About 'Alpha+Good'

Alpha+Good (a bad wordplay on Orwell's "double plus good" and old machismo - I'm the realest after all) is a side project that belongs to 'Onklare taal' ('Unclear' or 'Unripe language'), the umbrella of several literary projects in Dutch.

This section is almost exclusively in English and comprises my ongoing thoughts on progress, gender, politics and various other social themes. Why is this in English why everything else in Dutch? Because I want to gun for a much wider audience here. Also, my literary English isn't good enough, otherwise I would always write in English.

Are you a little lost? This link will take you right back to my home page.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

9 widespread myths about language

I am all about words. I’m a content marketeer by trade and I’m a writer in my downtime. I also hold an M.A. in literature and linguistics. Over the years, I’ve noticed lots of people hold bizarre or weird beliefs about language, and this series attempts to tackle these misconceptions.

1.    Knowing more than one language is exceptional

People from English-speaking countries can often get by their entire lives without speaking anything other than English, even when traveling abroad. With a whopping one billion speakers and a position as the primary language of aviation, IT and entertainment, being born into an English-speaking family is like starting life’s game on ‘super easy’ mode.

But in most other parts of the world, multilingualism is the norm. Over half of Europeans speak more than one language, and numbers are even higher for nations and communities in densely-populated West Africa or South-East Asia. Monolingualism is a rather recent phenomenon. People in the Greek, Roman, Arab, Mongol or Chinese Empires were very likely to know one or two additional languages beyond their mother tongue.

Another reason for the rise (but not dominance) of monolingualism is language death. There used to be many more languages in the world than there are today. Languages can get erased by violent displacement and depopulation (e.g. many native American languages), the greater prestige and cultural influence of another language (e.g. how English wiped out Cornish and Manx), or by being subsumed into a new ‘roof’ language (e.g. how French is absorbing Occitan).

2.    Perfecting a second language is a matter of skill and application

While skill and application certainly help you get competent and fluent in another language, perfection is almost certainly out of reach if you start learning a new language before you turn 7. That’s because language is not just a collection of grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation rules. For instance, each language has its own preferred rhythm and flow, and this can even be different within dialects or regiolects of a language. Like, did you ever notice Australian English sentences always seem to sound like a question?

Even if it is possible to attain fluency in another language as an adolescent or an adult (e.g. as happened for me in English and German), there will always be the small uncontrollable bits that ‘betray’ you to a native speaker. It’s a common trope for spy or diplomat characters in fiction to perfectly speak a second (or third) language, but this is incredibly, incredibly rare. Even if they have the inborn talent to perfect another language, it is unlikely spies and diplomats have the time and resources to devote to this.

An exception is writing. Joseph Conrad, who wrote ‘Heart of Darkness’, was born a Pole in what is today Ukraine, but became an English writer. Apparently he never lost his very noticeable Polish accent in English, even if his writing was impeccable.

3.    Language shapes your worldview

If it is true that your mother language determines how you look at the world, then why do Americans and Brits not share the same culture? Why do the Dutch and Dutch-speaking Belgians differ so much in their cultural outlook and folk psyche, despite living right next to one another? That is because while language is indeed a window through which you look at the outside world, a much stronger determining force is culture. And it is culture that shapes language.

That’s why we can speak of a ‘Swiss’ culture despite the country having four official languages, or why people from Seattle and rural Oklahoma are generally different animals despite sharing the same language. In addition, it’s not because English has lost the distinction between informal and formal 2nd person pronouns that English culture has grown less polite (ironically, “thou” was actually the informal form while “you” was formal, but because of the historical distance “thou” now seen as quaint and super-formal).

Russian has separate words for “dark blue” and “light blue”, but that doesn’t mean non-Russians can’t make the visual distinction between both variants. They just never give it much thought. Similarly, Russian has no separate words for “arm” and “hand”, but that doesn’t mean Russians think fingernails grow on elbows.

4.    Animals have languages, too

With cetaceans as possible exceptions, animals don’t have languages. They can communicate and do so with vigour, but they don’t actually have languages. A language would mean they have a set of arbitrary but consistent signals they can recombine to express any type of meaning. Bees dance to communicate where the next interesting field of flowers is, but they can’t use this dance to discuss mortality or ascribe meaning to the wind.

Similarly, great apes can be taught to communicate with humans to signal their emotions, solve basic logic puzzles or convey needs, but they can’t say things like “I might like a bunch of tasty insects like the ones I found two weeks ago, only a bit bigger and perhaps with shorter pincers”. This kind of modality and abstraction is lost on animals.

