Tuesday, November 13


one hundred and fifty six days and counting without a government. you have to laugh.

Sunday, November 11


which Flamand (singular you see) they want out remains a mystery....

Tuesday, October 16


If you simply cannot wait for this years Brussels christmas market then why not just "dump" into the atmosphere of the 2006 edition.

Sunday, October 14


At last someone has raised the most pertinent question about the potential break-up of Belgium: Who would get all the Witloof?

Sunday, October 7

Belgian politicians head for the negotiating table

this was sent to me in an entirely different context but what the hell.........

Saturday, September 29

Tuesday, September 18

More Belgian negotiations break down

The Witloof can exclusively reveal that top-secret negotiations between high ranking Flemish and Francophone politicians on the break-up of the country have broken down.

The talks, taking place in a crowded pub in downtown Brussels, had been progressing well according to one well placed source. There was broad agreement that Flanders would keep the economic growth while Wallonia would keep large numbers of unemployed.

Flanders would get the majority of the beer, while Wallonia would take the lion’s share of the chocolate. Wallonia would also get the royal family, a key Flemish demand.

Experts had expected the most difficult aspect of the talks to concern the future of Brussels but there was apparently unanimity that this should be given to the Moroccans.

The breakdown of the break-up negotiations actually came as those involved failed to agree on how to divide up the family silver. In addition to the embassies in Washington, London, Paris and Moscow, Flanders wanted a rather expensive looking crystal chandelier and a set of six ceramic dinner plates. Flabbergasted Walloon negotiators are understood to have stormed out without even finishing their 33cl glasses of Jupiler.

The question now is whether the two sides can be tempted back to the negotiating table. Those familiar with the key players estimate the chance of a resumption at about 30%, coincidentally also the average strength of a local beer.

Inside: Mannekin Pis refuses to take sides.

Monday, September 17

The End

It has reached the guardian, it must be serious.

Saturday, September 15

Lessons Learned

A world record was broken at the Memorial Van Damme athletics meet last night in the Heizel Stadium, Brussels. Meseret Defar ran the 2 mile in a time of 8:58.58.

It is an improbable story. Defar arrived in Brussels from Addis Ababa only the day before the race having, wait for it, taken part in Ethiopia’s millennium celebrations on Tuesday evening.

More improbable, in a stadium which saw 39 football fans crushed to death in 1985, was the following:

“Jupiler Blue offers every single spectator of the crowd of 47000 a free Jupiler Blue should a world record be broken at the Memorial Van Damme on 14 September 2007.

As soon as a world record has been broken the audience can collect their free Jupiler Blue at the bars.”

I hope the queue was orderly.

Sunday, September 2

Michael Jackson dies

Michael Jackson passed away on 30 August.

Admit it, you are shocked to be reading about this first here. Several days after the event.

The renowned beer expert had been battling Parkinson's disease (stop sniggering down the back, he was not drunk) for some time and was suffering from other undisclosed health problems.

Jackson put Belgian beers on the map almost singlehandedly, writing the Great Beers of Belgium at the beginning of the 1990's in the days before Leffe was available in any self-respecting hostelry.

It was a dirty job but someone had to do it. Now, I'm off to the Brussels Beer Festival to raise a Geuze to the great man.

Saturday, September 1

Belgium on the rocks

Belgium on the rocks. Sounds like a dodgy cocktail. Well as we all know Belgium is a bit of a dodgy cocktail. Of different language groups and regions. And it is on the rocks. Le Figaro asks if it is all going to end in divorce? And quite unbelievably the author urges French President Sarkozy to prepare for the annexation of Wallonia by France.

But enough about dodgy Belgian cocktails. Let's talk about something much more important. Beer. If you are in Brussels this weekend, DO NOT miss the annual beer festival. It takes place on the historic Grand Place/Grote Markt (I don't want to upset anyone, I am a guest here..) and has about 200 hundred beer types just waiting to be tasted.

Santé. Or should I say Gezondheid!

Monday, August 13


Where’s the best place to hide your money?
Under a Frenchman’s soap.

Just one of the jokes that the Belgians like to tell about their southern neighbours.

Generally, however, it is the Belgians who are the butt of most of the ribbing.

What is the longest road in Belgium? The roundabout.

Why wasn’t Jesus born in Belgium? Because they couldn’t find three wise men there.

Etc etc etc

One of the funniest bits of Belgium mocking comes in the very funny ‘Le Diner de Cons’. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out.

Some background. Every Wednesday Pierre Brochant, a celebrated Parisien writer, attends an “idiots dinner” with his friends. Brochant and his friends each bring along an “idiot” they have unearthed in every day life. At the end of a dinner a champion is chosen. The “idiots” are unaware that they are the victims of a cruel joke, believing instead that they are being accepted into fêted Parisien society. This week, however, the joke is on Pierre Brochant. His “idiot”, Francois Pignon, a man passionate about matchstick constructions, will turn his world upside down.

Perhaps it is just me but I think that this is the funniest thing, ever.

Friday, August 3

Wednesday, August 1

Yves Leterme in front of the Atomium

The baiting of the man who would be Belgian Prime Minister continues.

Thursday, July 26

Vive La.....France?

Belgium continues to astound.

Some may remember that there was an election back in early June. Well there is still no sign of a government being formed. In fact the man charged with leading the negotiations - Christian Democrat Yves Leterme - managed to considerably complicate his task by confusing the French and Belgian national anthemswhen asked for a verse of the latter on Belgian National Day (21 July)!

Imagine the future Canadian prime minister belting out a verse of The Star Spangled Banner on July 1, or Ireland’s Bertie Ahern treating his public to a rendition of God Save the Queen on St Patrick’s Day.

