Some Surprising Things About Belgium


Jan 14, 2015 by James

Surprising as it may seem, the Brits and the Belgians seem to have an awful lot in common. The Belgians love chips, beer, football and chocolate – what's not to like?

In fact, so much do the Belgians love chips they are now trying to have them officially declared a part of their cultural heritage. In Belgium, chips are referred to as 'Belgian fries', but they are virtually identical to the British chip, rather than the French or American 'fry'. Belgian fries are generally sold in paper cones from shops called 'fritkot', which usually take the form of a shack or trailer. The country has 5000 of these, which means that there are more fritkots per head of population in Belgium than there are McDonald's restaurants in the US.

Although the cultural value of chips has been formally recognised in domestic legislation, the Belgian people now want UNESCO (the cultural arm of the United Nations) to do the same.

Potatoes have been cultivated in Belgium since the 16th century, but chips were not widely available until the 19th century. Interestingly, the Belgians claim to have invented chips – although some other nations, including the UK, may dispute that - and apparently, 95% of the country's residents visit a fritkot at least annually. 

As if the chips weren't fascinating enough, here are some more interesting facts about Belgium, which may persuade you that this unassuming neighbour is worth a visit soon:

1. Belgians are not always as unassuming as you might think: both the Holy Roman Empire and New York City were founded by natives of what is now Belgium. The first King of France, Clovis (466-511) was born in Belgium.

2. Belgians love their beer. Belgian breweries produce more than 800 different types, and the country's residents consume around 180 litres of beer per person each year. There's even a beer academy, which opened in 1999.

3. Belgium is the world's biggest chocolate exporter, producing 220,000 tonnes annually. That's enough for 22kg per person per year, although in practice a large proportion of it goes abroad. Brussels airport is the world's most successful chocolate vendor.

4. Belgians are also famous for their waffles (there are three main types) and pies.

5. Belgium has the highest level of income tax of any OECD nation, at around 40% of gross earnings. Inheritance tax can reach 80%. Perhaps that is why Belgian people use more discount coupons than any other nationality in the world.

6. Belgian individuals invented the saxophone, the body mass index (BMI) and oil painting.

7. Despite the tax rates, Belgium grants the highest proportion of new citizenship's after Canada.

8. Belgium is one of the world's most densely populated countries and has three official languages; most Belgians are multilingual.

9. The Formula One (F1) circuit at Spa in Belgium is the longest track in F1, and the second oldest.

10. Spa must be quite a place, because it was also home to Europe's first casino (in 1763) and health resort.

11. Antwerp is the world's main diamond centre, with around 90% of all raw diamonds being traded, refined and distributed in or from Antwerp.