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Thursday, 22 March 2012 17:33

Brussels stereotypes for beginners

National stereotypes are relative to your own nationality. Especially when it comes to Belgium and its capital, Brussels. Because, let's face it, the home city of the EU institutions is rather unknown to most Europeans. You know that Parisians are snobby, Berliners are alternative and Romans are loud. But...what are Brusselians like?

The adjective you choose will most likely depend on the place you come from. When asked by a newly arrived Italian, my German colleague said they are "disorganised," the Brit chose the word "boring," and I, the Spaniard, just replied that the city was "cold" and "grey." The French apparently look at Belgians as their "villager" neighbours, while everyone else agreed on the word "bureaucratic." 

It is not a very warm list of stereotypes for a welcoming... Until you realise that Brussels is an acquired taste. Like coffee and beer, you might not like it on the first try, but by the end of a long stay, you will have learned to love it. Its charm, as with most true treasures in life, is a bit hidden.

You will, however, only wonder about Brussels' identity once you are done with the touristy stage of admiring the beauty of Grande Place and wondering about the importance of the Manneken Pis, the peeing boy that has become the city's emblem. And when you do, you might just reach the conclusion that there is no such thing as a Brusselian identity.

After all, what can be the unifying factor of a country and city that is divided into Flemish and francophone communities? Not to mention the multiculturalism provided by the presence of the EU bubble, as well as the immigration waves from Congo and the French-speaking Arab countries. (You probably wouldn't have guessed that the #1 name among new born children in Brussels is Mohammed.) The doubt is reasonable. But the fact that the identity of Brussels is hard to comprehend according to our own systems doesn't make it non-existent. It is just complex. And it mirrors the complexity of the institutions the city hosts.

Published in Brussels Bubble
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