The big question is whether there is a correlation between sapience and language. Sapience here is separate from consciousness. It’s pretty clear many animals have a form of sentience, especially mammals and birds. But is sapience a prerequisite for language, or does language create sapience along the way? Unfortunately, we might never know. Our Neanderthal cousins were sapient, what with their burial rituals and art, but we don’t know for sure whether and what they actually spoke.

5.    Human language can be visualized as a family tree

Most encyclopedias will picture language families as trees, with branches springing from common ancestral languages that were once a branch of their own, and so on. A good example is how Latin is the ancestor of the world’s modern Romance languages, such as French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian and a few others. But that’s a gross simplification.

To understand why this tree model is so dumb, let’s take a look at Low German. Low German is a collection of dialects spoken in the plains of modern-day North Germany and some places in the East Netherlands. In Germany, it is slotted under the ‘roof speech’ of High German and in the Netherlands, it is catalogued under the ‘roof’ of Dutch. A reverse example is Serbo-Croatian, which is essentially one language, but has been split into Serbian and Croatian for political reasons.

In addition, languages constantly exchange words, expressions and even grammar. They influence each other as they grow. For instance, lots of distantly related or unrelated languages in the Balkan area share grammatical similarities. Pidgin and creole languages make the picture even murkier. Is Haitian a daughter language of French, or the fusion of French with local (and utterly unrelated) Caribbean languages?

6.    Intelligibility is a two-way street

Having taken Latin for six years and French for eight years at school, with an additional four-year stint working in a predominantly French-speaking environment, I can more or less understand simple pieces of text in modern Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, but not in Romanian, despite all four languages sharing Latin as an ancestors. Throw spoken language into the mix, and Portuguese falls off the list, too. Italian, when spoken slowly enough and with enough context for me to get by on, is in fact so maddeningly close to understandable that my brain sort of freezes over at the utter inability to speak it myself.

Conversely, in the Scandinavian language department, there’s the old linguist joke that all Scandinavians essentially speak Norwegian, but the Danes can’t pronounce it and the Swedes can’t spell it. The reason for this is that Danish had a huge impact on Norwegian writing and spelling conventions and that while spoken Swedish is closer to Norwegian than Danish, the Swedes developed their own spelling and writing conventions.

Third, mutual intelligibility can be just as asymmetrical as one-directional understanding. Speakers of Ukrainian and Belorussian have an easier time understanding Russian than vice versa. A major reason for this is that Ukrainians and Belarussians are exposed to Russian way more than the other way around. But the reason can be historical, too. Dutch-speakers can understand German better than German-speakers can understand Dutch. That’s because in many ways, German is a more conservative language and uses words, structures and idioms that Dutch-speakers don’t use much any more but do recognize, while the innovations of Dutch fly over a German speaker’s head.

7.    Some mother languages put you at a disadvantage when trying to acquire a foreign language

This argument is sometimes used to explain why French-speaking Belgians tend to perform so poorly at foreign languages compared to their Dutch-speaking compatriots. Globally speaking, French has an unusual accent: it places stress on the last syllable of most words. In addition, its ‘phonetic inventory’ (the number of human speech sounds it recognizes as distinct) consists of 38 sounds vis à vis Dutch’s 47. But this is nonsense. English has a comparable phonetic inventory size to Dutch, yet English-speakers tend to perform as abysmally at foreign languages as their French-speaking peers. Also, Swedish is renowned for its ‘musical accent’, which is unusual within Europe, yet they seem to master English and other languages just fine.

Another – predictably wrong – explanation is grammar. English-speakers are befuddled by German’s use of a case system (where pronouns and nouns change endings depending on grammatical function). But to a Russian person, German’s case system is refreshingly simple. It doesn’t even depend on how closely languages are related. Chinese is an ‘analytical’ language, meaning word order is much more important than inflection or conjugation, so English (also a mostly analytical language) is easier for Chinese speakers to learn than, say, Hungarian (a highly inflected language), despite the linguistic and historical distance to both English and Hungarian being almost the same.

A final stumbling block is the way in which you progress through a language. Even for native speakers of inflected languages, analytical languages are easier at first blush: with a basic vocabulary of 200 words in Japanese or English, you can go a long way. But to master these languages’ subtleties in modality and word order is an extremely difficult task. The reverse is true for inflected languages, which are more forgiving for loose word orders and more strict on case endings and conjugations.

8.    We should all learn Chinese

Chinese is spoken by roughly one out of every seven human beings. Makes sense to learn it, right? Not if you consider Chinese is confined mostly to China and South-East Asia. Languages like Arabic, French, Russian or Spanish are, in fact, more useful because they are more widely understood across a broader geographic area.

Acquiring a language based on its number of speakers alone is myopic at best. In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, many European intellectuals conversed or exchanged letters in Latin, despite Latin being a dead language with zero native speakers. The reason was that Latin was considered a basic language to pick up for any would-be intellectual and was the language of the Catholic Church.

Don’t get me wrong, learning Chinese is certainly a useful pursuit, but the average Chinese intellectual would still rather learn English than to convince everyone else to learn Chinese. And whether you “should” learn a language entirely depends on your motivation to do so. Some Belgian schools offer students the choice between Spanish and German as a third foreign language, with Spanish being vastly more popular. But the economic and geographical reality is that German is much more useful, despite having a fewer amount of speakers.

9.    We’re evolving / should evolve to a World Language

Optimistic intellectuals of the 19th century made many attempts at creating new languages that would be easy to learn for anyone and serve as a world vernacular, chief among them Esperanto. Today, fewer people speak Esperanto than Quenya (J.R.R. Tolkien’s root Elvish language), despite the fact that Quenya is a fantasy language confined to a few fantasy novels. The reason for this, which is something J.R.R. Tolkien latently understood, is because Quenya has a (fictional) culture, and Esperanto does not. Languages with no culture attached to them are doomed to fail.

Another hurdle Esperanto faces is that it’s easy to understand and learn for people whose first language belongs to the Indo-European family, but is just as alien to speakers of Semitic, Khoisan or Sino-Tibetan languages as English is. Creating a language that is easy to learn for everyone simply is not possible, and besides, we already have a candidate for that position: mathematics.

A common trope of sci-fi is some sort of ‘World Common’, an amalgamation of great languages understood by all. This is extremely unlikely to ever happen. While it is true that ‘small’ languages are dying out fast, for all languages to merge into some sort of Frankenstein’s monster, it would take events of a globally disastrous scale to do that. This would necessitate a total breakdown of geopolitical order, mass population displacement and lots of violence.


•    Multilingualism is the norm, not the exception
•    Fluency can be achieved, perfection most likely not
•    Culture, not language defines your worldview
•    Animals don’t have languages
•    Language family trees are very messy and complex
•    Mutual language intelligibility can be very asymmetrical
•    A language’s difficulty depends on your starting point
•    Chinese is unlikely to become the world’s lingua franca anytime soon
•    A ‘World Language’ would require a global super-catastrophe

Thursday, November 29, 2018

State of Failure: Belgians abroad


Belgians love their vacations and holidays. Unlike most other peoples, Belgians tend to avoid each other like the plague when abroad.

Whereas Americans are always happy to meet compatriots abroad and the Dutch tend to magnetically clump together until they form a monstrous construct of noisy wheels, crying children and dirty caravans, Belgians travel in small, silent groups.

One way Belgians achieve this stealth is by speaking as little as possible so that if at all doable, they blend in with the natives. When they do have to interact with people abroad, if possible they will not state their background.

Walloons hate being thought of as French, except when in France. Flemings who have mastered English to a more or less perfect degree do the same in the UK and/or the US. Even Belgians of Moroccan or Turkish descend frequently visit the country where their roots lie, only to pretend not to be Belgian for as long as possible.

Important facts

Belgians have grown tired of explaining to ignorant foreigners where Belgium is, that it’s not a boring country and that we’re about more than food and football (though both are pretty big in Belgium, of course).

Some have taken this wariness to extreme heights of irony, like tricking gullible Americans into believing Belgium is an island in the Pacific, or that Belgium simply does not exist.

Apparently Belgians are favoured hotel guests all over the world because they are quiet and polite. Of course, little do these hotel managers know Belgians still manage a smile even if they’re simmering with rage on the inside over a misplaced fork or the unavailability of fries.

Why Belgians travel

The number one question Belgians face if they return home is: “how was the food”. No, I swear we’re not all about the food. This is not a small-talk question. The freshly-returned tourist will then describe each meal they had in great detail in front of an enraptured or disgusted audience, which is taking mental notes for future recollection. Bad food can spoil an entire holiday season.

The second most important question is: “how was the weather”. Anything but mostly sunny is unacceptable of a summer holiday destination. Third and last is: “how were the people”, though that is more of a perfunctory question, because in most cases, Belgians can already draw on a long list of national stereotypes about people they’ve never even met.

Belgians tend to reserve more sympathy for nations of somewhat similar standing, like Denmark, Slovenia, Switzerland, Sweden or Ireland.

Testament to this is the massive number of Irish pubs dotting the Belgian cityscape, mostly populated by personnel that tries its best to hide its massive Flemish accent when speaking English.

Where Belgians go

Belgians’ holiday destinations depend on social class and on political preferences.

Communicating with the locals
Walloons are rather shy and feel ill at ease when speaking a foreign language, even if, in some cases, their command of it is adequate enough. That’s why remaining within la Francophonie is an idea that appeals to them a lot.