Ironically, the country that Yves thinks he is on the verge of running might have come to his rescue. The doping shenanigans at the Tour de France have relegated his gaffe to second spot on the evening news bulletins. As if the Vinokourov revelations weren't enough, yesterday evening came the news that the Yellow Jersey, Michael Rasmussen, has been kicked out. And good riddance. Tour de Farce indeed.

Thursday, July 19

A Champagne Lifestyle

The two policemen were already laughing when they saw our license plate bearing down upon their roadblock. Only two Belgians could be attempting to drive onto Reims’ Place de la Republique on the eve of Bastille Day. “Impossible ca”, chuckled one as we explained that we were staying in a hotel that now lurked in the shadow of a gigantic stage with two speakers on either side of it that could quite easily be sitting proudly in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest ever of their kind.

An auspicious start to our visit to Champagne.

Champagne is an entire industry developed just to relieve Belgians of their disposable income. Almost every car we saw parked outside a champagne house had the unmistakable red license plate, three numbers, three letters.

At least they show you a good time while liberating your wallet of its contents. Leaving our hotel in Reims at 11am the following morning, we were at the celebrated headquarters of Piper Heidseck by 11.10, imbibing our first glass of bubbly of the day by 11.30. It seemed the appropriate way to start the Bastille Day celebrations. A little better than Marie Antoinette’s suggestion of cake.

The majority of the most famous champagne producers have their main cellars in Reims. Ruinart, Pommery, Piper-Heidseck, Taitinger, to name but a few, all have premises a short stroll from each other. Others such as Moet et Chandon, the world’s largest producer have their HQ’s in Epernay. It was to here we headed from Reims.

The area between Reims and Epernay is dominated by the Parc Naturel Regional de la Montagne de Reims. It is probably the most touristy of the Routes de Champagne but no less charming for it. The antique villages, each cluttered with tempting signs for the local brew, come thick and fast. There is one called Bouzy. We didn’t visit it but it amply describes our jaunt through both the petite and grande montagne.

Our first stop for, ahem, refreshments came at Champagne Louis Casters in Damery. If the outsized sign at the corner of the building hadn’t made us wise to Mr Casters’ potion, the six Belgian cars surrounding the entrance probably would have. Casters, who it turned out is Belgian himself, quickly made us feel at home, treating us to healthy pourings of his Brut Sélection, Grande Reserve, Cuvée Supérieure and his Brut Rosé. We liked them all, particularly for the average price of €13.

It turns out that ink for home printers – in Britain a typical replacement cartridge costs about £1.70 per millilitre compared to 23p per millilitre for a bottle of 1985 Dom Perignon - is now seven times more expensive than vintage champagne. We bought several bottles of everything Casters served us.

A few miles up the road, in Mareuil-sur-Ay we pulled in at Champagne Guy Charbaut. Again we were greeted by a Belgian, again we departed with less room in the boot of our car than we arrived. Guy Charbaut has chambres d’hotes should you not feel like reaching for your car keys at this point. Assured that the police had better things to do on 14 July, we pressed on south to Troyes.

Troyes, the German influence of whose architecture is reminiscent of some of the towns in Alsace, contains a spectacular cathedral and a very worthwhile museum of modern art. However, by far its biggest attraction for me was a Coupe de Champagne costing a mere €4.80. I ordered five.

The great thing about Champagne is that, like Guinness, it is good for you. The many benefits of a few glasses of sparkling are outlined in a very informative and comforting book called The Healing Powers of Champagne. Obesity and Cellulite, Appetite Loss, Arterial Stenosis – apparently the narrowing or blockage of the artery that supplies blood to the kidney -, Migraine, Insomnia and Lazy Bowel, to name but a few, have all met their match in a bottle of bubbly.

Unfortunately champagne does not appear to have any effect on heatstroke and with temperatures well north of 30 degrees my northern pigmentation was beginning to prove a drawback. Thankfully, only a few miles outside of Troyes, Francois Bradier welcomes you to his convivial Domaine des Lacs. With only five rooms and one self catering college crowded is not a word that is often used to describe the loungers by the swimming pool. Francois also kindly provides a fridge for you to chill your Premier Cru.

Now that’s what I call a champagne lifestyle.

Wednesday, July 11

Tour de Farce

High times for the Flemish at the moment. Today is their national day, an opportunity to take a day off work and to wave their rather scary looking flag.

The day commemorates the anniversary of the Battle of the Golden Spurs at the Groeningekouter, outside Kortrijk, in 1302 at which the Flemish defeated the knights of the King of France.

Almost 705 years later to the day and along comes another almost as momentous. On Monday the Tour de France came through Flanders, the stage concluding in Gent. It ended in a Flemish one-two, Geert Steegmans stealing in ahead of his more celebrated compatriot, Tom Boonen, to spark wild celebrations and much waving of the intimidating lion.

They were predicting that about 250,000 people would deluge the city, although in the end the rain deluged it more and about 100,000-150,000 turned up. The Witloof, wary of not being able to see a damned thing in a crowd of that size, headed instead for a smaller town - Deinze - just outside Gent. The town website - http://www.deinze.be/ - looked pretty. I had a good look around but I still have no idea where they took the photographs. Possibly Gent.

Although the peleton was due to pass by at 16.45 I arrived at about 13.15. Being three and a half hours early, I quickly found a vantage point beside a roundabout that I thought offered a decent combination of a view of the peleton arriving and also the likelihood of it slowing down as it passed by. There were about three of us at this point. I took out my book – the excellent Pornographer of Vienna by fellow Brussels resident Lewis Crofts - and started to read.

