You Gotta Fight For Your Right


Ah Belgium.

Such a contradictory country.

Land of, quite possibly, the most passive aggressive people I’ve ever met.
Land where people seem to think that if you glare at something angrily enough, it will get the hint and change itself.
Land of negotiations, compromise, hemming, hawing, and even more compromise (anyone know how long Belgium has been without a national government?)
Land of progressive ideas: socialized health care, socialized work training programs, Catholics that are okay with condom usage and euthanasia.
Land of antiquated ideas: Zwarte Piet, resistance to teaching some masters degrees in English in order to preserve the Dutch language (which is already a hearty mishmash of Dutch, French, Latin and English), refusing to drink coffee through a hole in the lid.

Belgium, a country that, even now, occasionally throws me a curve ball that I can appreciate.

See, when I said earlier that Belgians are the masters of passive aggression, I meant it, whole heartedly. And this is coming from someone who was constantly labeled as passive aggressive in the US.
Back in Pittsburgh, if I saw something really bugging me or if someone was being more than understandably rude, I had no problem saying something. If  nothing constructive, at least  a sarcastic comment or a backhanded remark to let the person know that their behavior wasn’t what I found to be acceptable. Earlier this week while I was getting on the bus some old guy was pushing me from behind when I didn’t move fast enough for him, so I threw my elbow back. He started grumbling in some language that wasn’t Dutch so I turned, glared at him and said something along the lines of, “Please, why don’t you bitch a little more.”
His response was to breathe gustily from his nose. Obviously he has mastered the passive aggression far better than I have.

I have observed, time and time again, people being pushed around, treated rudely, inconvenienced and several other manner of irritating things and in almost every case they have done or said nothing in their own defense or to confront the person behaving rudely. They just breathe heavily and glare and clench their teeth in a not so menacing way.

I’ve come to expect this and usually act pretty much the same unless Piet’s around to back me up (I’m still not good at Dutch snark, but give me another year or two, I’ll keep working at it). So today while I was standing waiting at the bus stop in the middle of the center, while I found it irritating that a teenage girl was riding her bike on the platform rather than down on the street, I simply prepared to back out of her way. If we’d been in my neighborhood I’d’ve stood in her way and forced her to get off the bike or ride onto the street, but this platform was elevated and she could’ve fallen, so I  was going to let it go when an old man who was stepping up to the platform reached out, grabbed the girl’s arm while she was still on her bike and started reprimanding her.

She pulled her arm away, didn’t bother turning her head and kept riding, in true Belgian fashion, but another woman who was waiting on the bus and had seen what happened actually grabbed the old guy and started yelling at him, telling him he’d had no right to touch the girl. He got all uppity, complaining that bikes weren’t allowed on the sidewalk but the woman kept at him, and really gave him what for.

It was awesome.

Technically both parties were wrong. Riding on the sidewalk is fine-able here in Belgium. Bikes belong on the street unless it’s a very small child and then I believe there is an exception. But the old man wasn’t in harm’s way. He went out of his way to try to pull the girl from the bike and in doing so he was behaving just as dangerously as she was.
And I was pretty happy to see someone open their mouth and actually say something when they saw something wrong going on.

Guess it just goes to show, there are some people here who are willing to take action to achieve the desired outcomes. Maybe those people should be the ones trying to form the national government?


7 responses »

  1. I don’t agree with you that you must fight for your right, I don’t agree that it is always necessary to react out loud and bitch or comment if you think someone else is doing something wrong. I think that only adds frustration to the situation, no solution. If total strangers criticise you, you’ll only feel offended, aggressive but you’re not likely thik “oh geez, maybe I’m wrong, I should that differently”. So in the end, it has only created more agressiveness.

    So please, enjoy our passiveness in tense situations. I sure do and I hope we don’t change

    • Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not.
      I don’t think every situation requires an active reaction, but some do. If a person never acts to change a situation that is bothering them, nothing ever changes.
      If some rude man is pushing me, I have every right to turn around and tell him to stop it.
      If someone is playing their music loudly on the bus I can be annoyed but just keep my mouth shut until either they or I get off the bus. I do that all the time. But if someone pushes me or treats me physically disrespectfully, I will not ignore that.

  2. How did I miss this post?? Goofball would NEVER make it in America I fear! Not that we are a bunch of aggressive beasts, BUT, there is certainly a time and place for standing up for oneself and that may mean getting one’s point across in as definite a way as possible without causing a physical altercation. I give that girl credit for not slapping that man for grabbing her or for not even shouting. She might have been wrong, but he had absolutely no right at all to touch her…he could have just as easily said ‘you are breaking the rules’ as she rode by and he would have made his point without assaulting the girl. ( I would’ve had his ass arrested for touching me and paid the ticket for breaking the rules!) Nasty American, me (smile)! Interesting the difference in cultures…continues to entertain me….

    • hehe, your remark that I would not survive in the States makes me smile. I dunno, I believe I really would although I have never lived there. I can be pretty sharp and bitchy too up to the point I have a reputation at work towards dumb software users :p but at the same time I don’t think it truly offers a solution in tense situations. I really believe that nobody takes criticism or remarks from strangers easily and therefore I don’t believe always standing up and reacting out loud brings added value in a society. Diplomacy, right timing , right vocabulary pays off more in the long term. It’s part of someone’s temperament but shouldn’t be something to strive to.

      And yes, if I’d live in the States, I’m sure I’d often get pissed off by the “rude” behaviour of other people. I already do in the Netherlands.

      • I think anyone can survive anywhere if they choose to integrate. But yeah, from what I can tell, American society is more “Dutch” than “Belgian” and I know many Belgians consider the Dutch to be rude. I think they’re loud and cheap, but I can’t say I find them, as a culture, to be rude. Likewise, I find Belgians introverted and quiet and in all honesty I find that many Belgians have an attitude towards other cultures that I often consider condescending and snooty. Coming from the culture I come from, I find that making withering remarks about another culture’s language or cuisine is much more rude than say, asking someone to move their bag so you can sit on the tram or complaining if someone else’s behavior is bothering you.

        At the same time I know that most Belgians are also very generous when it comes to things like hospitality and I would probably find some people in America rude for not bringing something if they came to dinner or not offering a nice wine with a meal. At this point, many Americans would probably think I’m rude when I sneer at a Dutch person who asks for a jus d’orange or a spa blauw instead of an appelsiensap or a plat water. Especially because I do know what they want, I’m just being snarky because they aren’t using the right terminology for Flanders.

        It’s all in how you adjust to the type of culture you dwell in.

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