Bruxellois fancy themselves citizens of the world and feel more comfortable abroad, often better informed about foreign countries than what’s going on in Flanders and Wallonia.

Flemings drastically overstate their knowledge of foreign languages and will often end up fumbling their way through comically embarrassing situations in a travesty of Spanish, Italian or German they picked up from comic books or pop culture.

German-speaking Belgians are the deepest-cover tourists of all. They can pass for most Western-European nationals, and avidly do so to avoid explaining for the 1000th time German is spoken in Belgium.

How to make Belgian tourists miserable


So, ladies and gents, that was it for @antonvoloshin’s week of commanding the Control Room of @belgiumers. Feel free to follow me or check out my website www.antonvoloshin.net.

I hope you enjoyed the ride and have as much fun flying along as I did captaining our spaceship! Commander Voloshin signing out!

State of Failure: Congo & co


The countries of DR Congo, Burundi and Rwanda are Belgium’s former colonies. Apart from literally being goldmines, they are also paradises for biologists, anthropologists and doomsayers. Each year, new measurements are made of how deep humanity can sink amid chopped-off limbs, mass rape, genocide, greed and condescending Western indifference. In these lands, people still appreciate the true value of life.

Natural liches

A large part of the DR Congo is covered by rainforests. In the west and north, the Congo River forms a natural political border, though it’s not like foreigners need a lot of discouragement from visiting the country. In the east, several mass grave sites are mined for gold, silver and coltan. Rwanda and Burundi are hilly, which has given Rwanda its nickname, “the country of a thousand hills”.

From new low to new low, all the way down
The phantom limb of the opera: by playing off the UK, Germany and France against each other, Leopold II gets personal control over the Congo area in 1884. Although he never visits the enormous region himself, it soon becomes a nesting spot for psychopaths, priests of questionable spiritual merit, and racists.

White man who shits his pants: after Leopold’s death in 1908, the Belgian state takes over Congo, and adds Rwanda and Burundi to them in 1919. In both nations, Belgians perfect the Germans’ system of racial classification, mostly based on racism and bullshit. In the ‘50s, king Baudouin visits the colonies under great public interest. The locals name him “bwana kitoko”, which means “white man who shits his pants”.

From Zaire to Congo: after a volatile period, Congo becomes independent in 1960. Peace returns only after Patrice Lumumba is dead and Mobutu Sese Seko reforms the country into a kleptocracy. Mobutu will pride himself on the fact that his country will be among the 5 last in every possible world ranking and celebrates this by renaming the country Zaire. His regime falls in 1997, injuring its prostate. This is the dawn of the Kabila age. The land is called Congo again, with ‘Democratic Republic of’ added in front – each citizen now has a right to free AIDS, sexual torture and euthanasia.

Rumble in the jungle: before the end of the Mobutu regime, Rwanda becomes the stage of a vicious genocide in 1992. About a million people die, mostly Tutsis, Twa and moderate Hutus. The UN promptly responds by politely asking the Rwandan militias to consider not killing people. The militias ignore the question, which results in a sternly worded letter from the UN.

Chinese democracy: today, the area is still tense and volatile. As the West’s influence in Africa wanes, that of China is rising. Akin to the racist ‘white man’s burden’ from a century ago, the ‘yellow man’s burden’ is simply to ensure profits for Chinese companies while turning a blind eye to the horrible human rights records of many African countries.

Belgian micro-colonies
To end on a somewhat lighter note, Belgium’s international presence was not limited to Africa. Benidorm is to Belgium what Gibraltar is to the UK. Today, it is mostly a dumping ground for old people, and it is expected the Belgian government will hand over Benidorm to Spain once the last person there has died (ca. 2030).


In the middle of the Como Lake in Italy, there’s a small island named Comacina, which was a present to King Albert I from Italy. The King didn’t much like olives and wasn’t too thrilled about the hot weather, so he gave the island back in 1920. This would turn out to be a costly mistake: he was killed by a mafia commando in 1934 while mountaineering.

The Princess Elisabeth base

Antarctica has the Princess Elisabeth base, where scientists test the effect of long polar winters on the libido of Dixie Dansercour. The famed polar explorer would like to rename the base ‘The Penguin House’ and has requested ‘snow bunnies’ to come visit him – to no avail.


In the Dutch province North-Brabant, there’s the Belgian exclave of Baarle-Hertog, which in turn encompasses a Dutch exclave within its borders. This unique construction became the blueprint for Swaziland and Lesotho.

Both Baarles offer the worst of both worlds: potted fish in béchamel sauce, wilted fries from a wall machine, and liquorice that tastes like mayonnaise.