Engrossed in Egon Schiele’s artistic, and other, endeavours in Vienna, I failed to notice that I was gradually being pushed to the back of a considerable throng. By about 15.00 there were hundreds - perhaps even thousands - lined up along the sides of the road in either direction. Not the ideal position to be in as, at 15.15, the first vehicles from the 'caravane' began to pass. The 'caravane' is, I think, what everybody actually comes for. It is a procession of promotional vehicles from which employees of the firms sponsoring the tour throw sample products and other souvenirs out into the crowd. Never in my life have I seen such a clamour for miniature bottles of shower gel. Fifteen bodies in a writhing heap before one triumphant soul would emerge with a key ring. If anything was thrown in my direction I leapt out of the way. It all seemed a little bit commercial, a tad unfrench, until a car stormed past promoting a trade union.

The final cars in the 'caravane' were the official merchandisers. ‘Allez, allez’ they would cry, ‘c’est le tour de france, c’est la folie’, before proudly displaying all of the English they had learnt in England the two days before by continuing ‘don’t furget to buy yeur remembers for le children’. For twenty euros you could get your hands on a yellow bag ‘remembers’ containing a like-coloured tour de france t-shirt and cap. For about the same outlay you could also purchase a gaudy yellow umbrella with tour de france imaginatively emblazoned along it. I felt like shouting that the tour had left Britain so they could put their umbrellas away. Twenty minutes later the skies opened and I stood with about four other paraplu-less people under the nearest tree.

My despair was almost complete when not long afterwards, and before I could negotiate my cameras exit from my sodden pocket, a flock of 8 riders stormed past. Merde, I roared, to much amusement, possibly because of my accent or possibly because the cyclists were actually only a bunch of lucky cadets chosen to ride the stage well in advance of the pros. Ten minutes later another five cyclists whooshed past, stooped over their handlebars, panting for breath. I kept my cool this time, confident that the peleton could not contain people so clearly from four different generations.

Eventually, and not a minute to soon given that ducks might at this point have been considering package holidays to the sun, three helicopters reared onto the horizon. A frisson of excitement rose through the crowd. I abandoned my tree and knocked a few children out of the way - well they had taken most of the free stuff so I felt entitled - to get close to the road's edge. With half an eye out for irate parents bearing down on me with their shiny new umbrellas I managed to more or less miss the first three riders, who had amassed about a minute's lead on the rest of the pack. Zut alors, I wailed, regardless of my accent. Not to be denied again, I crouched down into professional photographer position, camera at the ready, for the arrival of the peleton. Four clicks of my digital camera later - and that is being generous as the final picture contains but a few shiny spokes of the back wheel of the bike that was bringing up the rear – they were gone again. The whole thing was over in about five seconds. I stood there, insistent that there had to be more, until there were only the original three of us left. Myself and two traffic cops.

Tuesday, July 3

Naughty EU

this seems to have gotten pulses racing in poland

Monday, July 2

Separated at birth

A slightly windswept Neelie Kroes

Judy Geller (Ross & Monica's mom in Friends) talking nonsense in Brussels

To see which Commissioner most resembles the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz please click here

Monday, June 25

Battle Royale

Back from a long break, the witloof goes into crusading mode.

El Pais (you have to go a long way to find any news on Belgium these days) brings us news of the success that Galway-based Belgian author and journalist Mario Danneels' has had with his new book, The Trauma of the Throne. Sitting atop the Belgian book charts for weeks now, The T of the T investigates how the members of the Belgian royal family have become totally alienated from the real world and normal life and how this has affected their standing amongst their subjects.

A sex scandal, an embezzlement affair, even an antique chair controversy, there is very little that they appear able to do right at present. You would almost feel sorry for them if they did not have the rather plush castle in Laeken, on the outskirts of Brussels, at which to lick their wounds.

It is this particular piece of real estate that really gets the witloof’s blood boiling. It is 189 hectares of nature situated between the densely populated districts of Laeken and Schaarbeek. Unfortunately it is also surrounded by a very high wall and utterly inaccessible to the general public.

Thankfully, the local representatives of the Flemish Liberal Party share the witloof’s discontent with the offending wall. They have launched an online petition for (at least part of) the park to be made open to the public.

So come on people, sign the petition. And let's tear that wall down!

Friday, May 4

May Days

May is a tremendous month to be gainfully employed in Belgium. It is a bank holiday fest.

With a refreshing lack of beating about the bush the very first day of the month is off. This year May 1 was, of course, a Tuesday. In countries where work is potentially more sacrosanct (thus defeating the entire point of May Day), this would probably lead to a postponement of the bank holiday until the following Monday, allowing for a long weekend at that point. The Belgians, however, have a better scheme. They engage in the endearing tradition of "making the bridge", which entails turning up for work on neither the Monday nor the Tuesday. Being (reasonably) new here and wanting to ingratiate myself with the natives I decided to try to impress them by also making the bridge between Tuesday and Friday. I think they liked my style.

For those of you who did not know, 17 May is Ascension Day. I have absolutely no idea what it signifies (although I could probably guess if I thought about it for a couple of, erm, milliseconds) but I do know that this year, as if by miracle, it falls on a Thursday. Those of you who are quick on the uptake will have already realised that Thursday has more in common with Tuesday than six letters. It is also perfect bridge making material. So while everybody is busy not turning up for work on Friday 18, I will be making the somewhat longer (lets call it 'the Oresund') bridge, between Monday and Thursday.

Unfortunately the final bank holiday of the month, Whit Monday, falls, as its name would suggest, on a Monday (28th). This is not really bridge building material but having already been out for most of the month it is difficult to really complain. This is particularly so if you happen to work for one of the European Union institutions. Already not exactly renowned for a Stakhanovite approach to toil, they have actually managed to chisle an additional holiday all to themselves this month. Schuman Day, named after the French architect of the Union, Robert Schuman, is an annual day on the doss for them. Every 9 May they get together, presumably in the metro station also named after Robert, and sing Beethoven's ninth symphony. This year they will probably also be reciting the Treaty of Rome, it being 50 long years since its signing.

