Let's start with the obvious.
I was amazed to discover that you could smoke inside, which endeared the Belgians to me even more, as they didn’t seem to have decided that smoking was a worse sin than public puppy buggering.This is, indeed, very true. As things presently stand, those frequenting bars in Belgium have largely escaped the EU-led brainwashing tactics surrounding tobacco consumption in public places. Quite the paradox considering a majority of anti-smoking pressure emanates from their capital city. But then, it's not an isolated case, as I'll expand on later.
In fact, everyone seemed to be smoking everywhere we went, with non-smokers seemingly happy to co-exist with smokers and unafraid of the mythical consequences of second hand smoke.
My hotel this weekend, for example - in a small town in the Flemish province of Antwerp - still has an indoor bar carrying a sign pointing left for 'rokers' (smokers) and right for 'niet rokers' (I think you can guess that). Of course, this weekend has been roasting so it wasn't used until later at night, but those enjoying the much populated terrace (covered with a low sun-cum-rain protective awning) were as disinterested in smoker segregation as the rest of the place.
As the night grew chilly, many decamped inside to chat in the gutteral Flemish cross between Dutch and German (once described to me by someone there as talking whilst puking), but still no-one turned a hair. I'm minded of the line in War of the Worlds where the artilleryman spoke of the naive nature of gunners lined up against the martians. "They haven't seen the heat ray yet". For most of Belgium has still to experience the full force of pitiless, bludgeoning, ideological smoker hatred which is on its way.
Choice won't stand a chance once the anti-tobacco denormalising steamroller batters its way into every little Belgian town, backed by pharma money and the overwhelming power of a corrupt European superstate.
It will be a shame to see it happen since the parts I have visited are still a friendly and generally unencumbered corner of the world. On Saturday night, the only disruption to the happy chatter of those present was the appearance of a fire engine on a routine call at a bus stop a hundred yards up the road. You could be forgiven for thinking that a serial killer was on the loose, such was the furrow-browed concern. I worry for their trusting nature.
Steve has a feeling that Belgians won't take it lying down, mind.
Alas, it now appears that a mere 3 years later the anti-smoking police have finally triumphed in Belgium, but not without a certain amount of resistance, I’m happy to say:Well, it's interesting he should say that, because their attitude to health and safety is still gloriously relaxed.More than 800 Belgian bar owners and their supporters demonstrated Saturday against a decision to widen a smoking ban in public spaces to cover all cafes and the kingdom’s nine casinos from July 1.I knew the Belgians were great people!
When in Brussels two years ago - in the shadow of the EU building no less - I remember being forced into the road to avoid unattended roadworks which obstructed the pavement. Unlike in the UK, they didn't close the road off, or construct risk-free walkways which cut down on road space and treated pedestrians as unthinking morons. Instead, there was nothing but a fence to stop you falling down the hole. How you got past it was your own problem.
It hasn't changed either. Walking through the small town I was staying in the other day, we encountered an electrical box with (insulated) wires coming out of it which was obviously a work in progress. All that was evident to stop anyone frazzling themselves by stupidly playing around with it (with wire cutters, presumably) was a yellow sign telling you to leave it alone. They took it as read that that would be enough.
Similarly, the venue I had travelled to visit had installed a stepped walkway from an upper deck to the floor below, complete with just one wooden handrail. There were slower ways down for anyone who felt it wasn't their thing, but it was - for shame - an Englishman I encountered who railed about its potential danger and who talked about how the owners "would be sued to fuck" if someone fell over.
It's not for nothing that EU regulations are termed 'English law' by those working for other nations in the EU establishment. We have a government who cannot resist implementing every directive with an additional flourish. As such, it would seem that we're increasingly conditioned to accept that the state should be our mother, father, and wet nurse combined.
There's one other area where Belgians may well find state intrusion hard to take, and that's the beer. They're very proud of their brewing, so they are. They even boast a large selection of postcards boasting their, err, large selection of world-renowned beers. Here's one Mrs P - a committed postcard collector - picked up in Bruges.
You see, all these are what Don Shenker may term 'dangerous'. They start at around 5% ABV and move up from there. Yet Belgium isn't by any means known for its falling down drunkenness.
Only a theory, I know, but perhaps counter-intuitive common sense tells us that a strong beer gives the buzz one drinks alcohol for, thereby not requiring the necking of copious quantities of it. The direction our puritan UK-based overlords appear to be going is the stark opposite, punishing the strength of beer to solve the (exaggerated) problem of over-indulgence. As previously attempted by Sweden, where hysterical restriction of alcohol led to comprehensively disastrous results. You'd think that supposedly clever politicians would read up on such things, wouldn't you?
Unfortunately, though, time and time again we see our state interfering and creating chaos out of order. Belgium is one of those quiet places where much of the hysterical righteous crusade has yet to take root, but they'll be beaten into line at some point, and their lives will cease to be their own in incremental steps. How they react to such 'interventions' - to employ a public health euphemism - will be very interesting.
I hope, like Steve, that they kick and scream about anything forced upon them against their easy-going will. And I hope they fight hard. You know, like our country did in the not so distant past.
Would that UK citizens were still as capable of recognising threats to freedom as many of our European counterparts. Instead of looking over the channel and admiring their spunk, it would be nice if we could find similar spirit in our own hyper-cosseted ranks.
Wouldn't it be embarrassing if a 'non-country' managed to put up more resistance against restrictions on their freedoms than one which used to take pride in being Europe's prime defender of liberty.