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184866.  Sun Jun 24, 2007 12:25 pm Reply with quote

Eggshaped posted a disputable ‘fact’ about Belgium in his ‘Trivia Debunking Challenge’ earlier this year.

By Law, every child in Belgium must take harmonica lessons.

I don’t think we got to the bottom of this one but it sounds like utter rubbish.

Heleendje can you confirm/debunk this one?

188552.  Thu Jul 05, 2007 2:13 pm Reply with quote

Olympic gold medallist and favourite for the Tour de France prologue (time trial) at the weekend, Bradley Wiggins - now he is Belgian.

188567.  Thu Jul 05, 2007 3:41 pm Reply with quote

So he is!

But now then, the harmonica "fact". This appears to be on rather a lot of trivia websites, and nowhere has it been categorically debunked ... until now!

I got a bit of a hand with this from a forum devoted to getting a visa for Thailand (!), which discussed the matter. A Belgian responded:

"This is not correct also. We need to take music lessons because it's in the curriculum, and the instrument is a wooden flute not a harmonica."

(Does he mean a recorder, perhaps?)
(third post up from the bottom)

From there to the Belgian curriculum then. There is no national curriculum in Belgium; rather, the Dutch, French and German speaking regions each have their own. Having guessed correctly that the website covering Dutch language education was the most likely also to be available in English, I focused on that one.

And it seems that some basic exposure to the playing of a musical instrument is compulsory in Dutch language primary schools - but no mention of the harmonica.

188574.  Thu Jul 05, 2007 4:32 pm Reply with quote

There is also the violinist and composer Eugène Ysaÿe to add to the list of famous Belgians.

Quaintly Ignorant
188932.  Fri Jul 06, 2007 7:36 pm Reply with quote

According to a piece of fiction well-read in these parts, B*lgium is the worst swear-word in the universe.

They're such strags! They're so unhoopy they don't know where their towel is! They are so un hip their legs will drop off! Their pockets are full of lint.


189007.  Sat Jul 07, 2007 12:44 pm Reply with quote

Suze, you are spot-on re the harmonica question. I am happy to report that your highly tuned myth-detector has not played you false. I received a PM from Heleendje which is a superb answer and we may consider the ‘harmonica fact’ to be about as debunked as a lack of bunkedness goes.

Heleendje wrote:
Funny thing is, I *was* going to post a reply on the harmonica thing, and just when I fabricated some drivel or other my pc crashed, and I just haven't thought about it any more.

My reply, if I recall correctly, had most definitely the words "total nonsense" in it ;-). Obviously I've sat through primary school, and on top of that I took all kinds of music lessons... in none of which I've ever touched a harmonica of any sort. It is however obligatory for every 9 to 10 year old in Belgium to learn the flute, and by that I mean that silly wooden one with a range of only two octaves (c to c''). But with the whole reorganisation of the school system going on (so one of my friends, who's a teacher at a nursery school, tells me) I believe they're going to teach even younger children, ages 5 and up, to produce those agonising noises and annoy their parents. Trust me, it *is* a ghastly sound.

So there, merely the flute, and not the harmonica.

Thanks very much for that Heleendje; it is great to have an expert opinion on these matters – so ‘total nonsense’ it is.

I wholeheartedly agree that the blokfluit, as it is called in Belgium, (recorder to us – as you correctly guessed suze) really does produce a ‘ghastly sound’. I am not sure whether it is still obligatory to teach it these days, but it was when I was at school (a fair few years ago). I can remember tortuous renditions of such delightful tunes as Silent Night being inflicted upon an undeserving world. The composer* would have torn his hair out.

*Threre is some dispute as to who actually composed the tune/lyrics of Silent Night (Stille Nacht in the original German). The website linked below gives its qi history and attributes the lyrics to Joseph Mohr and the music to Franz Gruber. It remains a delightful carol and one which I think sounds better when sung in the original German.

History of Silent Night/Stille Nacht

204518.  Tue Aug 28, 2007 9:57 am Reply with quote

costean wrote:
Breugel was, according to the Enc Brit, Flemish and
born c. 1525, probably Breda, duchy of Brabant [now in The Netherlands]

So not really Belgian.

