How come the French and Flemish don't get along in Belgium?

Discussion in 'History' started by Lusitania14, Jan 10, 2012.

  1. Belgian guy

    Belgian guy Member+

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    But those communities are part of Flanders. As such they fall under the authority of the Flemish regional government. The official language for all administrative procedures is Dutch. That means that all the minutes, protocols, permits, ... are to be in Dutch. Do you suggest that all the meetings are held in French and then translated into Dutch? :confused:

    That is the point, they feel as if they shouldn't be limited, they want the community to adapt to their arrival and not the other way around.

    Look, I'm fine with giving all French-speaking folk the right to handle their affairs in French if I get the same courtesy when I go to Walloonia. Why should a French-speaking person have more rights than me?


  2. 96Squig

    96Squig Member

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    I don't see any problem with that, actually. But the way I understood it is that some villages south of Brussels are now 90+ % French-speaking. I don't see you Flames moving back there anytime soon, and borders can be changed to augment reality, just ask the Serbs or us Germans. You don't have a godgiven right or law for everyone in Flanders to speak Dutch.
  3. DRB300

    DRB300 Member+

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    Well then we have a disagreement :)

    Ah yes. Just had my father on the phone the other day who told me he went with his wife to a French movie almost for free here in the Netherlands. The French deemed it important to pay for their tickets.


    Anyway I am glad I saw this thread and could intervene here bringing up another component to the discussion that was not even touched on. I am going to leave it here.
  4. Belgian guy

    Belgian guy Member+

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    I just find it interesting that you think it is normal for a person to go live in a country or community but then not bothering to learn the language. So you would be alright with me moving to Germany but refusing to speak German and expecting the civil servants to help me in Dutch?


  5. 96Squig

    96Squig Member

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    That's not what I wrote. If you were in a Dutch-speaking community (of which we now have quite a few because building houses is cheaper in Germany) and hold a town meeting there you could have it in Dutch. That is all I said.

    If you decide to move to Germany and not learn German than that is your decision. I actually think German civil servants should then also be able to cater to you in English, as we have enough migrants that are here only a few years, so learning the language is not really economical for them. You'd be limited in your interaction with your surroundings, but that's up to you. We should offer incentives to make you want to learn German. Not force you. (most civil servants may be able to help you in English already.

    Of course, the decisions of that town meeting should be translated into German as far as they address people that don't speak Dutch, such as higher authorities and so on. I don't see a need to force people to learn German, however, unless they are children visiting a German school.

    Germany is a somewhat artificial construct anyways, certainly more so than France or the Netherlands (well, actually every country is, but you get my ghist). I don't see a problem in changing it to fit the people that live on it's soil.


    So in the end, no, it is not normal if you don't speak the language the rest of the community speaks. But that community should put incentives out to make you want to learn the language, not strict rules requiring you to use it. What happens if you do that you can see wonderfully if you look at the Roma in Hungary, or Germans in communist Poland.
  6. Belgian guy

    Belgian guy Member+

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    No one is forcing them to learn Dutch, hence why they haven't. But they want to ignore the fact that their communities are within the Flemish linguistic border and as such have to conform to the same rules as any other Flemish municipality.

    Like I said, if they want to make the entire country bi-lingual in terms of local administrations, then I'm all for it. But the inhabitants of the Flemish communities in the Brussels periphery shouldn't have more (or less) rights than any other Belgian person.

    Which is also why any decision that would give them more rights would immediately be axed by the court of arbitration.
  7. Lusitania14

    Lusitania14 Member

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    Does the same policy apply to the French speaking Belgiums?

    In school is it the same in terms of the compuslory number of years you have to learn the other language?
  8. Lusitania14

    Lusitania14 Member

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    A good start would be to ensure that in school both communities are obliged to have the same numer of classes of the other language (don't know if this is situation or not...)

    Another positive measure would be to have eveything translated to both languages. I know this would be economically challenging but if you want to acheive a certain level of unity, this is a step in the right direction. This would not irradicate tensions, but it certainly will help to a extent. As I mention in an earlier post, Canada has done this and there are still some problems.

    Does anyone have an idea what the population distribution is regarding the two communities?
  9. Lusitania14

    Lusitania14 Member

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    Generally speaking yes, but Portugal for instance has one language and one culture. It is very homogenous. Doesn't matter where you go, the people, way of life, culture, etc., is pratically the same.

    Perhaps being one of the oldest countries in Europe, with pre-defined borders that haven't changed for centuries, has helped to diminish differences over time.
  10. crazypete13

    crazypete13 Moderator Staff Member

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    Coming from a "bilingual" country with similar uniligual population groups, I'm curious how well the Flemish speak French, considering how well I do with basically the same amount of training as is provided to Canadian English speakers.

    I'm able to get by, but by no means would I feel comfortable using French for anything more than the most basic of functions, as I tend to get in over my head rather quickly.

    I've also had the opportunity to learn some Dutch as my client is in the Netherlands, and for some reason they insist on speaking amongst themselves in Dutch when I'm around :).