It doesn't sound that exciting but I guess I'll have to take Schuman Day off too. seeing as it is a Wednesday, I'll probably make a bridge or two too. When in Brussels.....to bastardise the phrase.

Anyway, May the 4th be with you!

Thursday, April 19


Belgian punk rockers T.C.Matic once sang 'Oh-la-la-la'. It is a song title that is conspicuously absent from this, frankly mental, website for a Brussels hotel.

Take a look.

For those of you who have stumbled upon this site while googling Brussels' hotels, then today would appear to be your lucky day.

It appears that, particularly if you resemble Steve Martin, you'll be met at reception by a sexy woman quoting song titles and then you'll partake in some ooh-la-la in a fancy white room.

As T.C.Matic also said: putain, putain, c'est vachement bien.

Friday, April 6

Old Europe

Donald Rumsfeld may be gone but Old Europe appears to be alive and well in the minds of some other US opinion formers. Dan Bilefsky of The International Herald Tribune has headed to Aarschot and returned with a piece entitled Pining for power, modern Belgians return to the Middle Ages

Apparently..."Across this country of 10 million, a growing number of Belgians are trading in their jeans for suits of armor. They are rubbing stones together to make fire, eating their dinners out of cauldrons, re-enacting heroic battles and participating in mock hangings."

I know a fair few people who have visited the Rubens museum but has anybody noticed any of this slightly more extreme sort of carry on? Has it really become a "national passion"?

Tuesday, April 3

Never Never Land

I do not intend to become a repository for youtube clips so i promise i will try to write something original in the not too distant. In the meantime, a reminder that sometimes it is good when promises are broken...

Monday, April 2

Lost in Translation

this could liven up a few of those European Parliament debates....

Monday, March 19

Sprouts Out

It would probably be going too far to suggest that this this has eurosceptic roots.

Friday, March 16


VTM tv station ran a national IQ test the other evening. The average score was 114.

Apart from knowing that it is the exact same score recorded in a similar exercise in the Netherlands recently, I have no idea what this figure means nor whether I have an IQ high enough to scoff at it.

Thursday, March 15

Love is in the air

Just days ago we were busy searching the golden pages for the divorce lawyers, regretting the fact there was no pre-nup, wondering what effect it would all have on the children.

Belgium was trapped in a loveless marriage. There appeared to be no return. Not even beer and chocolate could paper over the cracks anymore.

Today, however, we can hear the sound of vows being renewed. The only cracks are wise ones during the celebratory speeches. Champagne glasses splintering from over exuberance.

La Libre Belgique has been conducting a Tour de Flandre, its own inquiry into what Flanders really thinks. And the results are quite surprising.

One in two Flemish wants a unified Belgium. Apparently. For those who think that Belgium is currently unified – think again by the way - what this figure actually means is that one in two Flemish wants powers transferred back from the Regions (Flanders, Wallonia, Brussels) to the Federal level. They want less Flanders not more.

An independent Flanders, no way. The status quo at a push but no further. As La Libre puts it, ‘we are not far from a qualified majority of 75% (for the current arrangements) if we add the 23% of Flemish favourable to the institutional status quo.’

As surprising, 70% of the Flemish don’t regard Brussels as their capital. Antwerp’ll do, they say. Or something to that effect.

If there is one generally accepted ‘truth’ in Belgium, it is that Brussels – rather than chips, beer, chocolate, football, the royalty - is the glue that binds the country together. It is a francophone island in a sea of flanders. Neither ‘side’ will consider letting it go and so the loveless marriage trundles on.

Well it has taken the intrepid La Libre Belgique a couple of days to discover that this may not actually be the case.

So can we can all live happily ever after then? Well yes, unless of course the Flemish respondents were telling tales….. Or La Libre Belgique was just making it all up....heaven forbid.

I think there will probably be a little bit more debate necessary before we can conclude that the marriage bed is today a warmer place.

Saturday, March 10

The Week that Was

Astrologists take the Kroescial decisions
‘Neelie Kroes in the Stars’, roared Dutch daily freesheet De Pers on 7 March. The European Union’s Competition policy supremo, it reveals, cannot do anything before seeking astrological advice.

“She called me sometimes daily for her horoscope,” her ex-astrologist Simon Suiker revealed to De Pers, “she hung on my every word”.

Well that’s just great for the officials in DG Competition isn’t it. Five years working on a (fast-track) file, then your Commissioner picks up the telephone to her astrologist to decide what needs to be done. Excellent.

Perhaps she just wanted to know how to stop being eclipsed by her colleagues?

Playmates eclipse stock exchange experts
Maybe Kroes is on to something though. Why bother consulting the experts when there are cracks and the completely unqualified aplenty bursting with opinions?

In these times of stock market turbulence, Brussels freesheet Metro newspaper reported that the portfolios of selected playmates outperformed those of a group of financial experts over the course of 2006. Their secret? Well, Miss February selected IBM on the basis that she “likes sending emails”, while Miss September opted for a portfolio top heavy in pharma stocks due to her predisposition for “staying healthy”.

Not so Wise Tom
If you don’t need real experts to give you policy advice, you can always use them to try to earn a little cash on the side. If you do so it is best to do it wisely, however. Tom Wise has blatantly failed to live up to his name. On 3 March, the Sunday Times gave us the latest instalment of the financial dealings of the UKIP MEP.

What is particularly disappointing is how Tom chose to invest his embezzled money. £6,5000 is alleged to have gone on a Green Peugeot 406. Green being the colour of the car and nothing to do with its CO2 emissions.

