Belgians Just Don’t Speak the Same Language

JEZUS-EIK, Belgium—Rudi Coel scowled at the sight of the Thai restaurant advertising "Takeaway."

"We’re in Flanders, so that should say ‘Meenemengerechten,’ " said the 50-year-old social worker, using the proper Dutch word.

The euro zone is in turmoil, and Belgium’s heavy government debts are drawing comparisons with those of Greece. But the main issue before Belgians in their general election Sunday speaks to a much deeper concern here: language.

Among the issues roiling this Franco-Dutch land: Whether folks in the Brussels suburbs can bury their dead in a language other than Dutch, or whether a 75-year-old politician can make a speech in French in a mainly Dutch district.

The simmering tensions between the country’s Dutch-speaking Flemish majority and its Francophone minority are as old as the hills. The latest feud, over the Brussels suburbs, tore apart a coalition government in April, triggering the June 13 parliamentary elections.

The 35 small suburban towns at the center of the dispute are home to tens of thousands of French-speaking Belgians and English-speaking expatriates. These people have a special legal status: They’re in Dutch-speaking Flanders but, under a 1963 treaty, they are treated as part of Brussels in national elections and in some judicial matters. Brussels is formally controlled by both language groups, but, in practice, is mostly populated, and run, by Francophones.

Read more via In Belgian Election, Franco-Dutch Feud Takes Center Stage –

Okay … I lived in Belgium, in the Vlaams Brabant town of Sint-Genesius-Rode, which is one of the disputed municipalities located in the arrondissement of Halle-Vilvoorde; in fact, a town that while technically is in Flanders, has French language facilities and where the majority of people actually speak French.

I love Flanders and the Flemish people, whom I actually found to be warmer and more friendly than the Francophone Walloons, but the language debate is getting to be a bit ridiculous, especially disallowing religious services in French in the Dutch-speaking region?

In the article, one of the Flemish officials (but who has a French surname of Bourgeois) compares Flanders to Texas stating “Americans would not like it if immigrants only spoke Spanish and wanted some American towns to belong to Mexico” (which is true, especially in Texas) … but Texas doesn’t have laws on the books stating that church services can ONLY be held in English … and certainly doesn’t have people running around writing letters because a menu advertises “carnitas” instead of “pulled pork” or “carne asada” instead of “steak”.

I’d make a comment about Belgium rapidly becoming the Canada of Europe, but I don’t think even the Canadians took the dispute to quite this granular a level during the worst of the linguistic and nationalist debates in Québec.