    After roughly 10 non-consecutive weeks in NL, I'm able to pick up enough to say please, thanks, good morning/afternoon/evening, parrot train announcements, and (thanks to my appearance, to avoid confusion) "I don't speak Dutch". Also, I'm far more comfortable with written Dutch as the Germanic roots of both English and Dutch are more obvious (and it's Google translate friendly).

    So to me the ability to learn any language is more a function of exposure and interest. Not sure there is an easy political solution here, but a start would be: respect of the historical language of specific area predominant in government, with the option to use the minority language where numbers warrant - but never to supplant the historical language of the area; teach both languages to all kids; and don't cave to migrating unilingual pockets of either language group when they demand solely unilingual services.

    YMMV
  11. 96Squig

    96Squig Member

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    That's most unusual. The hardest thing for me when learning Dutch was to convince Dutch speakers NOT to answer me in English or German. (To be fair learning Dutch when German isn't really hard).
  12. Belgian guy

    Belgian guy Member+

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    Since French has been one of the main subjects in school for like an eternity, you will barely find a person under the age of 75 who is not at least semi-fluent in French. Like I said, each Flemish person has 8 years of French in primary and secondary school, no matter what branch of HS they choose. Throughout my scholastic career I had 3-6 hours of French class a week.

    Compare that to English, which I only started taking at age 13, for 2-3 hours a week.
  13. argentine soccer fan

    argentine soccer fan Moderator Staff Member

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    In Belgium? I'm pretty sure it mostly has to do with language, beer and a pissing boy.
  14. he so scrumptiouz

    he so scrumptiouz Member+

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    This is key.

    To keep it simple, Vlaanderen (using it's rightful name) has become the (considerable?) richer part of Belgium for some time and that's how the trouble as of now started. To keep in mind also is that Wallonia only makes approximately one-third of the total population of Belgium nowadays.
  15. crazypete13

    crazypete13 Moderator Staff Member

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    I made a concerted effort to try to learn please and thanks, good morning, etc., so I could be polite in a business setting initially, and used these words enough to get them right - now I find people are willing to speak to me, if only to correct my pronunciation. I've also been in many situations where I was the only native English speaker in the building which means I get opportunities to listen while being aware of the general context of conversations. I've been working with several older (50+) people whose English was not great, since the project is in English and they were improving their skills, they appreciate my attempts in Dutch, and KLM has a Dutch language course that helps kill time on the flights to and from Toronto.

    My problem is, as you know, use it or lose it. I rarely get to use my French, so it has withered. I've got few issues reading French, but tend to have issues when speaking/listening in Belgium/France as my accent is French Canadian, apparently.
  16. Tom_Heywood

    Tom_Heywood New Member

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    [ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6e-3dfQK7w4"]Monty Python Predudice - YouTube[/ame]
  17. guignol

    guignol Moderator Staff Member

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    although i've never lived in belgium but besides travelling there as a tourist in 1978, 1980 and 1983 i have had almost daily professional contact with many belgians, mostly flemish, for almost 20 years, and have visited the country perhaps a dozen times on business in that period, and i speak both french and dutch (though the latter has become very rusty). here are my impressions:

    as concerns language, walloons and flemish are both taught each others' language in school and that has been the case at least since the 70's; it seems to sink in much better for the flemish. besides members of mixed families (more on these later) i have only ever met one walloon who spoke decent dutch, or rather vlaams (a curious anecdote: the one time i provoked real ire on the part of a flemish person was not when i addressed them in french but when i called flemish nederlands) whereas until recently most flemish i deal with have had no problem conversing in french... with me! since i work for a french company, new flemish contacts generally start out in french, and some would even make a point of pride in insisting on it learning i was american. it's important to point out however that many of these same people would not have spoken a word of french to a walloon under any circumstances.

    at least that was the situation up until a few years ago. nowadays i find most of my belgian contacts reticent to speak anything but english regardless of their region or ethnicity: perhaps the atmosphere in their workplaces make that the safest alternative, perhaps the actual language skills have simply dropped.

    as concerns history, the flemish have real and important grievances. they were discriminated against in public service until the early 20th century, their language and culture was repressed. DRB300 talks about a train accident due to language problems; there are also stories about flemish soldiers being sent to wasted deaths in WWI due by french speaking officers who could not communicate with them. as with all legends there is doubtless some exaggeration but the factual base is undeniable. but the first efforts to right the situation were made before WWII (before the overwhelming majority of belgians living today were born) and the war itself brought great changes to belgium as to all european countries.

    these days the shoe is on the other foot. the flemish regions have industrialized and now vlaanderen considers wallonie as their ball and chain. this is not false, but the renaissance is not all down to flemish bootstraps: aid in development from brussels and investment by international companies was instrumental.

    i have seen a disheartening evolution in attitude during this century: 10 or 15 years ago most people in gent, genk or sint-truiden seemed happy to be belgian and their feeling towards charleroi, mons, and namur rarely went beyond a mild schadenfreude. i can only remember one example of the virulent hatred that seems to be a major driving force in domestic politics today. some may claim that hatred is just human nature; if so it certainly isn't our better nature. i see it more as a handful of extremist political opportunists manipulating and instrumentalizing average people for their own interests. which is hardly more encouraging.