Next time Tom you might be better off hiring Miss December who boasted superior returns on the basis of investing in bank stocks. Her reasoning being “I like money.”

And finally…
Keeping with the financial theme, and also because I think it is pretty funny, it seems appropriate to look back on an Onion article explaining how the markets might actually have rebounded this week.


Friday, March 9

Chinese Year of the Pig no match for EU-China Year of Science

It may be the Chinese Year of the Pig but what is really getting the Chinese worked up is the EU-China Year of Science.

Only weeks into the Chinese new year and enthusiasm has already receeded to to point of whimper. Grafitti referring to the 'Year of the damp Squib' has allegedly begun to spring up on dams around the country. Were it the Year of the Dragon, one would be tempted to say that it had run out of puff.

No Puff?

Sources are suggesting that it was the unrelenting style and verve of the Commission's original press release that first attracted the Chinese. "How can a few firework displays compete with prose like that", complained a depressed Beijing mandarin charged with the uneviable task of reigniting the public interest. "Since that damned press missive it has been simple damage limitation."

Even the fact that it is a Lunar Year of the Pig - think multiple milleniums, as one China gazer put it - has left the Chinese unmoved. "It simply does not possess the same sort of attraction for young people as the recent joint EU-China exhibit on S&T co-operation at the Shenzhen High Tech Fair or the EU-Asia East Midland’s cooperation event at Leicester University", commented a well known face on the Shanghai party scene.

It is understood that all hope has been lost. Chinese officials in the department of the new year are now placing all of their hopes on next year's Year of the Rat but are watching nervously to see what the EU might have up its sleeve. An EU-China Year of Food Safety could be disastrous, they fear.

Inside: Vietnam and Korea break diplomatic ties with EU in bid to avoid similar fiascos.

Wednesday, March 7

Alotta Fagina

Ronald Plasterk, Dutch politician and current minister for Education, Culture and Science in the government of Harry Potter, sorry I mean Jan Peter Balkenende, has called for a single working language in the European Union.

In an interview with the NRC Handelsblatt, Plasterk says that "there is not a single serious international organisation where a single language isn't spoken, generally English. In science, business, sport, the army, art, in show business, " Ankara your votes please", nowhere else have you a circus in which 25 languages are translated in all different directions. Even at the European Central Bank they speak English; not because England is the boss, in fact there is only one member country where they speak English, and that is Ireland."

Being Dutch, Plasterk touches on a number of controversial subjects. Calling the Eurovision song contest show business is one. Calling for a single language for the EU institutions clearly (his main point and) another. Then there is the question of which language is spoken in Ireland. Ireland's first official language is actually Irish / Gaelic. It is also, presumably much to Plasterk's displeasure, the latest addition to the list of official EU languages.

I'm with Ronald on this one. I was slightly surprised by the Irish government's decision to request the possibility for Irish to be used at EU level. Ireland is an increasingly wealthy, self-confident nation, unphased by the past. It is now richer than its larger neighbour. In sport, it welcomed the old nemesis into the home of Gaelic games only last week and handed it the mother of all thrashings. Hell, an Irishman, Pierce Brosnan, has even played James Bond, the quintessential Englishman.

Despite all of this success, however, use of the the Irish language remains stagnant. It is a sad state of affairs, to be sure, but not one that is likely to be rectified by granting the people of Ireland the opportunity to request a copy of the Regulation to establish a common authorisation procedure for food additives, food enzymes and food flavourings.

Indeed, the European Commission's press release – stop yawning down the back - states that "currently, there are virtually no interpreters available who can work from Irish." Could it be any clearer that the life or death struggle for the language will be fought at home in Ireland? The (eventual) training of five translators to live and work in Brussels is not going to make the difference.

Stop with the symbolic gestures and get down to the real business of saving the language. Otherwise it is only a matter of time before the remnants of Gaelic will only be seen in the many words it has bequeathed to English. A clan, as many people will know, is the Gaelic for tribe. Phoney comes from fáinne, ring. The term apparently originated from Irish immigrants in US referring to fake gold rings illegally marketed there. Smithereens comes from smidiríní meaning little pieces. And not a lot of people know that galore comes from the Gaelic go leor, which means, enough .

The EU has done a lot for Ireland but it is too big an ask for Brussels to rectify a situation in which the English handed out 800 years of oppression and destroyed a language in return for, well, a single James Bond and.....Pussy Galore.

Tuesday, March 6

Second Life - You Read it Here First

EU Considers Going Virtual’ claimed EUObserver.com on 2 March

But on 23 February, you read it on the witloof first

Commission spokesman Mikolaj Dowgielewicz – a virtual pat on the back for the first person to pronounce that correctly – did not comment on whether they are considering relocating entirely.

Monday, March 5


Daphne Wayne Bough, society host and gay icon, is considering learning Flemish. Or Dutch as it is called in Flemish, if you see what I mean.

Daphne got her camera out to illustrate the clear dangers of taking such a step. But more of that below. Learning Dutch also has its advantages for the English speaker.

For a start there is the apparent similarity between the two languages. Waar is het toilet? Staggering in its resemblance to where is the toilet I am sure you will agree. They try to confuse you with the rearrangement of the letters of the definite article but it is hardly a Countdown conundrum.

Plus, if you get stuck you can always throw an English sounding word into the sentence and the chances are that you will be understood. Even if they might have said it a little differently. Dunglish, where Dutch and English collide……

Lobbing English curse words into your sentences is especially advantageous it seems. It places you above the law according to this charming story in which a young gentleman roars ‘fuck you’ at a policeman but having been charged by the officer in question is let off by the judge, who ruled that while it was ‘not very nice’ it was also not ‘ insulting’.

