Culture of Belgium

From Academic Kids

A discussion of Belgian culture requires discussing both those aspects of cultural life shared by 'all' or most of the Belgians, regardless of what language they speak, and also, the differences between the main cultural communities, the Flemings and the French-speakers from Brussels and Wallonia.

Most Belgians tend to view their culture as an integral part of European culture; nevertheless, both main communities tend to make their thousands of individual and collective cultural choices mainly from within their own community, and then, when going beyond, Flemings draw intensively from both the Anglo-Saxon culture (which dominates sciences, professional life and most news media) and French and other Latin cultures, whereas French-speakers focus on cultural life in Paris and elsewhere in the French-speaking world (la Francité), and less outside. A truly scientific discussion would also include discussion of the different cultures of Belgian ethnic minorities such as the Jews who have formed a remarkable component of Flemish culture - in particular that of Antwerp for over five hundred years.


Generalities on culture in Belgium

Belgium is well known for its beer and its food (mainly for waffles andchocolate) but little know about the art and folklore in Belgium. Its inhabitants have a reputation among their fellow Europeans for being chubby and sedentary.


Belgium has a large variety of museums and temporary expositions. Some of the most impressive museums in Belgium are The Royal Museum for Fine Arts, in Antwerpen, which has an admirable collection of works by Peter Paul Rubens, and The Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels, which has a cinema, a concert hall, and artworks of many periods. The museums settled in the Cinquantenaire are also pretty popular.


Belgian literature as such does not exist. Flemish share their authors with the Dutch, and French-speakers with the French, which tend to confuse people on Belgian authors' nationality. Moreover, several great French authors went to Belgium for refuge (e.g. Apollinaire, Baudelaire, Rimbaud) and conversely, top French-speaking writers often settle in Paris (e.g. Amélie Nothomb, Henri Michaux).

Belgium has produced several well-known authors such as poets Emile Verhaeren, Max Elskamp, Henri Michaux, Guido Gezelle and Maurice Maeterlinck and writers Georges Simenon, Michel de Ghelderode, Hugo Claus and Charles de Coster.


See: Franco-Belgian comics

Belgium has numerous well-known cartoonists, such as Hergé (Tintin), Willy Vandersteen (Spike and Suzy; French: Bob & Bobette, Dutch: Suske en Wiske), Morris (Lucky Luke), Peyo (The Smurfs), Franquin (Spirou, Marsupilami, Gaston), Edgar P. Jacobs (Blake and Mortimer) and Marc Sleen (Nero).


Main article: Music of Belgium

Hooverphonic, formed in the mid-1990s, is a Belgian pop / trip hop band that achieved international recognition through their inclusion on the soundtrack Bernardo Bertolucci's 1996 film Io Ballo da Sola (English: Stealing Beauty).

Belgium has a very active jazz scene that is achieving international recognition with bands like Aka Moon, Maak's Spirit and Octurn.

Belgium has also influenced electronic music with a.o. Front 242 and 2 Many DJ's and rock music (dEUS, Girls In Hawaï).


There are still many old monuments visible in Belgium like the romanesque Collégiale Saint-Gertrude de Nivelles (1046) and Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Tournai, gothic Antwerp cathedral (15th century) and baroque Brussels Grand' Place. Famous Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta has influenced the early 20th century architecture in Belgium and abroad.


Belgium cinema has already been rewarded several times at Cannes Film Festival (Benoit Poelvoorde, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, etc.) and in other less-known festivals. Belgian movies are generally made with a small budget.


Good cooking and fine beers are seen by many as part of Belgian culture. The beer with the most prestige is that of the Trappist monks. Technically, it is an ale and traditionally each abbey's beer is served in its own glass (the forms, heights and widths are different). There are only six breweries (all Belgian) that are allowed to brew Trappist beer.

Although Belgian gastronomy does not really exist (it is connected to French cuisine), some recipies were invented there as e.g. french fries (which were named so by American soldiers during World War I), speculaas (a sort of cookie), Belgian waffles, waterzooi (a broth made up of chicken or fish and vegetables), endive prepared in a special way, Brussels sprouts, Belgium praline and Paling In 't Groen (eels in a sauce).


The most popular sport in Belgium is football (soccer). The Belgian First Division is one of the older leagues in the world. Belgium used to be on top of world football in the 1970s and 1980s when the Belgium national football team (also known as the Red Devils) finished 3rd at the 1986 FIFA World Cup, 2nd at the 1980 European Football Championship and 3rd at the 1972 European Football Championship, while Belgian clubs won several European cup finals.

Belgium has also performed well in cycling (Eddy Merckx, known as The canibal is one of the best cyclist ever, Roger De Vlaeminck and Johan Museeuw), motocross (Stefan Everts and Joël Smets), judo (Robert Vandewalle, Ingrid Berghmans and Ulla Werbrouck), table tennis (Jean-Michel Saive), tennis (Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters), swimming (Frederik Deburghraeve and Brigitte Becue) and running (Ivo Van Damme and Kim Gevaert).

Belgium is the site of some famous Spring Classics, a series of road cycling races ran in the spring season. Roughly speaking, there are two types of such races: the Flemish ones and the Walloon ones. The Flemish ones are characterized by cobblestones or "pave", and the Walloon ones are characterized by rolling hills. Examples of the Flemish races include Paris-Roubaix, the Tour of Flanders and Het Volk. Examples of the Walloon races include Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Flèche-Wallone. Regional loyalties are often found in full display at these races. Belgium is also the dominant country in cyclocross, and has produced a few MTB champions.


Festivals play a major role in Belgium's cultural life. Nearly every city and town has its own festival, some that date back several centuries. And these aren't just tricks for tourism, but real, authentic celebrations that take months to prepare. Two of the biggest festivals are the three-day carnival at Binche, near Mons, held just before Lent (the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter), and the Procession of the Holy Blood, held in Bruges in May. During the carnival in Binche, "Gilles" lead the procession, which are men dressed in high, plumed hats and bright costumes. Several of these festivals include sporting competitions, such as cycling, and many of these festivals fall under the category of kermesse.

An important holiday (which is however not an official public holiday) takes place each year on December 6. This is Sinterklaasdag in Dutch or la Saint-Nicolas in French (English: Saint Nicholas). This is sort of an early Christmas. On December 5 evening before going to bed, kids put their shoes by the hearth with some water or wine and a carrot for Saint Nicholas's horse or donkey. Supposedly St. Nicholas then comes at night and travels down the chimney. He then takes the food and water or wine, puts down presents, goes back up, feeds his horse or donkey, and continues his course. He also knows whether kids have been good or bad. This holiday is especially loved by children in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Belgium has occasionally been the butt of cruel jokes and jibes, such as in the Belgian-themed poems of Charles Baudelaire, where he calls the Belgians dirty and foolish.

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