    i can say less about the walloons as i've dealt with far fewer of them, and those either in brussels or of mixed families. as such their general conciliatory attitude, which has gradually turned to bewilderment and even despair, can be neither unexpected nor universal.

    what conclusions do i draw from my experience? none. the issues are so numerous and so complex that only belgians can only begin to grasp them, and even then i'm not sure! but of one thing i'm certain: that it's truly a shame, and that 50 years from now belgians on both sides will wonder just what could have come over them.
  18. guignol

    guignol Moderator Staff Member

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    something that is perhaps neither here nor there that's always intrigues me: belgian names.

    this is very likely not true for children born in recent years, but most adult flemish men (much rarer for women) i know have french first names (and old-fashioned ones most usually): benoit, andré, hubert, luc, jean-yves...

    paradoxically walloons follow and even surpass the french tendancy towards nathan, enzo or kevin... but never traditional flemish names. i have met people with typical flemish family names who turn out to be walloon... the tipoff to me should have been that they didn't have a french first name!

    which leads to a last observation: it is not uncommon to meet walloons with flemish family names, but i have never observed the reverse, which indicates that whenever the two intermarried the union gravitates towards a french identity. in the past for obvious social and economic reasons; today perhaps because the coexistence is too difficult in a flemish context.
  19. 96Squig

    96Squig Member

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    You could make a point that in recent history after some countries split peacefully the relations of them often improved (look at Czech-Slovak relations, or Austrian-Hungarian ones). Maybe a similair thing would happen if Belgium were to split. But that would not solve the problem of Brussels, even though Wallonia may be able to survive due to help from European partners (interestingly enough there have been a number of Walloons expressing that they would rather join Germany as Bundesland then go back to France, as they feel their identity may be easier preserved in federal Germany than centralistic France, even though they speak a French accent. But there are much smaller independent countries nowadays than Wallonia, so they probably would not need to join anybody.).
  20. guignol

    guignol Moderator Staff Member

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    the idea of wallonia joining germany i've never heard, but it's natural that makes more news in germany than here. i think the majority of walloons still cling to belgium, but of the other alternatives i gather the most likely is to apply for adherence to france. there is support in the northern regions of france for that too, and though the government obviously can take no hint of a beginning of a stance on that i don't think there would be the slightest reticence. as for an identity to preserve, there practically is none; a wallon feels no more lyonnais or marseillais than a lillois does, but no less either! there is such transborder activity that northern france and southern belgium are very close.

    if separation comes about, what to do about brussels? this is a special and important question: neither community would be easily viable without it (certainly not wallonia), and it's unlikely that either side would just give it up like that.

    the status and the management of bruxelles-capitale (which constitutes a region of its own) is already so complicated and contested that probably even a belgian would have a hard time guessing its future if the country stays together, so for a foreigner to hypothesize about what would happen if the country splits is wild conjecture. but since wild conjecture is how BS rolls, here goes:

    the flemish have far more clout in the conflict, and brussels is ensconced in the flemish section of the country but the city is much more french than flemish, which language is now a distant... third there, with english perhaps already pushing french into second place! moreover, flemish discontent has always been largely directed against brussels; i doubt they would even want the city as the capital of an independent vlaamse republiek.

    it could be the life-buoy for an independent wallonia to cling to, but the 10 or so km that separate the two are absolutely flemish. ticklish. and if the walloons were to be absorbed into france that idea is right out: the european parliament is already in strasbourg, brussels becoming french as well is very obviously out of the question.

    which leaves the possibility of its becoming a ville franche; a city without a state, like washington DC. but that only makes sense in a dynamic of continued european integration which, though almost certainly our long term destiny, is in the trough of the wave right now.
  21. 96Squig

    96Squig Member

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    Well, if Luxembourg or Liechtenstein or Monaco can be their own country, Luxembourg within the EU, so could Brussels.

    The story is in German, but it appears Paul Magnette said he'd rather join Germany than France, because of federalism in Germany vs Centralism in France.

    I think the easiest way to deal with all of this would be to break up European countries significantly (ie new, cross border elective districts that are all about the same size for the EP, sizewise between 10 and 20 million people; a commission elected by the EP; the national governments and parliaments only in charge of whether their contingents of the Transeuropean army are allowed to go war, and a few cultural and language concerning things) but I don't see that happening anytime soon. This crsisi actually weakened the commission and strengthened the national governments of Germany and to a lesser degree the UK and France.
  22. song219

    song219 BigSoccer Supporter

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    But would Brussels get its own FA? :)
  23. 96Squig

    96Squig Member

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    By then we'd have two European superleagues, so who would care? :p
  24. he so scrumptiouz

    he so scrumptiouz Member+

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    Are you sure about that? It's pretty common knowledge that, like in France, the population of Brussels who do speak French are so proud of their language that they have less desire to learn English.

    My Dutch speaking friends in Brussels know their English, but most of my French speaking "potes" don't, while both sides concede that Brussels is pretty much a French speaking capitol even though the instutions of the European Union resides there.
  25. 96Squig

    96Squig Member

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    When I was in Brussels in 2004 I did not get anywhere with English, other than the really touristic places and poltical institutions.

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