Although he has no real powers to run the country, the king does have an important symbolic role : he keeps the country together. Just imagine what would happen if the Belgians, Flemish and Walloons together, would have to agree on the election of an either Flemish or French speaking president… It seems impossible to me.
Although the 15th of November is a national holiday, you can only stay home if you either work for the government or if you go to a public school. And it has absolutely no comparison to the Dutch Queens’ day where all the Dutch dress up in orange. Most Belgians don’t even realize they should be celebrating the king on this day.
How we got invited to the reception to celebrate this day in the embassy, is the result of a series of coincidences but, how we accepted the invitation without hesitation is probably the biggest surprise. I am one of those unpatriotic Belgians, and apart from attending the Belgian National Holiday celebration in NY last July -I would say under pressure of my daughter- I never went to this kind of celebrations. But as we all know it is never too late to change.
It was a nice spring evening, and the orchestra of the Argentine Marine was waiting to play some music. We assumed they would play the national anthem, but as unpatriotic as we are, we were wondering if we would recognize the Belgian national anthem if we heard it. Of course thinking of our previous prime minister Yves Leterme who, when asked to sing the national anthem, spontaneously started singing the… French one!
Our doubts were immediately taken away when the band started playing and when we immediately recognized the music as… the Argentine anthem. This always brings a smile on our face. Usually when we hear it, we are in the kids’ school, usually by the end of the year, usually it’s around 35 degrees outside and a few degrees more inside the school theatre. Where everyone is waving a little bit of wind into their face with whatever paper they find, partly excited to see how their kids have done, partly wanting to leave the sauna-like-school as fast as they can. But then everyone stands up and starts singing the national anthem. Everyone knows the words, either young or old, and most of them sing it with the necessary enthusiasm. The heat seems to have been forgotten. This was completely new for us, and in the given circumstances, we thought it lasted forever, that this song would never stop. Several times we thought it was over, but they just continued singing… For that reason, in remembrance of our first encounter with the Argentine national anthem, we always smile. We listen, and who knows, in a few years, we sing it too.
But lets get back to the Belgian day of the dynasty. As was expected the second song they played was the Belgian anthem, we did recognize it. But that is all we could say. Where as half of the people present had sung the first one, nobody sang the words of this one. Didn’t they know the words? Or weren’t there any Belgians present? I am guessing the first. When I was in school we started each day with a Holy Mary, but never with the national anthem. I never learned the words, and I hardly ever heard the music.
It is the custom to sing the national anthem on official celebrations of the national holidays, but probably to avoid any embarrassment of people not knowing the words and thus not singing, they invite a Belgian singer to sing it in the 3 national languages, as shown in the video (2008). And all together, the Belgian song is a lot longer then the Argentine one!
Yes we Belgians, Flemish as well as Walloons, we are generally very unpatriotic, or maybe just indifferent. Especially if you compare us with for example a Dutchman, an Englishman, a (north) American or, an Argentine.
There were all kinds of people on this celebration. Flemish, Walloons, Argentines, and several other nationalities. But this didn’t make the communication difficult or complicated. When it comes to languages the Belgians certainly stand out. A conversation started in Flemish, switched to French, English or Spanish depending on who entered or left the group, to switch back into another language after that. Belgians are Polyglots. They have always been, and they will always be. It is in our genes, just like patriotism is absent. A Belgian, either Flemish or French, will always be a Belgian.