steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

A Belgian Bagatelle

"The UK is a vital wintering ground for flocks of curlews, from as far away as Belgium and Russia," said the chap on Tweet of the Day this morning. I did a slight double take, because Belgium doesn't strike me as a great example of "somewhere that's far away." However distant Russia might be, Belgium's inclusion leant the sentence a slightly bathetic air.

But maybe I was also picking up on a sense of Belgium in British (English?) culture generally, as a slightly unserious place? Not for nothing is Private Eye's stock name for a boring British war film They Flew to Bruges. Even in WWI, Belgium was seldom mentioned without the patronising prefix, "plucky little," while Hercules Poirot's repeated insistence that he was Belgian, not French, always seemed to be presented as an aspect of his fastidious vanity. If It's Tuesday, This Must be Belgium (admittedly an American rather than a UK film, though with many a British cameo) would not have been a "funny" title had the country mentioned been France or Germany, the other continental destinations on its itinerary.

I wonder whether something of this attitude has leaked into British diplomacy, given that "Brussels" is habitually used as a synecdoche for the EU? Of course, Johnson's arrogance and incompetence are pretty universal and need no further explanation but, given that his mind is a sponge for lazy journalistic stereotypes, might a sense of Belgium as inherently risible have been a specific component in his latest pratfalls on the world stage?

It's not the most important question of our times, but it's the one on my mind at this moment.
Tags: current affairs, maunderings

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