On Friday, Emma Meesseman participated in her first practice for the Mystics. According to Gene Wang of The Washington Post, Meesseman will only play four games because of her participation in EuroBasket Women for the Belgian women’s national basketball team.
It’s only her second full day back in Belgium, but today’s a special day for Meesseman. It’s her 24th birthday!
So to commemorate it, here are some facts on Belgium, her home country:
General facts on Belgium
Population: 11,250,585 in 2016
Belgium is a multilingual country - There are three official languages: Dutch, French, and German. But it’s more complicated than assuming that every Belgian says “Goedemorgen,” “Bonjour,” or “Guten morgen” fluently regardless of where you are each morning.
Most Belgians speak Dutch as their first language, especially in Flanders, the northern region that borders the Netherlands. A significant minority speak French in Wallonia, the southern region that borders France. Brussels, the capital is a Dutch and French region, but is a Francophone city in practice today. Some very small German speaking communities are in Wallonia.
Emma’s from Ieper, which is in Flanders, the Dutch speaking region. That said, she does speak French as well.
Belgium is a relatively new country in a region with old history - Since Belgium has three official languages, its land overlaps parts of territory that France, Germany, and the Netherlands claimed at some point in its history. Of the three, Belgium shares the most cultural and historical ties with the Netherlands.
Belgium declared independence from the Netherlands in 1830. The United States established diplomatic ties with Belgium in 1832. The Netherlands did not recognize Belgium until 1839 when the Treaty of London was signed.
Belgium is now the political capital of Europe - Though Belgium was effectively a buffer state in World War I and World War II, it is now the center of the European Union. The European Parliament is based in Brussels, which makes it the de facto capital of the union. Also, Brussels is where the headquarters of NATO is located.
Belgium is a kingdom - In the Anglophone centric world that Americans live in, we think of the British Monarchy as the most influential in the world. Though Queen Elizabeth II probably is considering the reach of the British Empire, Belgium has a monarch as well. The King’s name is Filip (Dutch), Philippe (French), or Philipp (German).
You will see two different names for the same place in Brussels - Given the nature of Brussels, you will see street signs in both Dutch and French. So every place in Brussels effectively has two addresses. Many attractions also have two different names that may not be direct translations of each other.
Famous food and drink from Belgium
Belgium may have a mixed language identity, but the food’s not simply Dutch or French. Here’s some traditional Belgian food, some of which is familiar to Americans, and others, not so much.
- Stella Artois beer - This beer is probably the most well known mass-marketed beer from Belgium. Despite the French name, it’s actually from Leuven, a Dutch speaking city that’s a few miles east of Brussels.
- Duvel beer - This is a strong blonde ale made a few miles south of Antwerp. It’s very good.
- French Fries - Despite the word French, they originated in the Maas/Meuse Valley along Namur (Namen in Dutch) and Liège (Luik in Dutch) where farmers fried their potatoes. They became popular in World War I when soldiers tried these delights. Both Namur and Liège are French speaking cities, so that may be how French got put onto the word French Fries instead of Belgian Fries. Belgians eat their fries with mayonnaise, NOT ketchup.
- Karbonade / Carbonade / Flemish Stew - Beef stew that’s made with a dark beer. It’s often eaten with ... Belgian Fries.
- Waterzooi - This is a stew that originates from Ghent (Gent), a Flemish City a few miles northwest of Brussels. It’s made of fish or chicken, egg yolks, cream, and broth.
- Liège Waffles (Gaufres de Liège/Luikse wafels) - Belgium is known for waffles, but there are different types. The Liège Waffle is one of the most popular. They’re buttery, very sweet with pearl sugar, and quite filling. You can find many waffle trucks in major cities in Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels throughout the day that serve these delights. This is my favorite type of waffle.
- Brussels Waffles (Brusselse wafels/Gaufres de Bruxelles) - These waffles use lighter batter than the Liège waffles and aren’t as sweet. A lot of the waffle houses put a variety of toppings on these things like strawberries, whipped cream, and chocolate. They’re generally in a rectangle shape no matter what.
