We had been in Brussels for a metaphorical five minutes and you could have knocked me over with a copy of Libération. A driver stopped at a pedestrian crossing to let us cross. And there wasn't even a red light to make him do this. A man who walked over and dislodged a small paving stone, stopped, picked up the errant stone and put it back in its hole. Then a woman, who seemed to be in a hurry, passed us, saw us looking at our map, retraced her steps and asked if we needed directions. The man in a corner newsagents said I didn't need to spend 10 euros on one of his maps because he would point out the quickest route to our hotel. Another local explained how the public transport system worked and a tram driver patiently directed us to where we needed to go for the right line and stop.
The following morning we had breakfast in a café in the city's biggest tourist area served with a smile and pleasantries and jam, went to the Cocoa and Chocolate Museum where we were greeted like long lost friends and handed a speculoos - those delicious spicy biscuits you get with coffee - dunked in delicious warm melted chocolat, and were given more unsolicited but not unwelcome help finding our way around and discovering local events and sights.
In two days of walking about we did not once step in any dog poo or see one single cyclist or motorcyclist on the pavement, and were treated with utmost courtesy wherever we went (apart from the Beer Museum which was a waste of six euros - even with a beer thrown in - and where they behaved like they had bad hangovers and couldn't give a toss). This wasn't the courtesy of economic obligation, but genuine pleasantness, or so it seemed. The man selling sweets on the main shopping street smiled as he gave directions to the city's department store even though I bought nothing from him. Languages spoken with ease and willingness: French, Dutch, English and German.
The French like to mock the Belgians. Comparisons are made between Paris, the City of Light and Fine Wine and Haute Cuisine and Culture versus Brussels the City of the Peeing Boy and Chocolate and Beer and Chips. It's a form of superiority complex not helped by the fact that Belgians do appear to have an unnatural fondness for garden gnomes. True, Belgium isn't the prettiest capital in Europe, but in spite of the rain and unseasonal cold, it was, for me, one of the most pleasurable to visit. So Paris, time to stop taking the 'pis'?
Quid pro quo
1 week ago