The upcoming move to Belgium is going to give me more than just a chance to eat waffles and drink beer. It's giving me an opportunity to mark a new milestone in my life: this will be the first time I've ever lived in a foreign country other than France. Now, some people might argue that, as countries go, France and Belgium are simply different sides of the same coin. But they are probably the same people who would also say that about Canada and the U.S., and we all know there are Canadians and Americans alike who could tell you why that assumption is completely ridiculous. Like Canada and the U.S., France and Belgium are two completely different countries, and here's why:
First, there's the issue of language. In France, they speak French. Period. Belgium, on the other hand, counts Dutch, French and German as its official languages, with Dutch being the most widely spoken. Second, Belgium still has a King. Albert II might not be more than a severely limited head of state, but he at least still has his head. We all know what happened to the French monarchy when they had their date with the guillotine. Third, France is much bigger than Belgium, and offers more variety in the way of landscapes and climates. Those in the know have told me to expect one weather pattern in Belgium: rain. The city of Paris is known for rain as well, but you don't have to go far to find skiing in the Alps or sunbathing on the Riviera. And we can't forget that only France has the Eiffel Tower as its most recognizable symbol. Belgium has this thing.
Yes, France and Belgium are both former colonial powers, and yes, I'll be able to get around Brussels with my French language skills just like I did in Paris. But there are still enough unique things about Belgium to keep a newcomer on her toes. In addition to the languages, culture, government and landscape, there are the people. As I'm sure the citizens of both countries could tell you, Belgians are Belgians and the French are the French. I've gotten to know les Français pretty well over the years. I'm now looking forward to meeting de Belgen, les Belges, and der Belgierin.