Saturday, June 21, 2014

Belgium on the QI Elves podcast

The BBC show QI, hosted by the great Stephen Fry, is one of the most sublime unions of entertainment and knowledge in television history. Recently, an equally fantastic appendage to the "quniverse" came into being: No Such Thing As A Fish, a weekly podcast packed with quite interesting facts presented by the researchers behind the TV show, the QI Elves.

I heartily recommend the show to any podcast fan out there, or anyone who just loves fun facts. The content is very similar to QI but with a greater level of nerdiness and a higher frequency of facts. In other words, it's the greatest thing ever.

I'm bringing it up here because Belgium has popped up in a couple of recent episodes:

Firstly, episode 13, "No Such Thing As A Funny Nazi", features a guest appearance by Lieven Scheire, Belgium's brainiest comedian who also hosts the QI-esque panel show Scheire en de schepping on VIER. He tells the story of when Nazi Germany employed a pair of state comedians, and explains how dolphins get high.

Lastly, a series of minisodes have been released on the podcast's SoundCloud page. The episodes feature facts related to the countries partaking in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and you can find the episode on Belgium (versus Algeria) right here. My favorite fact: only 2% of Belgians know the words to their own national anthem.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Red Devil mini-bio: Marouane Fellaini

Marouane Fellaini. (Source)

Midfielder Marouane Fellaini was born in Etterbeek, Brussels in 1987. He began his youth career at Anderlecht at the age of 7. At the age of 17, he signed his first permanent contract with Standard Liège. He currently plays for Manchester United.

Both of Fellaini's parents are Morroccan. He was eligible to play for either Belgium or Morocco but chose to represent Belgium. He has played for the Belgian national (senior) team since 2007.

Fellaini is known for his heading ability, which allowed him to create the turning point of Belgium's first match at the 2014 World Cup against Algeria. After a lackluster 1st half that saw Algeria in a 1-0 lead after a penalty, Fellaini entered the game as a second-half substitute and scored an equalizing header in the 70th minute. Ten minutes later, Dries Mertens scored the 2-1 goal that secured three vital points for Belgium.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Yes, I know they're Mexican.

Just ahead of Belgium's first apperance at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, here's a song that both takes me to Latin America and has the perfect title for tonight's football experience extravaganza: Rodrigo y Gabriela's "Diablo Rojo" (do I really need to translate?), as performed on Letterman in 2006.

Go Red Devils!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

How I chose to become an ex-expat

I’ve decided to write a few words about why we're moving back to Norway next month. This way, I’ll get at least one more wordy post in before the blog enters the internet equivalent of cryogenic stasis.

A few months ago, Bika and I made the biggest, toughest beast of a decision we’ve ever made together: moving back to Norway after four years in Belgium.

The move to Belgium in 2010 was easy in comparison: A wild adventure starring a couple in their early twenties clinging together in the warm spring of a to-the-end-of-the-world relationship. We flew down to Brussels carrying only a couple of suitcases and a dream. We lived on a day-to-day basis, grasping for straws wherever we smelled grass. It was terrifying and awesome.

Now we're parents with jobs. Bika has spent three years in a wonderful job, forming close professional and personal connections. As for me, I’ve spent four years falling in love with so many aspects of my new home: a cultural spice mix of colliding European cultures; a long list of Belgian peculiarities; a history a thousand times richer than that of my homeland. I’ve been a toddler on a grandfather’s lap, listening to old mystical tales of the past enveloped in the scent of beer and chocolate.

Our son was born here. No matter where Kevin ends up, he’ll always have “Made in Belgium” stamped on his butt. (A figure of speech, of course. Of course.) What could make a place more special than that?

Even as we slowly settled into a life as Flemings, the pros and cons of Belgian vs. Norwegian residency battled it out at the back of our minds. Eventually, the two sides became locked in a stalemate, like two World War I armies huddling in opposite trenches in anticipation of deliverance or demise.

Finally, Norway rose out of the trenches and overran the Belgian positions. We set a course for the north. From the 4th most densely populated country in Europe to the 2nd least densely populated. To a full year's maternity leave when more babies start popping out. To free healthcare. To fjords, fields and forests. To a lot of things that matter, and a lot of things that don’t.

This also means leaving behind a great many dear friends and family, as well as all of the great things I’ve mentioned above.

If you’re still with me so far, chances are there’s one question burning the tip of your tongue: Why?

