Belgian patriotism

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In response to a recent Language Log post that mentioned Belgium as the New Jersey of Europe ("Willimantic", 9/27/2008), Cosma Shalizi wrote to draw my attention to the Belgian joke embedded in Robert Pinsky's poem "Impossible to Tell".

… In the Belgian Army, the feud
Between the Flemings and Walloons grew vicious,

So out of hand the army could barely function.
Finally one commander assembled his men
In one great room, to deal with things directly.

They stood before him at attention. "All Flemings,"
He ordered, "to the left wall." Half the men
Clustered to the left. "Now all Walloons," he ordered,

"Move to the right." An equal number crowded
Against the right wall. Only one man remained
At attention in the middle: "What are you, soldier?"

Saluting, the man said, "Sir, I am a Belgian."
"Why, that's astonishing, Corporal–what's your name?"
Saluting again, "Rabinowitz," he answered:

This in turn reminds me of an old Irish joke, told at the bottom of an older Language Log post about Tibetan hats. [I note, by the way, that the Wikipedia article linked in that post no longer has a discussion of the history of sectarian violence among the Tibetan buddhist sects known as "red hat", "yellow hat", "black hat", etc.  As a result, the proverb quoted in the post ("Whoever has a head has a hat") is not explained by the link. A bit of more informative background can be found e.g. here.]




  1. Bill Poser said,

    September 29, 2008 @ 8:59 pm

    This is an old bit of Belgian Jewish humor, that we Jews (my father is Belgian) and the Royal Family are the only true Belgians.

  2. Carl said,

    September 30, 2008 @ 1:30 am

    The joke I heard is that the only Belgian is the king.

  3. Carl said,

    September 30, 2008 @ 1:31 am

    Ah, I see Poser beat me to it.

  4. Stephen Jones said,

    September 30, 2008 @ 3:29 am

    What about the Arab and African immigrants?

  5. Alan said,

    September 30, 2008 @ 3:47 am

    Comparably, it was said of Austria-Hungary that it contained thirteen million Germans, eleven million Hungarians, seven million Czechs, five million Poles, and one Austrian — the Emperor Franz Joseph.

  6. mollymooly said,

    September 30, 2008 @ 4:31 am

    In the UK the resurgence of English patriotism, along with the political support for Scottish and Welsh national identity, means more people see themselves as primarily "English"/"Scottish"/"Welsh" rather than "British". Recent immigrants from former colonies and their descendants are an exception to the trend, as are Northern Irish Unionists, whose self-identification as "Irish" is patchy.

  7. Rick S said,

    September 30, 2008 @ 6:21 am

    The Wikipedia information is actually still there, but was subsumed under the parent heading because it was so brief. There is a separate page for the Red Hat group which links to articles for its three schools, and the Yellow Hat page redirects to its school, Gelug.

  8. Phil H, said,

    October 1, 2008 @ 8:09 am

    Brussels is Belgium…the rest is an ugly quilt.

  9. Alan Shaw said,

    October 8, 2008 @ 8:59 pm

    And of course there's the Irish joke that ends:
    "Well that's all right, but are you a Catholic Jew or a Protestant Jew?"

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