Is Belgium Cool?

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Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete Heck

Just a couple of days into our stay in Brussels, this article circulated on the web.

Via a worldwide survey, it was determined that Belgians are the least cool people on the planet.

After two weeks in the country, we have something to say about that. Even though Canadians are only marginally “cooler” (4th LEAST cool? C’mon now! What about our hockey dominance and national animal being the beaver?), at least we ain’t the worst, and thus we believe we are qualified to pass judgment on those *lesser* than us.

Here’s our analysis…


– Beer:
Gawddamn, but does Belgium make some good beer. For such a tiny country, they have approximately 125 breweries and make a very wide range of beers. I discovered the lovely combination of beer and intense fruit flavors here; Pete enjoyed trying many of the Trappist beers which are brewed by monasteries and are entirely produced not-for-profit.  Definitely cool.

– Chocolate: How can a country that produces 172,000 tons of chocolate a year NOT be cool? A little chubby, maybe, but still cool.

– Frites: One of the biggest companies in the world (McDonalds), from the determined coolest nation in the world (America), owes the Belgians a big high five for inventing the French Fry. In the late 1700s, Belgium claims to have started frying up potatoes when small fish were scarce (they even cut the potatoes up in the shape of the fish). They were an instant hit!

– Belgian waffles: We had a hard time walking in Brussels without drooling over these bad boys on many street corners. Load ’em up with fruit, whipped cream, chocolate, whatevs. It’s all good.

– Diversity: This took us as a total surprise. I don’t think we’ve ever come across such a demonstrative multi-cultural society as this. Home to the EU and NATO head offices and claiming three official languages, it has a population pulled in from all over the globe. It’s reflected in their faces, every day conversations heard in many languages, and in their delicious varieties of food.

– Schluempfe! The Smurfs are Belgian! Need we say more?

– Awesome people: We have heard more than a few reports from people that the Belgians are rude and not entirely the brightest lot. We strongly disagree. In Brussels we received an impromptu free tour on a VIP bus (so what if she took us the wrong way?), met with a wonderful Brussels native who represented their tourism board very well, and even had a tour operator in Ghent offer up his couch the next time we came to visit his beautiful city.


– Government: Politics doesn’t get much more complicated than the system in Belgium. There is a monarchy, one central government, three regional governments (with as much power), and three community governments with their own parliaments (split according to the three different languages). Confused? Yeah, us too.

And for reasons that are far too confusing to delve into here, Belgium has been without a functioning central government for almost 500 days (which is a world record, previously held by Iraq). Not something to be particularly proud of, even though the country runs smoothly thanks to the working regional governments. Wait! Maybe that is cool!?

– Weird restrictions: Victor Horta was a Belgian designer and architect who was instrumental in helping bring the Art Nouveau style to Europe. And for whatever reason, we can’t show you why. All the buildings he created in Brussels are copyrighted, and pictures of his work are not allowed to be shared. Which is a shame, and totally uncool.

And…that’s it!

We are a little hard pressed to come up with the “not cool” list in our cursory, two week review. Some people who have been living here awhile tell us that there is much more to add, but after our very pleasant time, we’re going to give this tiny country the benefit of the doubt.

Maybe Belgium doesn’t have Carnaval like the Brazilians (ranked #2), and they don’t have supercool wooden clogs like the Dutch(ranked #7), but we do believe that they’re “cool” enough to be out of last spot.

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  1. That list is hysterical. Americans are the coolest and Russians are only tenth coolest?? Hasn’t the world met Vladmir Putin? He alone should catapult Russia to the top spot!

    Poor Belgium, though. There’s just no appreciate for chocolate or waffles these days.

  2. Wow! I love chocolates!!
    But if you are looking for diversity visit my country, India, you will be amazed!! The language, rituals and customs changes every 100 kilometers!!

  3. Belgium is totally cool! I went there last summer and had a blast, great food, even greater beer and chocolate, and nice interesting people. Beautiful architecture too. I also had a Belgian professor while I studied in Rome who knew more about Rome than anyone else on Earth.

    I saw that original article a while back and was perplexed that Belgians were the least cool. Great article, and great job contesting the Belgian uncoolness

    1. Cheers! We certainly were quite pleased with Belgium since we really didn’t know what to expect. But now that we know, they should definitely not be in the bottom slot.

  4. Wow, I think the Belgians got a raw deal by that poll. I love them from my four visits, and what can be really be wrong with a nationality that brews 125 different beers.

    1. Exactly. We’ve been out of the country for over a week now and I am still drinking their beer. I doubt any country will top them on that front.

  5. It just goes to show that ‘cool’ is all relative! We didn’t meet many Belgians the last time we were there but all the ones I’ve ever met abroad have been really friendly. That’s good enough for me in the cool books.

  6. Haha, this is great! Poor Belgium. Somehow I feel like maybe they’re getting a raw deal on this one. I mean, chocolate AND waffles? How is that not cool??

    That being said, I wonder how the Aussies and Kiwis feel about being left off the list? I’ve always thought of them as being pretty cool. But maybe I’m alone!

    1. This is definitely a flawed list. I think there would be a lot of people supporting you about the Aussies and Kiwis, me being one of them.

  7. Beer, chocolate, waffles and Belgium is still uncool? Something doesn’t seem right to me.

    The rule about the Victor Horta buildings is really strange, I’ve never heard of anything like that before. Are you at least allowed to take photos for your own photo albums?

    1. Yes, you are allowed for your own albums, but we didn’t. If we can’t share them with our fans, then none at all. Take that Horta!