The place of birth does not determine the nationality.

229484.  Sat Nov 10, 2007 7:48 am Reply with quote

About the word "Flemish": this, of course, does not exist in in this form in the various Belgian versions of Dutch language. The Dutch word for Flemish as an adjective or noun is Vlaams, and a person from Flanders (Vlaanderen) is a Vlaming. This last word hasn't been mentioned yet in this thread. We see is it pop up in Spanish as flamenco, and in biology as flamingo. Flamenco is a weird, outlandish, strange, exuberant dance, and a flamingo is a weird, outlandish, strange, exuberant bird. What made the Spanish think the Flemish were weird? Quite interesting....

Hans Mof
253172.  Sun Jan 06, 2008 9:51 am Reply with quote


Spain ruled Flanders for many years, and King Carlos I brought with him to Madrid an entire Flemish court. One etymology suggests the dance was so called from the bright costumes and energetic movements, which the Sp. associated with Flanders; another is that Spaniards, especially Andalusians, like to name things by their opposites, and since the Flemish were tall and blond and the gypsies short and dark, the gypsies were called "Flemish;" others hold that flamenco was the general Sp. word for all foreigners, gypsies included; or that Flemish noblemen, bored with court life, took to partying with the gypsies.

Romani often had (still have) to cope with ignorance about their geographic origin. The English word Gipsy as well as the Spanish gitano derives from Egypt. Scandinavians call them tattare (Tartars), and the French exonym bohémien links them to Bohemia. In Old Dutch they were called unger (referring to Hungary).


The bird's name has, however, nothing to do with nationalities. It derives from Latin flamma (flame) + Germanic suffix -ing, describing its colour.

253184.  Sun Jan 06, 2008 10:33 am Reply with quote

In Polish the word for a Rom - "gypsy", if you will - is cygan (cyganka for a female).

A correlate word is used in all (I think) of the Slavic languages, and also in Portuguese (cigano). This - and also the Italian zingaro - seems to descend from the Greek athígganoi, which is translated as "oriental", and so seems to correctly identify the Roma as having come from India.

Oolon Colluphid
253201.  Sun Jan 06, 2008 11:35 am Reply with quote

I am sure I read somewhere that bestiality is legal in Belgium. To quote Wikipedia:
Belgium...permit[s] sexual activity with animals but strictly prohibit[s] the promotion of animal-oriented pornography.

Hans Mof
253216.  Sun Jan 06, 2008 11:54 am Reply with quote

T'is true, t'is true. Likewise it's not prohibited in Germany. However, you still need to be careful should you feel a longing for your neighbours pussy. You could be prosecuted for malicious injury of property and/or cruelty to animals.

If you would excuse me now, I've promised my aunt to walk her dog.

254637.  Tue Jan 08, 2008 5:06 pm Reply with quote

Hans Mof wrote:
T'is true, t'is true. Likewise it's not prohibited in Germany. However, you still need to be careful should you feel a longing for your neighbours pussy. You could be prosecuted for malicious injury of property and/or cruelty to animals.

If you would excuse me now, I've promised my aunt to walk her dog.

*hands hans a gift wrapped apostrophe*

and, btw, the lady's husband might object, too...

re words for gypsy, the original german for it - now discredited - is "zigeuner", thus the same as in the slavonic languages. maybe they came to germany from there? no idea... the politically correct german for it is "sinti and roma", referring to the two prevalent gypsy tribes (?) in germany, but it seems to be something of an exonym, in the sense that most german gypsies i've ever met referred to themselves as zigeuner anyway.



Belgian Billy
256980.  Sat Jan 12, 2008 10:56 am Reply with quote

And what bestiality concerns: isn't that more of a sheephearding-society's thing. We mainly have cows in Belgium.

257008.  Sat Jan 12, 2008 1:00 pm Reply with quote

Maybe you experts on Belgium can help me out. I seem to remember reading somewhere that Belgium is not a proper country, but was created in the nineteenth century with British connivance as part of its strqtegy to prevent any of the European powers from becoming too strong.

This may explain the paucity of famous Belgians. If you're looking for a famous English or French or Spanish person, you have over a thousand years of history to choose from, but much less if you're looking for a famous Belgian.


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