Mussels, Frites, Bruges and Beer

Friday, January 8, 2016 | Published by

Mussels, frites, Bruges and beer. Whilst this is certainly not all that Australians know about Belgium, these four things featured prominently in discussions with colleagues and friends about my then upcoming secondment to Brussels.

Perhaps this is unsurprising given that in some circles moules-frites (or moules et frites in French) is considered Belgium’s national dish, the critically acclaimed In Bruges (or Bons baisers de Bruges in French) is the most recent cinematic exploit based in Belgium and of the 11 breweries recognised worldwide as Trappist breweries, Belgium claims 6. Much to my surprise, “monks’ beer” is actually a thing, not just something to tell the unwitting Australian.

Despite these rather basic preconceptions, I am well aware that Belgium is so much more. Of course, Belgium is considered the heart of Europe and is home to the European Union and NATO and it boasts a rich culture that is constantly on display.

Coming from Australia, where English is the dominant language and speaking a second one is quite rare and certainly not a requirement in most professions, I have come to appreciate that Belgians, and Europeans in general, speak multiple languages, sometimes three or more in the workplace, and easily shift from French to Dutch to English, without skipping a beat or a syllable.

This is particularly true in Brussels, where it is commonplace for lawyers to read a contract in Dutch, discuss it with colleagues in English, and translate it to French. To me this is truly impressive, but to everyone here it’s standard.

Image credit: Jean-Christophe BENOIST (Own work) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC BY 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons