U.S. vs. Belgium: What to Watch, Eat, Drink and Hear to Know Your World Cup Enemy

Clint Dempsey
Clint Dempsey
 AP Images

In Europe, Belgium is the butt of many jokes. Remember the line from In Bruges? “Maybe that's what hell is, the entire rest of eternity spent in f—ing Bruges.”

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“Boring pedophiles” is how Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle characterized the European stereotype of the Belgians, and even the late Douglas Adams took a poke at the the lowlanders in his sci-fi comedy classic The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. In the entire universe, Adams wrote, the word held by all species to be unspeakable was: "Belgium."

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But it's no time for jokes. