Why?:Visit Belgium

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Early colour lithotype of the Belgian Army's occupation of Rotterdam during Belgium's War of Independence.

Quite why there is such antipathy towards Belgium is an enigma as mysterious as the Bermuda Triangle, The Queensland Quadrilateral or continued interest in the Kardashians. Fortunately, for most of recorded history, Belgium existed only as ten thousand square miles of marshland through which conquering armies had to wade to invade their neighbours. But surely this cannot be the sole reason why a 2012 poll placed Belgium third in a list of Least desirable places to visit; one place below the planet Venus which is enveloped in clouds of Sulphuric Acid and where the average temperature is 730 K, and two behind Scunthorpe which is enveloped in clouds of Sulphuric Acid and where the average temperature is 7 K.

Why do we continually hear that the emptiest place in the universe, Boötes Void, with only a single atom for every cubic foot across its 250 lightyear diameter, is still more exciting than Belgium? Was the Duffel bag invented in the Boötes Void? Did the Boötes Void experiment with postal deliveries by cat? Or declare its own flag unconstitutional? Did it ban foreigners from owning pigeons? Or make it compulsory to ask your father for permission to wear a skirt more than four inches above your knee? Has a gigantic vaccuum prohibitted its own non-existant citizens from standing on landmines? Or enshrined into law their right to throw vegetables at each other? Of course not, because it is constitutionally enshrined into law that Belgium should be at least 6.8% more exciting than the Boötes Void and we have only fallen below that standard for 6 years since the start of this millenium.

So, before inviting you to come to our quaint kingdom, we might clear up some frequently asked questions: What is a Belgium? What is a Belgium for? Isn't Belgium just a harmless carpark sandwiched between France and the Netherlands? Some say that Belgium is an artificial buffer-state invented by the British purely to annoy the French. But what better reason could a country have to justify its existence? Anyway, Marmots are just larger than average ground-squirrels considered harmless by any organism not rooted to the earth by the need to photosynthesise - but that didn't stop them spreading plague to mankind in the Black Death pandemic. And Belgium too has punched above its weight for centuries. Who can forget our critical involvement in the war of ..... Well, you wouldn't expect a small country like ours to have much involvement in the great wars of Europe but our scientists have contributed to the well-being of humanity by developing the slinky, dog-wigs and the DVD rewinder, and our philosophers have contemplated the purpose of existence for centuries, as one would expect of people with an intimate knowledge of Ostend.

They say too that no good has ever come from Belgium, which may be true unless one counts irritatingly talented footballers, adequate Tennis players and Jean-Claude Van Damme - who is irritating but neither a footballer, a tennis player, nor adequate. It is certainly the case that NATO headquarters was built here to ensure that, in event of hostilities, Soviet paratroops would expire from the monotony of their surroundings before doing any serious damage. But if it weren’t for Belgians we would never have been entranced by the adventures of Smurfs, nor would we have thrilled at the sound of our children learning the alto-Saxophone, or have gazed upon the beauty of Plastic Bertrand. Surely more could be done to share the beauty of this exquisite corner of Europe with the wider world and that is why we have recruited the most famous Belgians to spread the word.

Tintin[edit]

Tintin's continuing youthfulness is rumoured to be hormone-assisted.

In 2018, VisitBelgium.org invested €50,000,000 on global promotion of our homeland, utilising our 'most famous citizen', Hercule Poirot, ha! So much for his celebrity! Even the expensively researched slogan, ‘Belgium because Luxembourg is even smaller’ failed to have much effect. Only five additional people arrived in the country that year; two of whom had become lost driving in the Netherlands, two arrived from London by Eurostar having forgotten to get off at Paris’ Gare du Nord, and one was an ex-patriot paedophile extradited from Thailand for attempting to have sex with an underage Orangutan. You get more people than that at Royal Antwerp FC versus Standard Liege. C'est pathetique!

And that is why this year VisitBelgium.org recruited me, a more youthful, fictional Belgian detective to do what that fat pederast could never do. And I do not mean to see my own genitals without the aid of a microscope! Ha! Am I not the funniest thing, and so cute with it? Whatever were they thinking asking that pompous oaf to represent us when I was always available; fresh-faced and wholesome? C’est trop bête! How have I retained my fresh-faced appearance since 1929, you ask? Do I drink the blood of the innocent? Imbécile! There are no innocents in Belgium. I stay young by sucking a fraction of the life-force from anyone compelled to struggle through my life-story in High School French. In the moments it took you to read that sentence alone I became ten seconds younger and your soul was condemned to another year in Purgatory, and serve you right.

So, forget Poirot. Join me, Tintin, with my boyish good looks and my demeanour so inoffensively cheerful that I have been inundated with clunge since the Great Depression. Surely, I shall restore la gloire de les Belges by filling our towns and countryside with curious visitors and our shops with their hard currency. For I am the only literary Belgian sleuth worthy of the name, n’est-ce pas? And, unlike that oily fool so beloved of Agatha Christie, I have credible sidekicks, not repressed English, Grindr addicts too shy to declare their love for me. Hastings, there is a man who loves a private dick!

And, if you don't believe me when I say that I alone can turn this campaign around, voici quelques-uns de Hergé’s other sketchily drawn characters to back me up. Moi, I am off to massage Snowy's anal scent-glands. There is nothing wrong with his digestion but it is these moments that bring a boy and his dog together, ne pensez-vous pas?

Au revoir. J’espère que le foie de ton oncle n’explosera jamais!

Captain Haddock[edit]

Why does I drink? Has ye been to Genk?

Arggh, what pinheaded platypus would ever need to ask Why visit Belgium?

“A man who is tired of London is tired of life,” so said Samuel Johnson, a lubber who never spewed up his spleen in a South Atlantic squall, may a billion blue, blisterin’ barnacles blacken his balls. I tells ‘e … a man tired of Belgium, that’s a man who’s been to Belgium, right enough. Aye, an’ in the time he was in God’s own bilge-well that man saw enough to last him a lifetime, maybe two.

It takes a doubly-dull dimwit to disdain Diksmuide! An’ only sparrow-brained saps spurn Spa. ‘Tis ignorance, no less that keeps us Belgians from the tourists’ gaze. Pay a visit to Paris if your idea of fun is queuing all day at the Louvre for five minutes in front of that gurning wee tart, Mona Lisa. Roll down to Rome so ravioli-scented ruffians can hurl your handbag in the Trevi fountain after runnin’-off with your readies, if that floats your frigate. Visit Belgium an’ ye can guarantee that there’ll be no crowds in yer way. Ye can experience the wonders of Wallonia with barely a trout-faced tourist type taking yer time an’ selfishly spoilin’ your snaps with their fearsome phizzes. Aye, an’ ye can bask in the blissful beauty of Bruges an’ cherish the charms of Charleroi without standing in line with some stinkin’ citizen of Cincinnati or gettin’ shoved in the back by the dried-up, droopy dugs of some dreary drudge from Denver.

Think Belgium’s boring, does ‘e? Well, ye wouldn’t say that if ye’d relished revolving round Brussels’ R0 ring-road, or stepped onto the railway platform to savour the slow, stopper service to Scherpenheuvel-Zichem. We've got grey, rainy coastal scenery an' grey, rainy rural idylls to match our grey, rainy cities full o' grey people calmly drinking away their lives until Cirrhosis berths 'em in Belgium's holy ground permanently. An' what ain't grey in Belgium's beige - nowhere's more colour co-ordinated than this neglected corner o' the globe. But if Zeebrugge gives 'e zees and the allure of Antwerp evades ye, then ye can get royally trolleyed on quality beer anywhere in our fair nation for half the price you’d pay in Amsterdam. And ye won’t have to fend off hoards of Lithuanian hookers while you’re doin’ it, neither. [1]

Take it from one who's sailed the seven seas; no matter where in the world ye harbours, ye'll all come back to Belgium one day. Iceland's too cold, Australia's too hot, China's too distant, an' France is too close for comfort. Only in Bastogne can ye's find men who... Ne'er mind about the men, there's ladies in Florenville as barely needs a shave one week 'til the next, there's mountains as high as an ant can climb an' there's other things an' all, probably. But ye's won't even go lookin' for 'em 'cause wherever ye's are in Belgium ye's never more than 247 centimetres from a bar selling malty ales with fuity yeast notes an' hints of a guilty past.

An’ that’s why it says in Shakespeare that “the fair fields of Flanders are fucking fantastic”.