In his search for compensation for the size of his small country, Leopold II also explored the Far East. Eventually, he chose Pattaya, a seaside town in Thailand that, corresponding to Ostend, would later get the lovely nickname ‘the Child Whore of Seaside Towns’. Its current governor, Lou Depryck of the political party Hollywood Bananas, continues this fine tradition to this day.

State of Failure: Luxembourg


The heavily forested, pleasantly warm province of Luxembourg seems like a utopia at first sight, with its charming villages made of natural rock, its picturesque provincial towns and its old castles. However, for over 180 years, the province has been living in a cold war with its independent eastern neighbour, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

A demilitarized zone of 10km across both borders should prevent the blood-thirsty Grand Duke from risking a surprise attack to annex the province and subjecting it to his tyrannical regime of bankers and stock exchange traders.

Important facts

While being one of the largest provinces, Luxembourg is also Belgium’s most sparsely populated. People who want to live in Luxembourg are carefully vetted and checked first for potential hidden loyalties to Germany, France or the dastardly Grand Duke.

By local law, Luxembourgians are also required to at least pass two evenings in a local bar drinking abbey beer, and attending at least three barbecues each summer to check on what the neighbours are doing.

Every October, paedophiles are set loose in the forests to be hunted by amateur hunters for sport. They display their collection of scalped moustaches and brown-tinted glasses on their belts as trophies.

Home swine home
The Ardennes forest covers most of the province in all of its leafy, rocky and riverly glory. Yet, the province has not as much trouble as its neighbours have with bored Flemish tourists. This is because Flemings have a psychotic fear of encountering large animals that aren’t catatonic and haven’t been put behind electrified fences.

The south of Luxembourg has the Belgian Lorraine and Gaume areas, the terror of every geography student in secondary school.

The ranger’s ballad

When the Belgian Revolution broke out in 1830, the revolutionaries also declared it was the will of the Luxembourgians to escape the Dutch yoke. That was a rather gratuitous statement, because there was almost no one in Luxembourg, let alone someone who could lay claim to that will or knew what was going on in Brussels.

Liègeois and Namurian forest rangers joined forces to secretly move border posts to the east every day, until the Grand Duke, a loyal vassal of the Dutch king, got wind of it and sent his own rangers on the war path.

Soon, a status quo emerged which has caused both Luxembourgs to exist in a state of cold war, despite all attempts of mediation by the UN. Some families of wild boars have been separated for generations because of this.

To see and visit in Luxembourg
In any other province, Arlon would have shared the fate of provincial towns full of regressive simpletons such as Eeklo, Jambes or Hamont-Achel. But, for lack of a better alternative, Arlon was turned into the province’s capital. The city’s history purportedly dates back to the Roman era, but what use is that to its present-day inmates?

Belgian Lorraine
The Belgian Lorraine area prides itself on its micro-climate. The region has a strong showing in statistics of forest fires, skin cancers and death by over-heating, even beating the Kempen. The Red Cross regularly sets up shop during summers to distribute bags of Orval.


Bastogne rose to world fame during WW2 when Nazi general von Rundsted’s troops were unable to cut through the thick walls of Ardennes ham, cheese and sausage. This event is commemorated every year during the Liège-Bastogne-Liège festival with thick, oversized sandwiches.


The town of Bouillon became part of history thanks to its Godfried. In the 11th century, he built a castle and got so insane with boredom in the middle of nowhere that he travelled to Jerusalem and clobbered everyone to death on the way.

Today, Bouillon, just like Bastogne, is mainly the theatre of ‘reenactors’, who, dressed up in Mediaeval or Nazi gear, try to give their sex life a new dimension.


Virton is marked as the only town whose football club refused a promotion to the Belgian Premier League. Its Rangers couldn’t guarantee the men’s safety if they would travel beyond the province borders.


With its misleading title as “the smallest city in the world”, Durbuy annually convinces thousands of tourists and naive Flemish television presenters to heap praise on a place that has nothing on offer except a bland mini-golf course.

Few people know Durbuy owes its title to it being founded by leprechauns, who went extinct by the 18th century.

In His Majesty’s Secret Service

Every Luxembourgian is enrolled in the Belgian Secret Services to help the fight against infiltrators from the evil Grand Duke. Barring that, many Luxembourgian men, grown buff and strong through lumberjacking, swine wrestling and rock climbing, find employ in the German porn industry. Their Ardennes sausages are the stuff of legend in pornography.

Eating shit and drinking piss

With genocidal crusades going out of vogue somewhere near the 15th century, Luxembourgians have come up with elaborate folk traditions that differ from village to village. These include bizarre wedding rituals such as attempting to peek up the skirt of the bride, or drinking senior citizens’ urine for good luck.

