WAT WE ZELF DOEN… (2) THE SPIRIT OF LOCALISM
by Richard Hill
One of my first errors on arriving in Belgium was to mistake a resident of Lier for an Antwerpenaar. Lier, a mini-Bruges which is worth an intercontinental roundtrip for a visit, is just 15 kilometres from Antwerp city centre and divided from the Antwerp agglomeration by only a kilometre or so of greenish field. Yet, both physically and culturally, it is another world (it may also help that it has a very succesful football club).
The people of Lier, along with many of their Flemish cousins, claim to find the Antwerpenaars brash and overbearing: the big city has a lot to be proud of, but so does Lier! In fact, this hostility, mild as it is, is another historical hangover in a country which has seen so much history.
Similar enmities, or jealousies, exist between most regions and cities of Flanders. It is difficult to think that the politically fuelled pride of Flemishness will ever entirely extinguish these ultimately rather charming human quirks. Different dialects often reinforce this spirit of localism.
I know a young Flemish man who claims there are different cultures between streets in his native town of Zonhoven.
The coup de grâce to my never-to-be book on ‘Belgium’s cultures’ came when I met a man from the Flemisch village of Zaventem (which also happens to be the home of Brussels National Airport) and he told me he had married a girl from the area of Erps-Kwerps (I lie not!) some five kilometres away. He finds the two cultures so different that he goes back to his parent’s home in Zaventem as often as he can.
I never did work out whether the issue was the difference between Zaventem and Erps-Kwerps or his relationships with his mother and his mother-in-law, but I decided that, after thirty years, it was time to give up. My determination was reinforced by the inadvertent comments of a native Erps-Kwerpsian who made me understand that there were even differences between he culture of Erps and the culture of Kwerps.
Once again, as often applies to things Belgian, the only appropriate way to describe the spirit of localism is as charming but surreal.
Richard Hill is a British national who has been living in Brussels for more than 30 years. He is an expert in cultural relations, negotation and communication techniques. Among his clients were e.g. Alcatel, Eurocheque International and the European Commission. Hill wrote several books on Belgium and on Europe. The above text is taken from ‘The Art of being Belgian’, (2005, Europublic). (jc)
NOTE: Lier as a touristic ‘mini-Bruges’ is a joke. Even the real Bruges is for the greater part fake. If you want to see a real city with real history, go to Ghent. Or Liège, in Wallonia, for that matter. (jc)