Thomson and Thompson[edit]

Thomson & Thompson displaying typical Belgian cultural consciousness at the local Peeking Palace.

“Good morning. Detective Inspector Crispin Thompson at your service. That’s Thompson with a ‘p’, as in cupboard.”

“And Detective Barnaby Thomson - Thomson without a ‘p’, as in closet - also at your service.”

“And where better to be in the closet than Brussels? Did you know, Thomson, that our lovely capital is named for a vegetable?”

“Quite, named after an inedible vegetable at that, just like Jerusalem but without the press of spiritual sight-seers or the car-bombs.”

“Precisely! But Brussels delights the senses in so many ways it begs the question: Where to begin?”

“To begin, Thompson? Why one should begin at the Beguinage, of course.”

“Of course, Thomson. How utterly correct you are. Did you know that the Beguiange has nothing to do with vegetables at all?”

“Nothing at all? Extraordinary!”

“Indeed. A beguinage is an architectural complex unique to Belgium, created to house lay religious women who wished to retire from the world to avoid the need to speak to their fellow Belgians. And very sensible.”

“And do visitors really enjoy staring at ancient houses, Thompson?”

“Heavens, no, Thompson. People who like to enjoy themselves don’t come to Brussels! Fortunately, the finest examples of Beguinage are only a ten-minute walk from the Horlogeriemuseum.”

The Mannekin Pis:celebrating Belgian genital inadequacy for 400 years.

“Ah, the chamber of horrors! That’s where one can see the waxwork of Cap’n Haddock’s mother, I believe.”

“I heard that, you moustachioed mountebank! The moment I sober up I comin’ over there to rip you both new port-holes. An’ you know what I’m goin’ to do them portholes when I’m done rippin’ ‘em.”

“Gracious! Perhaps we should skip the Horlogeriemuseum. It’s only a clock museum, after all.”

“A clock museum! Why on Earth would anyone visit a clock museum?”

“Most visitors to Belgium are Masochists in some way, Thompson. I think they like to time how long they can bear to be in Brussels.”

“But there must be more exciting places to visit than a clock museum.”

“There’s always the internationally famous Mannekin Pis.[2]

“Ah, yes, Thomson. The Mannekin Pis, Europe’s premier monument to alfresco urination. But surely, if people wished to visit an exciting urban centre where they can wallow in the sight of people excreting in public they might choose Los Angeles.”

“Correct, Thomson. Quite correct, yes. But the Belgian Brewers’ Museum is across the Grote Markt. Visitors can get economically crapulent, lose their lunch on the quaint cobbles and order guilt-free fries with Mayonnaise as though it wasn’t against God’s plan for His creation. And all for thirty Euros. Try doing that in LA!”

“Twenty eight Euros, to be precise, Thompson.”

“Precisely precise.”

“Quite.”

Professor Calculus[edit]

Calculus points out areas of interest at his Atomium.

What? What did you say? You want people to visit Belgium? My hearing has got even worse. No, no, no. That can’t be it. Nonsense, who would wish to do such a thing?

No, surely what you meant was, what have I invented recently? I’m glad you asked that because I’ve been rather busy over the three decades since anyone troubled themselves to write a Comic Book about me. Mostly I’ve been working on the Atomium!

What the fox hat? What fox hat? I’ve no idea what you’re talking about, boy. Let me tell you how the Atomium works. Superficially, it’s nine stainless steel spheres in the shape of the unit cell of an α-Iron crystal. Imagine a unit cell but 165,000,000 times bigger than the real thing. It’s so dull even Belgians are too bored to come near. Which is wonderful because inside each of those 18 metre spheres I have been distilling the very essence of Belgians to assemble the first in an army of super-Belgians with which I will conquer the world, divide it into two halfs unable to converse with each other and then fail to instigate any sort of government.

