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Belgium: The country the French love to mock (and vice versa)

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Belgium: The country the French love to mock (and vice versa)
AFP
16:57 CEST+02:00
If there's one country Belgium would be desperate to beat in a World Cup semi-final it's France, that's because the Belgians have long been the butt of French jokes over the years, but Tuesday night could change all that.

"Why don't the Belgians eat pretzels?

"Because they can't untangle the knots."

This is just one of the hundreds of jokes apparently penned by a French humourist at the expense of the Belgians.

Of all the countries the French love to mock, it's not the Germans or the British or the Americans but their close neighbours the Belgians, which is exactly why there is far more riding on the outcome of Tuesday night's clash between France and Belgium than just a place in the final.

While the football match may be entirely amicable given that most of the players know each other, or grew up together or play at the same clubs, the battle off the pitch has already been heating up. 

In recent days all the old jokes about the Belgians have been doing the rounds once again on social media in France.

And they all touch on familiar themes - the Belgian (French) accent, the fact the country has three languages, is divided between Flanders and Wallonia, and that it's totally flat (apart from it's churches an cathedrals).

(I don't want to take the p**s, but are we facing the Flemish or the Walloons on Tuesday," joked one person on Twitter.

There's also French jibes about Belgians living on a diet of beer and chips (frites) and like the pretzel joke, the old notion that in the eyes of the French the Belgians are, well, a little simple.

But why are the Belgians the subject of so much mockery in France?

French author Romain Seignovert who wrote a book titled De Qui Se Moque-t-On (“Who are we making fun of?”) told The Local previously that:"We all have a target country, and it's not by chance we often do jokes on our neighboring countries,” he said. "It's those we are culturally and linguistically closest to."

"The French always represent Belgians as stupid people with a strange accent and using obsolete words. The current round of "Belgian jokes" appeared in France after the Second World War, and remain very popular," he writes.

Seignovert says it all started when some Belgians came to northern France to work in the mines. On strike days, instead of going on strike with the French, the Belgians just kept working.

We all know that strikes are an inalienable right of the French, so naturally that didn't go down too well. The French mocked the Belgians for being “strike-breakers” or "scabs", and ever since then the jibes have continued.

Although the author suggests the origin of all the mickey-taking could go back a lot further.

He noted that French poet Charles Baudelaire wrote in 1864: "All Belgians, without exception, have empty heads."

That theme still continues on in the modern French jokes about the Belgians, some of which Seignovert has gathered together.

For example: "Why do the Belgians have their fries, and the Arab world has petrol? Because on the day of the world's creation, the Belgians chose first."

"And why don't the Belgians eat M&Ms? They find them too hard to peel," was another old joke told in France about the Belgians according to Seignovert.

While the history of the mockery may have been centred around strikes much of the fun poked by the French over the border at the neighbours centres around their accent and use of French language.

One of France's most cherished comedians Coluche loved nothing more than to mock the Belgian accent in his sketches and make them out to be simple folk.

Coluche was even accused of racism towards France's neighbours, a criticism that he dismissed.

While it obviously doesn't impact the Flemish speaking half of Belgium, the French speaking half of the country, known as Wallonia, are often mocked because of their accent - which like Coluche, they love to imitate, and their version of the language of Moliere which is often seen as a warped version of "real French".

Whether it's the fact Belgians have some of their own numbers - they say "nonante" for 90 instead of "quatre-vingt-dix" - or they use French words differently like the verbs savoir and pouvoir (see link below) the Belgians have a slightly different take on French that isn't really accepted this side of the border.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about how the Belgians speak French 

 

"I can't accept France losing to a country that confuses the verb savoir and pouvoir," said one fan on Twitter.

But it's not just the jokes from across the border that the Belgians resent. They also accuse their French "friends" of having a superiority complex towards their neighbours.

Much of it revolves around the oft-used French term "nos amis Belges" (our Belgian friends).

While the French, like many readers, view it a term of endearment the Belgians themselves have tended to view the term as somewhat condescending.

But let's not forget that the mockery works both ways too.

Of all the nations the Belgians love to mock the most, it's the French that are in the line of fire and the themes are somewhat familiar.

Instead of letting the French get away with their mocking, the Belgians fire right back at them. 

“It's always about the French being either arrogant or lacking in hygiene,” said Seignovert. “This goes back to the monarchy when Louis XIV was known to not take baths (because he feared baths) and used perfume instead.”

One jibe goes: “How does a Frenchman commit suicide? By shooting 15cm above his head, right in the middle of his superiority complex.”

Another takes aim at the perceived unpleasant nature of the French: “After God created France, he thought it was the most beautiful country in the world. People were going to get jealous, so to make things fair he decided to create the French.”

Belgians also take a shot at French cleanliness (or lack thereof): "Why do we say ‘going to the toilets' in France and ‘going to the toilet' in Belgium? Because in France, you have to visit many of them before finding one clean enough."
 
But despite all the jokes and mickey-taking Seignovert suggests the Belgians and the French might be more fond of each other than both sides would have you believe.
 
"We have a saying in France: ‘Those we like the most, we tease the most,'" he said.
 
Whatever the result on Tuesday night, we can expect the teasing to reach whole new heights.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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