub, with typical gallic grooviness, le musique ye-ye, is - you guessed it - half Belgian.'


Ad Honorem
Jan 2012
Northern part of European lowland
I have not been there, but think Belgium,perhaps the Netherlands too, has been host to many of the greatest battles in European history. Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, and the world wars in particular. But perhaps there is little there that remind visitors of all these events?
Aug 2009
Iirc there was a military historian who had summed up all the battle sites in Belgium for the early modern period alone, came down to a little over 300. But no, that doesn't leave a lot of traces.
Aug 2010
whats the relationship like between the two countries, after the napoleonic carve up of the european map the two countries were combined into one which while looking neat on the map divided a lot of people by culture. it didn't take long for the two to split so how are things between the two through there history and currently.
Aug 2009
The cultural split in essence came to pass as an entirely arbitrary event. The current borders between the 2 countries de facto is the frontline of the Spanish and Republican armies in 1648, which makes the border a bit bulgy and with the strange Belgium enclave in the Netherlands (between those 3 bubbles on the northern frontier). This arbitrary division which ran contrary to all historical predecents of course over the course of centuries became a reality.
Aug 2010
Welsh Marches
Waterzooi is the classic vegetable stew of Flanders, made either with fish (presumably the original form) or with chicken: more about it here:

Classic Belgian Dishes -Waterzooi explained – Fred Ferretti | Vanberg & DeWulf

Here you can see someone cooking it (the Ghent version, with chicken):

[ame=""]Koken met Guido - Gentse waterzooi - YouTube[/ame]

If you're going to order it at a restaurant (and you really ought to if you're visiting Belgium), you'll have to know how to pronounce it, so this is what it sounds like:
waterzooi pronunciation: How to pronounce waterzooi in Dutch
(crazy diphthongs like that are another typical feature of the Low Countries)

Someone's recipe for chicken waterzooi:
Waterzooi (Dutch chicken stew) - Eat this.


Ad Honorem
Jun 2011
California, USA
predictable than the French, with their loveof fine wine, good weather, and chic clothing?
This guy has never been to Paris, it seems =). Or southwestern France which is more rainy than southern England. Moreover, the English do appreciate wine too, it's just that they don't produce it.

As for the Belgians and the Dutch, I must say that I find the Dutch (all those I know came from Holland) significantly more laid-back and the Belgians, especially from Flanders, more rigid and conservative.

I also came across a funny oxford dictionary of the 19th century that listed several expressions mentioning the Dutch. I found the "Dutch dinner" especially funny : a dinner in which the host gets drunk but not the guests.

I have not been there, but think Belgium,perhaps the Netherlands too, has been host to many of the greatest battles in European history.
Well what could you expect from a small region stuck between France and Great-Britain, in which the Spaniards and the Austrians also had a regular presence. The same for Northern Italy, except that France considered that the northern front was a greater threat to its borders than italy and England too ("Antwerp is a gun pointed at the cheek of England", while emperor Charles V once said "je tiens Paris dans mon Gand", Gand being the city of ghaunt, but also in French, with the orthograph "gant," the word for glove).
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