In the first sphere, I have dissolved a dozen Japanese diplomats to extract their staggering conformity to rules. In the second I have minced four South American military dictators the better to draw out their immeasurable cruelty. In the third and fourth I vapourised a score of anglophone Canadians and Quebecois respectively, carefully extricating their linguistic schizophrenia. In the fifth I boiled up ten Americans in the hope of attempting to attain some of the fervid patriotism so clearly missing from my fellow Belgians. I hadn’t factored in the sheer bulk of the standard American of course, nor the volume of overweening national-arrogance that their patriotism comes wrapped in and so I was forced to contain the overspill in both the sixth but I managed to keep the seventh sphere spare for puifying the absurdness of the Swiss. That left the eighth sphere to clone Saudis for their anti-semitism and the ninth which I use as a sauna come BDSM vault, for which I can claim 15% mortgage tax relief under EU Sex-Dungeon Directive 463/2b. [3]

But you know all about my dungeon, of course, Tintin. Friday evening, as usual? I'll bring my new nipple-clamps.

King M'Hatuvu[edit]

Why you ask M’Hatuvu ‘bout Belgium? King M’Hatuvu merely racist stereotype of African perpetrated by Hergé to reflect prevalent attitudes of 1920’s Europe. M’Hatuvu, me hope me never visit Belgium again but, if me did, maybe me visit the battlefield at Ypres. Me like to visit places where plenty whitemen shoot each other arguin’ ‘bout who own mud. Mons also very good; plenty mud; many, many graves – all whitemen. Whitemen crazy. Who fight over Belgium? Maybe dey be fightin’ over who get to exits first.

Hergé's characterisation of King M'Hatuvu was crudely drawn in every sense.

Last Summer, M’Hatuvu, me go on UNESCO cultural exchange. S. Marie la Vierge Primary School, Oudenaarde; dey go Kisangani an’ dig diamonds fourteen hours a day for benefit of Chinese corporation which is freein’ my people o' the continuin’ colonialism o' Western powers. Small children, dem better at fittin’ in mine shafts an’ need smaller coffins when roof cave in. One o' dem teachers, she killed by Elephant stampede, ‘nother one gang-raped by Chimpanzees an’ then boiled up in big pot an’ eaten by villagers because that’s the sort of thing dat happen in Congo ‘cording to M. Hergé , the patronising, bigotted prick.

M’Hatuvu, me visit Battle of the Bulge sites. Very good films in visitors’ centre. Very funny! But Belgians, dem no happy when I cheer Hitler in dem films. Belgians, dem say "M’Hatuvu, why you support Germans killin’ Yankees? Don’ you know Yankees come to liberate us?"

I say "Sure!" M’Hatuvu, me know plenty. Me know dat your King occupy half Africa to civilise us by choppin’ off our hands an’ then shootin’ at us 'cause we can't pick enough rubber with our bleedin' stumps. Me know dat Belgian government confiscate Congo from King Leopol’ when M’Hatuvu’s people runnin’ out o' limbs for him to amputate; then dem continue exploitin' us some more 'til we say "No! Go home to tiny country with chocolate-covered waffles an’ incessant drizzle. We independent now."

Then dem exploit us some more for ‘nother thirty years because M’Hatuvu’s people - we jus’ big children incapable o' lookin’ after ourselves an’ all those exotic minerals jus’ lying around under the jungle dat we jus' trip over less'n dey take it back to their place to keep safe for us.

So, if M’Hatuvu forced to visit Belgium again, maybe me visit Waterloo. Plenty dead folks dere. Maybe me dig up a leg-bone an’ stick it through nose so locals so busy laughin’ at me dey don’ notice when me sneak over border to International War Crimes Commission in The Hague. Meanwhile, me invoke the wrath o' limbless ancestors to strike vengeance against Belgians by doin’ dance or shakin’ spear or whatever you folks think we do.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. Though if ye likes that sort o’ thing I can recommend Tomas at the House of Pain. Buttocks like two toned tigers in his tights an’ lips like luscious limpets. An’ all for fifty Euros. Makes ye proud!
  2. The Mannekin Pis is sometimes loosely translated as the "Micturating Model" but is more accurately interpreted from the French Pis {English: Worse} as "The Shit Statue".
  3. Chapter 24, Paragraph 4, Sub-section 3 reads "Citizens of EU and EEA nations may claim mortgage tax relief up to the maximum allowed by their national governments for any premises kept for the purpose of unnatural carnal pleasure with members of the same sex, opposite sex, indeterminate sexes, animals, road-worthy vehicles or plants of the phyla: Coniferophyta, Lycopodiophyta or Cycadophyta, not including seedlings under the age of 18 days.