Before we get to complacent, however, Learning Dutch is not all a bed of roses. For every bed van rozen - who could have guessed it! - there is a kunst wet or een dikke shag. Een dikke shag – well what other type of shag is there, says you – is actually a thick cigarette tobacco. A very false friend, if you are fond of rollies.

The pronunciation can present a challenge, particularly those dratted double vowels. A double vowel is supposed to be pronounced which essentially means droning ‘aaaaaaaa’ or ‘oooooooo’ for about five seconds as if you have completely forgotten what it is you set out to say. It is important, however. Consider the lessons of kaak versus kak. Jaw versus poo. You have the choice between sounding stupid or very stupid.

There is also the danger of literal translations. I recently struggled to understand why everyone seemed so taken aback that an acquaintance had recently afgestapt. Afgestapt (literally ‘stepped off’) as far as I was concerned means ‘disembarked’. What form of public transport did he get off, I enquired. His wife, it emerged. Yes, afgestapt is also to walk out (on one’s responsibilities).

I’ll not even mention those confusing dipthongs.

Go for it Daphne.

Friday, March 2

Junior consultant labels EP vote ‘significant’, faces can

Rupert Leffler, Junior Consultant for EU Affairs with lobbyists Influence Pedl Inc., has caused outrage amongst the firm’s client base by labelling as “significant” the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee first reading vote on the draft directive on the importance of commercial distinction between fundamentally similar products.

Frustrations with the directive appear to have spilled over with Leffler bearing the brunt. In email exchanges seen by the witloof, the words “bitch slap”, reappear regularly. It goes on to say that they would like to “open a can of whoopass” on Leffler’s head.

Influence Pedl Inc. with an address at 1 Rue des Portes Pivotantes, represents a number of clients for whom the directive is problematic, including Pepsi and Murphy’s Stout.

Article 7 of the draft directive stipulates that simply being a different company is not sufficient to prove that the products actually differ. It introduces a requirement for the distinctions between a product and its main competitors to be clearly included on the label. The Parliament, in its infinite wisdom, has voted to maintain this requirement.

Pepsi and Murphy’s, who have mounted expensive lobbying campaigns, have whinged that they cannot comply because their main competitors, Coke and Guinness, will not actually tell them what their products are made of.

The firm’s senior partner, McKensie Mucksavage, Scottish, has moved to calm clients by claiming that Leffler had “slightly overestimated the role of the Parliament in the democratic process”. We are confident that the member states will recognise the anomaly that this proposal creates, he said, possibly forgetting that the Irish have even less influence over Council discussions than the Americans, who are not even present.

Leffler commented obliquely “following on from the recent doubts over my parentage it is the last thing that I needed right now”.

Inside: Murphy’s to reveal country in which legal drinking age is 2.
(click on picture to enlarge)

The Great Firewall of China

This blog is banned in China.

Tim Worstall's is not.

Thursday, March 1

Trapped in a loveless marriage called Belgium

Our man in the orient, Yorkie Pittstop Jr, has discovered the virtues or having other people do the writing for your blog. So I thought I would get in on the act and let the Chicago Tribune do my donkey work.

Here is how they led into an article on Belgium, that actually received quite a lot of attention in the local press……..

"They've been a couple so long they can't remember what brought them together in the first place.

But now they've grown apart. They don't watch the same TV shows or listen to the same music. They don't even speak the same language. About the only thing they have in common is a taste for beer and chocolate.

They stay together mainly out of habit, and also because it would be such a headache to break up the household and divide the communal property.

If you know a couple like this, then you will understand the Belgians."

Read the full article here.

One would have thought that the usual chocolate and beer clichés would have had the Belgians choking on their nutella sandwiches but it seems that starved of attention as they are the article is being viewed as one of the better attempts to explain the workings of this endlessly complex square couple of kilometres.

The point made about a ‘lack of a founding myth’ is interesting, the Brussels issue obvious, but what really makes the article for me is the line ‘trapped in a loveless marriage called Belgium’.

Someone buy that man a Maes.

Tuesday, February 27

and that was the week that was....

Walloon Minister for Budget and Finance, Michel Daerden, is to inflict a CD single upon an unsuspecting Belgian public. La Derniere Heure reports that it is to be called ‘Daerden’s Song’ – well he was hardly going to call it Verhofstad’s Song now was he.

Daerden does not actually sing on his record, he speaks. Hopefully the words will make more sense than they did when he gave his ‘victory interview’ following the elections last October. Tired and emotional is the phrase I believe. Three sheets to the wind. Pissed as a fart.

A true original is Mr Daerden. The Witloof can’t remember too many people making the leap from politics to music. Although willing to be corrected, moving in the other direction is much more popular.

Man! ample ass, lady crooner!

Brussels has been inflicted with several “singers” who think that they have more to offer than simple song. Nana Mouskouri was an MEP from 1994-1999. Rosemary Scallon, won the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest as Dana, had a stint in Brussels between 1999 and 2004 although little did we know at the time that Dana Rosemary Scallon MEP is an anagram of Man! ample ass, lady crooner!

Speaking of the Eurovision Belgium announced Krazy Mess Groovers as the latest in a long line of representatives seeking to emulate the feat of Sandra ‘J’aime la vie’ Kim in 1986. As Flanders news puts it, they can’t spell so let’s just hope they can sing.

Celt man gone!

Even if they lose and according to UK bookmakers they certainly will, Belgium’s Eurovision future looks rosy, for it turns out that three time eurovision winner Johnny Logan is embroiled in a paternity dispute with Belgian singer Wendy van Wanton. Johnny is vigorously denying that he is the father of van Wanton’s youngest son Clément.

