Truth be told, gentle reader, even the French know very little about Belgium, despite these two countries' immediate proximity: they are indeed right next to each other, which is a source of immense shame for the apparently, eternally "arrogant" French; and a mixed blessing for the Belgians.
Why a mixed blessing, might you ask? Well on the one hand, France has reasonably pleasant weather, delicious food and wine, beautiful landscapes, the Eiffel Tower and much more. On the other hand, however, France is cursed with the presence of the some of more conceited humans ever to have walked the surface of this planet. Thus the Belgian people are extremely careful when venturing across the border, and mostly try to stay among themselves.
Belgium is not a very well known country. The nerdiest of you might remember Belgium's cameo appearance in the American version of Douglas Adams' trilogy The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, in the form of a prize awarded to a secondary character for "The Most Gratuitous Use of the Word 'Belgium' in a Serious Screenplay."
This is not actually the original text, which in its British version featured a four-letter word starting with 'F' instead of the word 'Belgium'. While the reasons for removing such profanity are rather obvious (i.e. Americans tend to be uptight puritan freaks), the choice of this alternate word is somewhat mysterious. By all means, that such an insignificant piece of trivia should even be mentioned in this article is a fairly good illustration of Belgium's incredible lack of worldwide recognition. As an American acquaintance of this reporter once put it, "Belgium? That's the capital of Germany, right?"
Now the next question should be quite obvious, even to an American. Okay, Belgium is unknown, point taken. But is it worth learning about or even, God forbid, going there? After having spent over three years in Brussels, this reporter might be able to provide a little insight on the subject. So without further ado, here are the Five Main Reasons To Go Visit Belgium:
That just about sums it up. Belgian beer (meaning lager, as stout is an entirely different matter and best left to the Irish), this cannot be stressed enough, is one of the most undeservingly ignored beverages in the world. If you thought the land of beer was Germany, then think again. If you thought it was any other country, you need to look back and re-evaluate your life right now. Belgium is to beer what France is to wine and what Russia is to vodka: a country that has made it into a true art de vivre (which is pronounced by silly Americans as "arduh veevur"). The sheer number of different breweries that have somehow been crammed is such a small territory is simply astonishing (let us remind the reader that Belgium is roughly the same size as a small Texas ranch).
Not only do they have incredibly great beer, the Belgians also have got the whole "drinking" thing down pat. It's really quite a sight to behold; student parties are nothing short of immense beer orgies, where it is rather unwise to wear any clothes you would mind getting stained, and where seeing people throwing up or passing out is as common as, say, seeing people dressed as Storm Troopers at a Star Wars Convention. While in most of the civilized world, vomiting due to the ingestion of extremely large volumes of alcoholic beverages is seen as degrading and disgusting, in Belgium it is much accepted and one will commonly encounter people saying things like "I'll be right back, guys, I'm gonna puke. Hold my seat." Or rather, one would hear such things if students actually sat down to drink, which they don't.
Now what if you don't drink? What is there to do in Belgium? Not much, actually. Sure, there are a few museums (boooring!), and some very nice architecture to be seen - or, in the case of Brussels, some unbelievably ugly architecture to be avoided - but frankly, that is true for most of Europe as well. The nice thing about this country is that, for tourists, it doesn't take much time to visit. Allow a day to visit Brussels, perhaps a day and a half if you love yawnfests and really want to see all the boring sights with no exception, then add another couple of days to see the rest of the country if you wish. The same could definitely not be said about, for instance, Italy or Greece, in which you'll barely have scratched the surface after several weeks.
Finally, for those who would like to go and actually live in Europe for a while (a highly commendable decision), you may safely count Belgium out of your plans. The weather is depressing, the people are slow, the countryside is mostly flat, the cultural and artistic life is as corny as it gets - even the billboards and TV ads look like they just barely crawled out of the 1980s. As for the girls... well, they're better than the German, but that's not saying much. Apologies to any German ladies reading this, but, um, well. Ahem. 'Nuff said.
After this very brief, not nearly comprehensive, and entirely subjective presentation, this reporter hopes you now know a little more about that small country wedged between France and the Netherlands, and will now resume his activities which mostly consist in coping with Belgium without going insane. Most of all this is stereotype and exaggeration, of course, but let's be honest for a second: isn't that what most of our opinions actually are?