Another typical Luxembourgian pastime is the shit lottery, where the village’s most obese person shits in a field, and the person who was allotted this square of land in a secret ballot has to eat all the shit. The neighbouring Grand Duchy has a similar game, but with cocaine.

State of Failure: the Prince-Bishopric of Liège and the East Cantons


The Bishopric of Liège can lay claim to being the most Belgian of all provinces. In its historical area, Belgium’s three future languages had been spoken for centuries, and it is also the cradle of fries, waffles, weapons and paedo priests. In addition, the Bishopric was never part of the original Seventeen Provinces.

Like real proto-Belgians, the Liègeois preferred muddling on on themselves, under God’s gently closed eyes.

When the German Empire ceded Prussian Wallonia to Belgium in 1919, it was actually relieved to be rid of it. The East Cantons had 0 economical value, no monuments and not even any mountains. Ever since, the East Cantons are Belgium’s eccentric old uncle who lives in the garden house – as long as the married couple keeps arguing and shouting, they can’t hear how the garden house’s inhabitant cries himself to sleep every night.

Important facts

Liège is Belgium’s largest province, mostly due to its indigestion because of all the lovely, tasty food it produces. Don’t fat-shame the province, however, or you will stare down the barrel of some semi-automatic rifle made to kill some poor sods in Africa or Asia.

‘La chaise à papy’ (“Grandfather’s chair”) is an important object in any Liègeois household, to be treated with proper respect. Even if a family is without a grandfather, his putative chair must be protected from water, fire, wind or jam damage at all costs.

Belgium’s arse
Liège is Belgium’s shapely buttocks, which means the region never left its anal phase. Prince-bishop André Léonard has a strong Catholic anal fixation on sodomy.

The Meuse, Rhine and Ourthe rivers get their characteristically black colour from industrial erosion, while the forested Ardennes and Condroz regions rejoice in the annual coming of dozens of sweaty, lost Flemings and Dutch people in ugly shorts.

More to the south, there’s the Famenne Depression, which is slowly filling up due to the large amount of people that come there to commit suicide.

Seasoning the Mass wine

Even in the Middle Ages, people noted that the Liège area made excellent weapons. This industry balloons under Leopold II’s rule, who supplies weapon maker FN with a test area in the heart of Africa, where customers can hunt elephants, lions and human beings.

As a counterpart to all this violence, the Liège area also gained a reputation as a spa: towns like Spa and Chaudfontaine were able to convince the world it was worth the effort to pay for bottled water.

To see and visit in Liège and the East Cantons

Liège proper
The city of Liège proper is known as ‘the Fiery City’. Liègeois are irritated by their city’s image as ‘the Palermo of the North’ if they’re not too busy dodging grenades and bullets or being mugged by grandsons of impoverished Italian workers.


Herstal’s weapon factories are known all over the world. Maoist rebels, Arab dictators, American elite troops and other ambitious criminals against humanity all stick to FN’s guns. For the demanding customer who wishes to murder people in very specific ways, FN also makes tailor-made guns.


The house of horrors of Grâce-Hollogne is probably the province’s best-known tourist attraction. Your entire family can get the shivers by being buried alive or experiencing horrific domestic abuse. Even the little ones are taken care of: they can get locked up in one of the house’s paedo cellars and die of starvation and exposure.


Picturesque Spa® lent its name in English to all spas, a profitable franchise that still brings in millions in royalties to the town. Spa® offers a wide range of hydrating products based on dihydrogen oxide and is a world leader in its sector.


Huy is a famed magnet for cycling tourists – the Walloon Arrow hits the heart of many senior citizens with lethal precision every year. The Tour de France also regularly passes through the town, a tradition that dates back to the 17th century, when Louis XIV first burnt down the place.

In spite of this, Huy citizens remain indefatigably optimistic: the only bridge, fountain, wall and window that they’ve got left have been immediately branded as world wonders.

The grandma syndicate

Many people in the province work as used car salespeople, junk dealers or football stewards if they can’t get a job in gun testing on civilians. Pictured: “Your tartiflette or your life!”

Because of high unemployment levels, some gun testers have gone international as consultants in conflict areas in the Middle-East, where murder is plentiful and rape is considered part of the extra-legal compensation package.

Another work hotspot is the manufacture of Liègeois black jam by thousands of grandmothers, who have combined their recipes into a veritable MegaZord of sweetness. The city proper has recently opened facilities for people addicted to the jam, so they can get their daily fix in safe and sanitary environments instead of having to slurp the jam in seedy back alleys.


People from Liège know how to party. If not surrounded by burning car tyres at strike checkpoints, then with fireworks on the streets.