Maybe you’ve had to make a similar decision in the past. Maybe you’re dreading having to make it in the future, just as I have for several years. Maybe you’re in the middle of making it, like a skydiver halfway out the door for the first time.

What made us choose Norway over Belgium?

The short, completely misleading answer: Objectively speaking, Norway is better than Belgium.

Scandinavia is known for wealth, stunning nature and amazing healthcare and social services. Although peaceful and progressive and with a rich culture, Belgium is also known for an over-complicated administrative system, the greatest income tax burden in the region, high unemployment and massive traffic jams.

Of course, objectivity only gets you halfway there. What about family, friends, all the stuff that speaks to the heart? We’ll be four hours’ flight away from one of our families and dozens of good friends. Nobody wants to make that move.

What tipped the scales? The disappointing answer is that I’m not quite sure myself. I just know that my doubts evaporate like morning dew when I think of my son growing up where I myself took my first steps. He will celebrate his first birthday in the house I grew up in.

When I think of the smiling faces that welcome us there. When I feel how everyone not only wants us to stay, but will do anything in their power to help us find jobs and a nice roof over our heads, preferably with some walls and furniture to go with it. It’s something I want to be part of again. I’ll admit it: I’m homesick. It’s an itch all expats feel every once in a while, and I’m in for a big scratch.

I’m not looking down my nose at people who would choose differently in a similar situation. I have expat friends who have decided to remain in Belgium and raise families here, and I support them 100%. People are different, with different lives and different circumstances, so they make different choices. I just know that in our place, in our lives, this is the right choice.

Ultimately, that's what it all boils down to: It doesn’t matter what’s right, unless it’s right for you.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The birth of the Red Devils: the Évence Coppée Trophy (1904)

Pre-match team picture. Left: team Belgium; right: team France;
in the middle: referee John C. Keene, posing with the match ball.

The day was 1 May 1904. The place was the Stade du Vivier d'Oie ("Goose Pond Stadium") in Uccle near Brussels. 1,500 fans had showed up to see Belgium's national football team play against France. It was a historic moment for several reasons: Not only was it the first official match played by either team, but it was also the first-ever match between two independent European countries.

Both teams played in the classical 2-3-5 "Pyramid" formation, widely used since the 1870s. The match ended 3-3, with two of the Belgian goals scored by Georges Quéritet, who remarkably never played another match for the national team.

As the score was even at full-time and no extra time was foreseen, the match ended in a draw and no trophy was awarded.

Only twenty days after the match, Belgium and France would join five other Western European countries in founding the international association football federation FIFA.

As of 6 September 2013, France and Belgium had played 72 games against each other, with 29 Belgian wins, 24 French wins and 19 draws.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Jukebox Friday: The Black Box Revelation - High On A Wire

This week's Jukebox entry was inspired by Curious Meredith, whose top 10 list of Belgian bands can be found on

The Black Box Revelation is a blues rock band that formed in Dilbeek near Brussels in 2005. "High On A Wire" was featured on 2010's Silver Threats, their third album. If you liked Triggerfinger, you'll have no trouble getting into The Black Box Revelation.

I'm on a wire
my head is on the run
trying to get farther
cos hell no I can't rewind
this time I must go on

I get down, I get down
I can't stop this time,
can't stop
I get down, I get down
I can't stop this time,
can't stop, stop

High on the wire
trying to do my show
just can't help thinking
what's going on below
this time I might fall down

I get down, I get down
I can't stop this time,
can't stop
I get down, I get down
I can't stop this time,
can't stop, stop

I get down, I get down
I can't stop this time,
can't stop
I get down, I get down
I can't stop this time,
can't stop, stop

I get down, I get down
I can't stop this time,
can't stop
I get down, I get down
I can't stop this time,
can't stop, stop

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

They call it football because you play it with your feet.

Photo stolen from

So the Belgian national football team is playing in the FIFA World Cup in Rio de Janeiro in a couple of weeks, and, being the supportive guy I am, I've decided to support them. I want to get in on this collective dopamine trip so many people are about to begin, so I'm slipping on my Belgium-colored bowtie and getting ready to watch some serious football for the first time since... Well, since the last World Cup.

Of course, cheering for the team won't be as exciting with my current (abysmal) knowledge of the players and the team's history. So I'm going to do some reading up, and you'll be able to track my progress on the blog over the course of the next couple of weeks.

Coming up: the history of the Belgian Red Devils! Bios of Vincent Kompany, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard! Those other guys whose names I will soon know!