News & Opinion | July 10, 2018 9:00 am

Why It’s Time to Stop Making Belgium the Butt of the Joke

The "can you name 10 famous Belgians" was always a slur, and it's more off track now than ever.

Thomas Vermaelen and Vincent Kompany celebrate after winning the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Quarter Final match between Brazil and Belgium. (Ilnar Tukhbatov/Isosport/MB Media/Getty Images)
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It has come down to the final four in the World Cup — Belgium, France, Croatia and England — and there isn’t an octopus or cat in the world that would have been able to guess these semifinalists before the series began. Each country has a rich soccer narrative, but it has always been funny and fashionable to make Belgium the butt of the joke. In the United States, Belgium is best known for beer and food, not for political dysfunction, but there is entrenched cultural contempt for Belgium in Western Europe. France especially regards the Belgians as “hicks,” writes Politico, a “plodding people without grace or poetry.” The Brits too, turn their noses up at the Belgians. It was Britain that came up with the dismissive question, “Can you name 10 famous Belgians?”

That question has always been pretty easy to answer, writes Politico, but now it’s even easier. If you want a famous Belgian, you can just name the 11 Red Devils who started against Brazil in the quarterfinal on July 6. Belgium played great soccer (well, football), and has reached the World Cup semis for the first time since 1986. The current team reflects the demography of present-day Belgium and is arguably better-balanced than any other team that qualified for this World Cup.