Give Them The Finger. A Lesson in Belgium History

By Roberta Jackson
Today we were given a history of Brussels lesson during a three-hour walking tour of central Belgium by a Belgium native. He was very spirited which made the tour interesting. We were originally scheduled to meet in the classroom at a university then take a tour of the facility, but this method was much more exciting and engaging.
The backstory…
During our first semester as graduate students at Kennesaw State University, our cohort studied various cultures. We learned only certain symbols have universal meaning where others carried different meanings for different cultures. For example, the ok sign in our culture is offensive in the Indian culture. I bring this up because our tour guide, when making certain points, use a finger that is offensive in our culture that may not have been in the Belgian culture versus gesturing with open hands or his index finger. Perhaps in Belgium, a finger is just a finger and carries no meaning. I don’t think anyone in our study tour was personally offended, but it made me aware that I really need to make sure I am culturally sensitive while abroad or in the US when working and communicating with various cultures. There were other were a few other instances of unintentional cultural insensitivity, however; our group did not take it personally. Ok, back to the history lesson…
There were several interesting stories offered during our tour. Our guide was not only well versed in Belgium history, but very passionate about the subject matter he presented to our cohort. Belgium has a very rich and dynamic history. I could bore you with the traditional history, but you get that on your own if you Google Belgium history. I chose a different approach. I will condense the information to a few of my takeaways that I found interesting that were told in a story form by our tour guide, and may not be so well known by the average person (or at least not to me). The chocolate…20130606-215534.jpg
Belgium is known for their beer and chocolate, which are commonly known facts. Our guide told the us story of the luxury chocolatier, Jean Neuhaus. Neuhaus was a pharmacist by trade who covered his medicine with chocolate to make it more palatable. Chocolate with almonds were offered to the poor because it gave strength to the people. Louise Agostini, Neuhas’s wife, was the inventor of the balloting box. She created this elegant box that people still use today, because she was trying to keep her chocolates from being crushed. Neither Neuhaus or Agostini patented their inventions, so everyone in Belgium reproduced, although they still get the credit. We were told this story outside of the Galleries St. Hubert mall. This mall was the first indoor mall built in Europe. The Grand Place….
The main marketplace, and center of Belgium, was Grand Place. It was filled with tourists, school children, locals, street vendors, stores, and performers. The buildings were very ornate and beautiful. Our guide told us the center of the city forms a pentagram and the homes were built to represent the trade of wealthy families. The baker were the most wealthy with the largest homes. The architecture was extremely detailed. 20130606-220105.jpg
We learned the Grand Place was destroyed by Napoleon during the Battle of Waterloo and the only part of the city hall building that survived was the cathedral. When it was rebuilt, it was done in phases and the right and left sides are different. In the picture, can you tell the difference?We stood in front of the building where the novel, Les Miserables, turned stage play then adopted to a move, was written. The tour was extremely insightful and left me wanting to know more. I really enjoyed our guide and his insight. I can’t wait for day two!20130606-220528.jpg

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