The worldly Belgian

They say it’s hard to be a Saint in the City but I say it’s even harder to be a Belgian in Peru. Or to be a Belgian anywhere outside of Belgium for that matter, because old habits die hard. Take the Belgian idea of politely offering a cup of coffee to a visitor in your home:

HOST: “Would you like a cup of coffee?”
GUEST: “No thank you.”

HOST: “Are you sure? I can make a fresh pot.”
GUEST: “No thanks, I’m actually in a hurry to get to blablablah.”

HOST: “I’m going to make a pot of coffee because so-and-so is coming over in a bit.”
GUEST: “You don’t have to do that I was just leaving anyway.”

HOST: “Here’s some cookies, you sure you don’t want a cup of coffee with that?”
GUEST: “Well if you’re having a cup, I’ll have a cup with you.”

The Belgian guest will politely say “no” at least 2 or 3 times before accepting and the host will keep offering until the guest accepts. The idea is that the guest can’t accept the first time the host offers because it would indicate that he or she came hungry/thirsty to the guest’s house. A similar weirdness takes place when you’re passing that plate of cookies around the coffee table and everyone will refuse to take the last cookie until the plate with that lone last cookie has gone around the table 2 or 3 times, then someone will finally cave and eat the last cookie. The idea is that you don’t want to leave the host without anything, so nobody takes the last of anything until the host has insisted on passing plate around 2 or 3 times.

One of the things I like best about being in Peru is that we eat very well. Unlike the so called developed world, we eat real and fresh foods, not food-like industrial products. For example, we buy fresh bread twice a day, we don’t get bread that lasts 10 days in a plastic bag from a factory 3 states away. We make fresh juice for breakfast most days and I’m the self-proclaimed king of the Philips blender: mangos, papayas, pineapple, bananas, it’s all fair game.

Now lately mamacita linda’s been in a rush to get to work in the morning and she might skip breakfast at home, like this:

Me: “Mamacita, do you want a glass of juice before you go?”
Mamacita Linda: “No papi thanks”.

Me: “Sure you don’t want some of my world famous mango juice?”
Mamacita Linda: “No papi I already told you I don’t have time”.

Me: “Hmmmmmmmmm this is the best juice ever, do you want some before you go?”
Mamacita Linda: “NO PAPI!!!! How many times do I have to tell you the same thing??? I don’t have time!!!! I don’t want juice!!! I don’t want breakfast!!!! Quit asking me the same thing over and over!!!”

Oops. Then I realize I’m no longer in Belgium and there is no such thing as a worldly Belgian.

Merry Christmas!!!

All is normal in Belgium

Occasionally I check the news headlines back in the “old country”. Loosely translated, the top headline on Google news Belgium reads:

“Minister Vande Lanotte requests investigation into higher beer prices.”

Belgian minister of economics requests investigation into higher beer prices.  Salud!

Belgian minister of economics requests investigation into higher beer prices. Salud!

Johan Vande Lanotte is Belgium’s new minister of economics and I actually had him pegged as one of the more reasonable politicians in Belgium.

Here in Peru, most Peruvians have a fairly low opinion and approval rating of their politicians. What’s interesting to me though is that during any conversation I have about politics with a Peruvian (for the most part I stay away from the subject) most Peruvians somehow think politicians in those far away Northern countries are really the proverbial cat’s meow.

I love Europe but the leaders there live in such a fantasy world.

My World Cup post…

The World Cup is just now getting exiting. No Peru, no Belgium, que triste. How I long for the days of Jean-Marie Pfaff and Enzo Scifo.

Fearless forecast: Paraguay beats Uruguay by a score of 2-1 in the Final on July 11.

I know, I know, saner souls might predict something like Brazil – Germany or Netherlands – Argentina, but wouldn’t it be great for once if 2 small South American countries had their moment in the spotlight?

Speaking of Brazil and Argentina, I kind of like this video of Pele appearing on the first night of Maradona’s TV show. These two have been trading barbs for a long time but don’t show any sign of animosity in this segment. As for who’s the greater of the two, I don’t see why people get so hung up on that, they’re both legends.

For all of their off-the-field issues, people like Pfaff and Maradona are larger than life characters that I can’t help but like a bit… could it be because I’m kind of a character myself 😉

Idiots with MBA degrees

I could devote a whole blog to idiots in suits, also known as MBAs, but it would take away from the generally optimistic world view I have and try to share on this blog.

However, I just couldn’t resist this one, from Time magazine: Belgium’s looming beer crisis.

Just a teaser… Clearly 14th. century monks were more capable of running a business than today’s idiots in suits:

“InBev can trace its brewing roots back to 1366 … It has expanded rapidly following a series of rapacious mergers and acquisitions in recent years, most notably its takeover of Budweiser brewer Anheuser-Busch in 2008 — after which InBev became AB InBev. But that move also saddled the company with huge debts, which it is still struggling to pay off. …”

And if you can stomach reading through to the end, here’s what the people who gave you the financial crisis, Government Motors and $400 Amazon stock plan for Belgian beer:

“AB InBev is thinking on a bigger scale and wants to go for volume rather than quality,” he says. In other words, AB InBev is focusing on a grand strategy, which means that what happens in Belgium now is small beer.”

Belgium is of course my home country, so this one hits close to home. There’s also a Latin American connection in that AB Inbev is largely controlled by Brazilian investment bankers, stemming from one of the mergers that made the company what it is today.

Excuse the French, but if some people can screw up a wet dream, I guess even screwing up Belgian beer is possible for idiots in suits.

Go read the full article at Time.

In this great future – part 2

A while ago I wrote about difficult times in the recent history of Peru, borrowing words from Bob Marley “in this great future, you can’t forget your past…”

The same is true for Belgium, where we are currently spending the holidays with my family. Life wasn’t always easy here either. Take a look at the main square in my town, nice and picturesque in the snow…

Main square in Oostakker, Belgium

Main square in Oostakker, Belgium

There’s a cute gazebo in the middle of the main square, where we were being all touristy…

The gazebo in the main square in Oostakker

The gazebo in the main square in Oostakker

Patricia on the gazebo

Patricia on the gazebo

But take a closer look… the gazebo is built on top of a World War 2 era bombshelter, the red door is the original entrance. When we were kids we’d go inside and play, although it often had standing water inside. It’s not the only bombshelter in town, there are several more scattered around.

Entrance to WW2 era bombshelter

Entrance to WW2 era bombshelter

In Peru there are so many young people that a middle-age white guy like myself is positively ancient, not many people are around with any recollection of World War 2, but in Europe there are still many people who remember WW2. My grandmother used to tell us about how they slept in a home-made shelter they dug in the backyard, my grandfather was in the the Belgian army at the beginning of the war. My other grandparents had a farm and would secretly help people with food when the rations weren’t sufficient.

“in this great future, you can’t forget your past…”