Want to know what gets a Belgian hot under the collar? Here’s an idea of what stimulates their passion.
Beneath all that social conformity lurks a nation of strongly moulded individuals – an individuality expressed less in unconventional dress and behaviour than in enthusiasms, some of which can be all-consuming.
Passionate about their jobs
Belgians can be passionate about their jobs, whether they be vets, soldiers, sewage workers, or cheesemongers. A recent survey showed that 70 percent of Belgians are happy in their work – 10 percent more than the British or the Italians.
“I love West Africa,” said the parasitologist from Ghent, thrilled to be back in Senegal. “For me this is paradise. I love the people, I love the villages. But most of all I love it because it has so many parasites!” More often, however, the job is only a means to fund the real driving passion for some activity pursued out of office hours, at dawn, dusk, weekends and through the night: cycling, football, gardening, dogs, stamps, computers, racing pigeons, etc.
Belgians are avid collectors. A corner of the garage, a cupboard in the bedroom or an entire suburban house is likely to contain evidence of this: definitive collections of matchboxes, early typewriters, tin soldiers, swizzle sticks. Dotted round the nation are pocket-sized private museums, open to the public, of locks and keys, porcelain figures, lace bobbins, chips, old clocks, tombstones…
One collection was triggered by a car accident which for a while left taxi-driver Mr. Alfred David with an odd gait. Comments that he ‘walked like a penguin’ spurred him to turn his home into a museum devoted to penguin paraphernalia. His house became so crammed that his wife apparently presented him with an ultimatum: either all the clutter left or she would. It went, and he with it.
A penguin museum?
Bizarre collections do not bother the Belgians: they like enthusiasm, as long as it stays within the bounds of decorum, of course. And if they do not have their own private equivalent of a penguin museum stashed away in a shoe box under the bed, they rather wish they did.