Mosselen-friet / Moules et frites - Mussels and
french friesBelgian Fries are a main course that many consider the national dish of the country.
- Chocolate - It would be a crime if I didn’t mention that Belgium is the Mecca of chocolatiers. The big brands include Godiva and Neuhaus, but major cities have boutique chocolatiers that have great products of their own.
Regarding drinks, NEVER offer Belgians Heineken. EVER!
Belgians, regardless of whether they’re native Dutch, French, or German speakers can agree on this. They have an irrational disdain for Heineken, a pilsner that originates from Amsterdam, Netherlands. Heineken is one of the most popular beers in the world, and most Americans, myself included, like it.
That said, Belgians, who are known for their trappist and craft brews, take exception to Heineken. They have some rather NSFW illustrations to describe what they think of it but you can Google that up. This, however, is a PG-rated depiction of Meesseman when she’s offered a Heineken:
Famous Belgian sportsmen with Emma’s birthday
I found two Belgian sports figures who are celebrating birthdays today. At least one of them should be well known to those of you who are soccer fans:
Hometown: Boom (Bohm), Antwerp Province
Birthdate: May 13, 1993
It’s one thing to see someone have the same birthday as Meesseman. But things hit another level when we find out that Lukaku is Emma’s twin brother from another mother.
He was literally born on the same day she was, AND he’s Flemish too.
If you’re not a big soccer fan, Lukaku is a striker for Everton in the English Premier League and De Rode Duivels / Les Diables Rouges / The Red Devils, the Belgian men’s soccer team. His father, Roger was a Congolese soccer player who played for several professional Flemish teams.
Lukaku also has some basketball skills, where he played against Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba in Miami last year:
Hometown: Oostende*, West Flanders
Birthdate: May 13, 1972
What he does: Maene represented Belgium in the 1992 Summer Olympics as a backstroke and medley swimmer. He’s also from Meesseman’s home province. Today, Maene coaches swimmers.
*Also known as Ostend
Popular Belgian music
Given that Belgium is a country divided by language, it’s not easy to tell what the most popular songs are in the aggregate. The Ultrapop (Belgium’s Billboard) charts are divided between Flanders (Dutch) vs. Wallonia/Brussels (French). That said, here are some of the more popular Belgian singers that may be on Emma’s playlist:
Stromae (real name Paul van Haver) is probably the most popular Belgian and Brusselaar singer for American audiences recently. Kanye West remixed one of his hits called “Alors on Danse.” Though this is a four year old song, you may have heard “Papaoutai” (Dad, where are you?) somewhere as well:
In Europe, they hold an annual continental “Eurovision Song Contest” where a singer from each country competes in an elimination format. Belgium’s EuroVision contest singer is Blanche (real name Ellie Devlaux), a Brusselaar who competed in the Belgian French version of The Voice. Her official song in EuroVision is “City Lights” which is in English:
Tesoro was Belgium’s EuroVision participant last year. She has done some of the Belgian Dutch singing for Disney movies, including Vaiana, which is the European name for Moana, partly because of copyrights. Disney actually has different dubs for Flemish and Hollandic Dutch dialects because the accents are quite different. Anyway, this is Tesoro’s latest song “Higher.”
Damso (real name, William Kalubi) is a Congolese born Brusselaar rapper. This is his latest song, “A. Nwaar Is The New Black” which is ranking high in the Francophone charts. You’ll need the Spotify app to listen to the whole song which has a combination of English and French profanity.
Eddyani is a Flemish rapper who is actually more popular in the Netherlands than Belgium. His biggest solo hit in both countries is “Een Dief Als Broer” (A Thief as a Brother).:
That’s all I have in this long post about random things about Belgium. But it’s fun sharing them with you.
So without further ado, Gelukkige verjaardag / Bon anniversaire / Happy birthday Emma!