The peculiar accent of people in the province results from permanently being drunk on cheap beer and having to pass gas orally or anally, also known as the ‘Oufti’-sound. Another party hotspot is le Carré in the city centre of Liège, where students sell their bodies to the highest bidder of alcohol, and middle-aged men revive their lost sexual appetites to no avail.

Liège’s best-known football club is Standard Liège, the supporters of which are the stuff of legend. No other hooligans have destroyed as many bus stops, stadium seats, cars and human skulls.

State of Failure: Namur

Namur is the kind of province conservative parents would approve of if their son or daughter would date it. Namur charms mum with its quiet nature, good income and cultural finesse, while dad will appreciate the province for its liberal mainstream and refined taste in regional craft beer and cheese.

But here’s the thing conservative parents would hate: Namur is gay. Namur is so gay, in fact, an entire piece of France is lodged in its arse.

Important facts

Namur’s heraldic weapon is a Flemish lion with a diagonal, red band across it. This does not mean Flemings aren’t welcome in the province. The Namurians, who were historically vassals of the County of Flanders, simply thought it looked better on the lion as an accessory.

Namurians tend to be a bit curmudgeonly. They grumble about the arrogant French, the elite from Brussels or snooty Flemings who want to dictate their way of life. The truth is that they think their laid-back, easy-going way of life is the best way of life, and they can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to live a life full of constant beer and cheese.

They are quick to scare, however. Yell “oh no, a falling boulder”, or “oh no, an invading army”, and Namurians will curl up into foetal position and yammer helplessly until someone brings them a fresh pint of beer.

Damp caves

The landscape of Namur is generally rocky and forested, but is also pretty easy-going. Now and then, a piece of rock will crash down onto a car or a roof, but that’s about it. Geologically speaking, the province is most known for its warm, damp caves. Speleologists, young people and perverts come visit the caves en masse every summer to get unforgettable experiences.

The Namurians think that’s all fine and dandy. Whatever happens in the caves, stays in the caves. Sometimes literally so. Skeletons of clumsy seniors who got stuck in the caves are not an unusual discovery.

Pacifism über alles

Cowardice and easy-goingness go hand in hand to make Namurians a very peaceful people. In both World Wars, local rulers went back to reading their newspaper or going fishing after hastily signing documents of surrender or shaking hands with some commander or the other.

Napoleon also got a dosage of the easy life between Samber and Meuse: when he threatened to annex the region, the Namurians asked him if he’d be able to tell at what time he would arrive so they could serve him cold beer. As punishment for its cowardice, Wallonia made Namur proper its capital.

To see and visit in Namur
Namur proper
Namur is Namur’s capital. Its history has always been connected with its bulky citadel. This citadel lays claim to the title of “most frequently destroyed military bulwark of Europe”. Austrian, Spanish, French, Dutch and German armies each burnt down the citadel and then rebuilt it as some sort of practical joke.

As we speak, the Chinese government is in talks with the city council to destroy the citadel, as is befitting of a rising superpower.

The name itself is an indicator, Profondeville (“Deep City”) is Belgium’s most depressing town. Its inhabitants live 87m below sea level in a complex of abandoned mine shafts and rarely get to see sunlight. Its number of suicides would be disturbing if the Walloon government hadn’t forgotten this city existed in the first place.


For centuries, Dinant has been specialized in dying. During the Habsburg era, Philip the Good tossed 800 coppersmiths into the Meuse, the French burnt down the city in the 17th century Spanish-French War, and during WW1, the Germans executed some 700 people without reason.

In the court archives of the Habsburgs, field notes from French generals as well as diaries from German commanders, there is always some variant of “In Dinant. The way these people look offend me.”

Gembloux claims the most slowly speaking Belgians. This has saddled it with the cliché that its inhabitants are dumb. This is not true at all: 50% of its people manages to write their own name, and its elementary school serve all students between ages 6 and 66.

In the caves of Han-sur-Lesse, Europe’s last Neanderthals eke out a living. As is befitting of the liberal work ethos of Namur, they fleece tourists with fake cave paintings and made-up rituals for corpulent mother goddesses. In the evening, they simply relax in front of television and have a beer in their caves that have been reconverted to spacious loft apartments.

Practicing home skills at work
Namurians can be found all over Wallonia and Brussels in quiet, unassuming offices, whiling away their time while reading up on fishing, grass-mowing techniques or papercuts. That Namur proper was chosen as Wallonia’s capital city hasn’t impressed them: it was always meant to be this way, wasn’t it?

Their greatest enemy is exhaustion. That’s why Namur’s citadel walls contain the remains of hundreds of labourers “simply having a beer” for six days, until the bricks encapsulated them.