Let’s take another look at the hard evidence that moustachioed comedian Bert Kruismans presents us with. He substantiates his allegations by referring to the fact that a) the 2 singers know each other, b) together, they recorded the song "You've really got a hold on me" c) Mr Logan was in Belgium at the time of the birth.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, the witloof can exclusively reveal that, C!ement Logan turns out to be an anagram of Celt man gone! Johnny, we think it is time that you started paying that alimony…..

Ali G prepared for violence at Batibouw

And finally, Ali G sensationally turned up to the opening ceremony of Belgian building fair Batibouw promising violence to anyone who would listen. It appears that G, having misinterpreted the pronunciation of the event, believed that it would bring together Belgian homosexuals for a week long celebration of being batiboys.

Ok, so that last one I just made up.

Vlaams Belang goes to Washington II

Find more on the VB trip to Washington here.
Jeez, even where there are checks and balances it appears that these guys are getting air time....

Sunday, February 25

Vlaams Belang goes to Washington

Although mindful that there are lies, damn lies, and then statistics, a recent state of the blogosphere makes for interesting reading. It tells us that:
 technorati is currently tracking more than 57 million blogs and counting.
 as of October 2006, about 100,000 new weblogs were created each day.
 the blogosphere is doubling in size approximately every 230 days
 about 55% of all blogs are active, which means that they have been updated at least once in the last 3 months.

What is everybody blogging about? You name it. There are blogs on almost any topic you can imagine. The sublime, the ridiculous. I love even the dullest blog in the world.

In an interesting article in The Guardian, Nick Cohen writes that ‘most bloggers …write about their lives, what books they are reading and music they are listening to.’

The most successful chroniclers of their everyday escapades - Zoe Margolis as the Girl with a one track mind, Judith O’Reilly as Wife in the North, and can anyone have escaped the furore caused by Catherine Sanderson, alias La Petite Anglaise - become quite famous in their own right.

Some blogs appear to be quite influential in other ways. I was reading only this week of the key role that bloggers are playing in the run up to the Oscars.

Cohen is more interested, however, in the relationship between politics and the blog. Whether the internet is giving a voice to the disenfranchised as well as to the over/under-sexed singleton or the mother of four in ruritania. Here things are not going as well as planned. ‘Although the net has given welcome space to new political writers who otherwise would never have been published’, he argues that it has generally failed to meet the inflated expectations of those who expected it ‘would allow oppressed peoples to escape censors and read forbidden opinions’. Instead – witness the recent imprisoning off the Egyptian author of a blog called The Critic - the net is proving surprisingly easy for dictatorships to control.

I would not dispute any of this. In fact I would argue that even in Europe or the U.S. the lack of checks and balances, referred to in the opening paragraph of Cohen’s article, on the web can cause potential problems.

With a headline ‘Vlaams Belang goes to Washington’, Belgian newspaper De Standaard reported on 21/02 that Filip Dewinter and Frank Vanhecke, the two top men from the (very) right-wing Belgian political party (formerly known as Vlaams Blok), are going on a three-day visit to the US. They quote elements of the speeches that the two men will deliver during their visit. With reference to Eurabia and the ‘dangers’ that Islam poses to Europe:

“We are fighting for the survival of the West. We are fighting for us and for our children, We are fighting for Europe, but also for America. Therefore we deserve your support. Help us to survive.”
The speechwriter, according to De Standaard, is Paul Belien, the man behind the popular blog Brusselsjournal.com

There are several blogs that I know of with a focus on life in Brussels that have links to the Brussels Journal in their blogroll. I am sure that they have absolutely no intention of providing support for a forum that cherishes ideas such as those espoused by Vlaams Belang. But the links are there.

Nobody wants censorship on the web, as Cohen outlines all too powerfully. If the authorities in democracies are to be kept out of it, however, self-censorship is important. Those of us active here in Bruxelles can make a start by removing the links to the Brussels Journal.

Friday, February 23

Commission to establish mission on second life. Eyes permanent move.

Sources within the European Commission have exclusively revealed that the Commission is seeking to open a Mission on Second Life. “We are seeking to open a Mission on Second Life”, they said.

The move comes just a month after Sweden announced similar intentions. The key difference, however, is that the Commission is believed to be thinking of moving permanently and in its entirety. Officials believe, and they would be right, that this can be done without any noticeable effect on European life.

It is understood that the idea, which emanates from the Commission President’s ‘crack ideas team’, the self-styled ‘wonks boffins’ - or boffins wonks in French - of the Bureau of European Policy Advisors, is a panic reaction to alarming new statistics revealing the extent their own uselessness. Contacts at Eurostat refused to comment but seemed to combine a cough with the figure 100%.

The secret operation is understood to have been given the codename ‘lock, stock and barrel move to second life by 31.12.2007’. Disgruntled former KGB code-crackers contacted by the witloof are interpreting this as an indication that the Commission is hoping complete the move by the end of the year. Experienced Commission watchers are sceptical that any (and by that they appear to mean any) policy can be effectively implemented by the end of the millennium.

Nobody from Second Life could be reached for comment but, let’s face it, they are unlikely to be very enthusiastic.

Poll: Would you invite the European Commission into your home?

tips for flying

As seen on www.tvbelgiek.be

If you are sitting next to someone who's irritating you on a plane, train, bus...
1. Quietly and calmly open up your laptop case.
2. Remove your laptop.
3. Boot it up.
4. Make sure the person bothering you can see the screen.
5. Open the message below.
6. Close your eyes and tilt your head up to the sky.
7. Then hit this link: http://www.thecleverest.com/countdown.swf
8. Enjoy & relax :-)

Monday, February 19

Clijsters keeps her cool to lose

Kim Clijsters marked her last match on Belgian soil by doing what she does best, coming second.

