In the land of clubs, fraternités and associations — Are the Belgians simply having more fun?
I am not, by nature, a joiner. In the late ’70s, I was a Brownie Guide for about three years and then, briefly, a Girl Guide (which I hated because they made us play rounders all the time). As an adult, the mere mention of a team building exercise has me running to hide in the ladies’ loos. My heart sinks when the teacher at my Italian class asks us to work in groups. I like being around other people, but in general I prefer to do my own thing.
But times change. Although donning a uniform, learning a special song and hanging out in a group has never hugely appealed to me, I have to concede that from the outside, it is starting to look pretty fun.
Since moving to Brussels in July, I have felt the lack of a tribe. My first trip to watch football at Molenbeek reminded me just how comforting it can be to BELONG but I haven’t yet found “my” football team in Belgium. I know some lovely Brits here but I don’t want to be part of an “ex pats” club. As for political activism, I’m a bit emotionally disconnected from policy decisions back in the UK, apart from that infernal Brexit.
Could it be time to fling myself into the Belgian national passions for “scoutisme”, moustache growing or perhaps sign up as “une amie de Mannekin Pis”? Almost every time I walk through the Grand’ Place, there seems to be a special event taking place, often involving a club or association the existence of which I had never previously imagined.
Even serious issues seem to be tackled in a very comradely (dare I say enjoyable?) way. Twice in the last month, there have been strikes in relation to the current budget negotiations, which have delayed public transport and filled the city streets with cheery groups of Belgians in matching, brightly coloured raincoats, caps and bandanas, taking the opportunity to eat lunch and drink a beer with their colleagues once the main event is done. From this outsider’s point of view, even belonging to a trade union looks more fun in Belgium.
This clearly requires some research (and, in all likelihood, a Belgian identity card, which I am still waiting for). I have seen grown men wearing scout uniforms in public, without a hint of self-consciousness or irony, so surely there is a club out there for me?
I’m rather hoping to find a sisterhood that requires a hard hat or, at least, a beer.