    2. Architects can copyright their own works here; which at times is a real shame. Especially when they are enforced on landmarks such as the Victor Horta buildings and the Atomium.

      So as a Belgian citizen, posting a photo of it online will surely invite a letter to pay up a hefty royalty. Not cool. And it’s especially infuriating as the Atomium was built and renovated with taxpayers money.

      Another such example was a Belgian who had put a lot of time, money and effort in renovating an old Victor Horta building. When it was done, he also created a beautiful website showing the house as it was restored to its formar glory. He soon after had to take it down again because he couldn’t afford the royalties, even though he owned the building.

      Unfortunately, this also means that many of Belgium’s treasures are almost impossible to market and therefore remain unknown to the rest of the world. And in fact even to most Belgians as well.

      On the plus side: because nothing is obvious here, it’s an explorers dream. Even places that I should know as well as the back of my hand, continue to surprise me. So I find it a wonderful notion that I can travel off the beaten path every weekend, and still have plenty left to see and do in a country that is just the size of a postcard.

      1. PF thank you for your wonderful comment. It is a shame that we can’t share his wonderful works of art with our fans on our site, but on the same note it just means that they will have to take our word for it and go and see the works for themselves. It is an explorers dream there and I can’t wait to get back there someday. Again thanks for leaving this comment 🙂

  8. Did you take a look at where that survey came from? — a quasi-photo rating/dating site that originated in Russia. So of course the Russians are going to think that Americans are cool. because they have toilet paper and all. Decidly uncool that Reuters would even run it.

  9. And as a resident of that fine country (Belgium that is), I can re-assure you that you’ll also find the perfect blend of that relaxed Southern European attitude with the Germanic sense of responsibility which contributes to Belgium having one of Europe’s most successful economies.

  10. Belgium is cool!

    But sorry… their beer? Are you serious? Hahaha… They have a big variety and many breweries, but the quality? Sure, we don’t have cherry flavored beer in Germany, but we have the Reinheitsgebot, which makes sure that our beers are brewed with quality & without chemical stuff. Your hangover will thank you the next day! 😉

    1. No cherry flavored beer! That is a problem. 🙂

      We just spent a week in Hamburg and did enjoy some very good beer – Erdinger, Jever, and some others I can’t remember. (But Astra seriously tastes like p*ss).

    2. Your “Reinheitsgebot” only exist in Germany, not on on any country on the World. And your germans means that’s seems intressting for the whole World.

      I dont think so. and i have a german wife 😉

      greets from belgium

  11. This post is hilarious – I love it. But I’m baffled by the restrictions on Victor Horta’s work – what is the point of that?!

  12. Whoever wrote that article clearly had not spent time with many Belgians. We spent three weeks with people WAY cooler than us, and we’re supposedly among the coolest as Americans. Plus nearly every Belgian I met spoke a minimum of 3 languages; pretty cool in my book!

  13. This is too funny! I’m not sure how to feel about the fact that Australians don’t even get a mention on the infamous ‘list’, cool or uncool! Maybe we are in a category all of our own…hmm, not sure what that would be 😉

    1. Hey Taylor, I do not recall seeing anyone with socks and sandals and I look out for these sort of things. So how does that swing your vote?

  14. Any article that:
    a) uses poor punctuation (“Of course, not all Americans are cool far from it.” Um, shouldn’t there be something between “cool” and “far” in that sentence?) and;
    b) un-ironically quotes Michael Ignatieff on the topic of cool;
    has zero credibility with me.

    As a Canadian with very little cool factor, I occasionally throw in “yo” at the end of a sentence to up my street cred. So, Belgian waffles, chocolate and beer sound dope, yo. I will make it to that fine country one day.

  15. So glad you guys were able to discover the ‘cool’ in this crazy little country. Although I try to promote the cool things in Belgium as much as possible, in a way it’s good that more people don’t think it’s cool… it keeps it emptier for the rest of us who know the secret!

    1. Yes, I’m starting to believe that Belgium doesn’t market itself for that reason. Too keep it on the DL, but I think the secret is getting out. We loved it and will be back to explore more, that’s for certain.

  16. In 2007 I drove through Belgium on my way to the Netherlands and didn’t spend more than I few hours there. I definitely need to go back, it sounds pretty cool to me 🙂
    that is crazy about the buildings that guy designed being copyrighted!? WTF?! How do you even know which ones they are? do they all have signs on them? What if one of them was on fire and burning down could the TV news not show that happening? haha crazy!

    1. There are no signs on them – nothing. We wouldn’t even have known if the lady from Brussels tourism hadn’t told us. Apparently they are quite vigilant about it in the neighbourhoods – they will come up to people taking pictures and ask if they are for personal use or whatever. Nuts, right?!

  17. The least cool place? Definitely not. The beer alone makes it one of the coolest. I was there just for a few days but really enjoyed it, especially the huge, loud Gay Pride parade in Brussels (another point for coolness).

    1. One other thing we never mentioned…on one Sunday we were there, it was “car free” day – no cars were allowed on the streets, only bikes and public transit. VERY cool in my opinion!

  18. I’m a big fan of Belgium – heading there again in March – and especially like the trappist cheeses that go along with the trappist beers there. But then, I’m a sucker for cheese anywhere….

    I’m also a bit of a copyright geek, so I’m intrigued by this use of copyright to protect building designs. One of the other commenters had a good point, though, in saying that it makes it more interesting for explorers, because they won’t have seen everything in advance!

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