Refusing to break the habit of a lifetime, Kim admirably managed not to let the raucous backing of a partizan 15,000 Antwerp crowd get to her. She went down in straight sets to the Frenchman Amelie Mauresmo. Normally in a tournament final Kim would lose to her rather dull, a-cupped, compatriot, Justine Henin (sometimes Hardenne).

There was some consolation for the home crowd however, as they took in the improbable sight of thighs that size doing the splits.

In a retirement move that stretches even Belgian definitions of hanging up the boots early, 23 year old Kim was moved to tears at the end of her match. It appears that she was crying over the fact that she somehow managed to blot her copybook by winning the 2005 US Open title, the only stain on an otherwise perfect run of defeat.

With marriage to American basketballer Brian Lynch – who plays for the world renowned Belgian side Bree – impending, Kim now wants to concentrate on domestic life and losing games such as scrabble and ker plunk, as well as her figure.

Wednesday, February 14

flemish helpful but not essential

a few flemish you tubes (seeing as everyone is doing it)

laughing at someone with no balls (please avert your eyes now; even if you've seen it before)

when will i will i be famous (you tube provides the perfect tool for this belgian idol; make sure to stick the first minute and a half out))

the third time the germans came (or belgian bus company taken over by the germans)

Friday, February 9

Wit-Lof from Belgium

Further proof of the power of the witloof over the Belgian psyche is provided by the title of Gust De Coster's epic history of the flat country's pop music.

I can only presume that the title is an extremely poor play on With Love from Belgium. But why?? Anywayz, if you fancy a copy you can pick up one of the very few left, here.

If you would prefer to save your money for purchasing the music itself, you can find a decent listing of Belgian bands on myspace.

Picking up the latest (or last in Jacques' case) Brel, Deus, Soulwax or Arno probably won't win you any prizes for originality but they'd be well worth it. Nuit Blanche by Vive la Fete, Camino Real from Buscemi, Club from Jaune Toujours, and (although this might be a bit of a faux pas) The Sailor not the Sea by Ozark Henry are also recommended, wit-lof of course.

Sunday, February 4

So this is what they do at DG Regional Affairs

This is 4 real. A busy afternoon at DG Regio.....


Dear colleagues,

All of us who use the small freezer which is placed in the small room in the middle of our floor remember very well that it was in an inadmissible state of dirtiness.

I have found different kind of food which was perished, mouldy or had a bad odour caused by bacteria as the best-before date had expired for more than six months ago.

As you know there is no cleaning service foreseen for this freezer and it has to be kept clean by the people who use it.

Last Wednesday, I had to summon up all my courage and decided to clean it myself hoping that from now on everybody who uses it will make an effort to keep it clean and empty the food before it gets rotten.

Last but not least, the lady who has forgotten her vaginal cream in the freezer, is kindly asked to take it as soon as possible.

Thank you for your understanding and have a nice week.

Tuesday, January 30

Fog over Channel, continent isolated

Ever wondered why Britain is in a different timezone to other parts of Western Europe. Well clearly so do some representatives of the British public. Tim Yeo has introduced a bill (follow its progress here) to the House of Commons to align the UK with mainland Europe in matters of the clock.

This is not the way it is being sold of course. The following is Yeo's attempt to describe the situation that would pertain following the change:

"This means that in the summer the time would be British Summer Time + 1 hour and in the winter it would be Greenwich Mean Time + 1 hour."

Would it not be easier just to call it Central European Time?

Sunday, January 28

Ceci n'est pas une fiction

Fact is sometimes stranger than fiction. In Belgium it is all pretty weird. The country has a proud history of surrealism and it is sometimes very difficult to distinguish ruse from reality.

Before Christmas the French language state broadcaster - RTBF - decided to continue the surrealist tradition by broadcasting a "news" item announcing that Flanders had declared independence. The programme provoked panic and the country's politicians had a collective sense of humour failure.

While this is spoof of the highest order - the programme was apparently two years in the making - check out www.flandersnews.be any day of the week and you will see news reports that really make you think; they couldn't be making it up, could they?

Wednesday, January 3

After the Star Wars, Begium Strikes Back

Loyal readers will be aware of the recent furore in Belgium caused by the shameful confiscation of several of their highly treasured Michelin stars. Whilst the immediate cause of the hostilities between the French Michelin Guide and the Belgians appears to have been the comical granting of a first star to a non-existent restaurant, culinary hostilities between the two neighbours go back much further. The real source of the rivalry is the popular chip. Or frite. Or - and spitting while saying this in either Belgium or the US is common - french fry.

The Secret History of the French Fry is a fascinating tale involving a world war, an extinct people, an American President, royalty from an array of European countries, and, less surprisingly, the Irish. Unfortunately it is not able to clear up the confusion over where the fry originated. What it does do quite well though is to illustrate the depth of the feeling surrounding the issue and tell us why anybody might care.

Passions have, of course, recently been most enflamed in the US, where not only did they insert Freedom Fries onto the Congressional menu but Freedom Toast too. Go figure. It is with this controversy that the pendulum might have started to swing in the direction of the Belgians. At the height of the contretemps, Wikipedia reports that the French embassy made no comment, except to point out that French fries actually come from Belgium.

The French should have held their nerve. A quick glance at the history books would have told them that anti-German sentiment during the First World War resulted in the sauerkraut temporarily becoming the liberty cabbage, while hamburgers were christened liberty steaks. Sure enough, by July 2006 French Fries were back on the menu.

Emboldened by the increasing recognition of the actual birthplace of the fry, the Belgians are pressing for a full renaming. Belgianfriesdotcom is even offering you the opportunity to get involved in f-commerce. Reminiscent of the concept of the Irish pub, this crowd will hook you up with whatever you need to get your very own Belgian Fries joint up and running. Ingenious.

A word of warning, however; you are unlikely to be in the running for any Michelin stars.