Let’s talk about sax
Adolphe Sax, native of Dinant, invented the saxophone, a very complex instrument that also allows very lazy people to claim some degree of artistry. Pictured: “Nice.” This is indicative of the province’s sense of reclusion and indifference: blow some notes, fine. Make a masterpiece, alright. Just don’t do anything violent.

Every year in October, Wallonia celebrates itself in the city of Namur. This includes a lot of drinking, desperate sex and crying.

State of Failure: Hainaut


In Hainaut, all seems faded glory – even its faded glory has faded. In 1997, UNESCO put the region on the list as ‘world heritage site of squalidness’, which has been strictly observed since by a network of welfare centres and socialist czars.

In opposition to the rest of Wallonia, Hainaut is the province that was originally French- instead of Walloon-speaking. Unfortunately, the French consider them ‘Ch’ti’ for this reason, or part of le Nord, the most economically underdeveloped and deplorably wasted region of France.

Important facts

A prevalent sub-ethnicity of Hainaut is the Baraki, a forward-thinking post-apocalyptic people whose resilience and resourcefulness are unmatched by any other Western people. Relying on their wits, reflexes and good contacts with local PS officials, Barakis get by on the most slender of means.

Uselessness is an art form in this province. From a ship lift nobody uses to a metro system nobody wanted, the region is littered with existentialist odes to the pointlessness of human life.


One does not simply walk into Hainaut

Hainaut’s impressive, blackened landscape was the background of Peter Jackson’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy scenes set in the dark lands of Mordor. Locals were hired to play Orcs.

Dark, abandoned mineshafts and macabre rust towers are surrounded by ominous music and distant howls, day and night. In cities, people are unemployed from 9am to 3pm, and after that, all shops close.

Straw man made of coal

When coal deposits were discovered in the region in the 19th century, things seemed to look up for a while. Luckily, local industry moguls and violent union members worked together to stop this. They built a merciless network based on predatory capitalism on the one hand, and chafing worker privileges on the other hand, which preserved the province’s squalid nature. Today, Hainaut mainly acts as straw man of angry Flemish nationalists.

To see and visit in Hainaut


The city of Tournai briefly acted as capital of the Merovingian Empire under Clovis. However, Clovis quickly moved to Aix-la-Chapelle when it turned out his serfs kept demanding higher wages, set up checkpoints against cane beatings and he was expected to listen to the complaints of his bureaucrats.


Charleroi was founded and named after Charles V, Habsburg Emperor, as a proto-industrial metropole. It has never left this phase. Even today, Charleroi is a bizarre maze of conflicts between guilds of car thieves, burglars, muggers and drug lords, and choking fumes arise from all of the city’s smithing workshops.

Mons and the Borinage

Mons is the home of mayor, PS party president, secretary and Carnival Prince Elio Di Rupo. Annually, people push up a horse-drawn carriage up a hill to symbolize the futility of Walloon Sisyphean labour.

The surrounding area, the Borinage, is popular with international aid organizations. They often practice there for interventions under extreme conditions in countries like Somalia, Nepal and Afghanistan.


Geographically situated in West-Flanders, Comines-Warneton is Hainaut’s success story. Contrary to the dutchification of the similar Voeren in the east, Comines’ frenchification was seamless. This was mainly due to the fact that the locals were illiterate.


In 1878, 30 dinosaur skeletons were discovered in the mines of Barissart. These were large herbivores from the Cretaceous area. The skeletons showed signs of a sedentary lifestyle with little exertion. They were immediately named honorary labour union members.


Each year, the small city of Binche honours director Stanley Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Men dress up in pale-masked gimp suits and throw oranges at people. To be assaulted by the ‘Gilles’, as they are called, is seen as a positive sign for the year to come.

Economic masturbation

While stereotypes dictate Hainautois are mostly unemployed, this isn’t really true. For instance, many people slave away at a minimum wage at the Charleroi airport, the only place in the province even Flemish people dare visit without fear of getting mugged.

There is also a thriving tourist industry, where rich people are bussed around in armoured vans to masturbate as they watch the province’s poor wallow in a pool of filth and cheap beer.

In addition, the track suit industry recognizes Hainaut as one of its best markets. They even sell wedding tracksuits emblazoned with birds and bells.

Tenderized hearts

Carolos, as the inhabitants of Charleroi are called, take pride in their city’s football team, which never fails to not meet expectations. This is true to the spirit of Hainaut.

Other Walloons regard Hainautois as somewhat goofy and rude, but kind-hearted. Of course, it’s easy to be kind-hearted if your heart has already been tendered by soot, liberal volumes of alcohol and frying grease. Still, a strong carnival tradition keeps many people afloat here, hoping that building papier maché replicas of daft politicians will somehow free them from their existential pain.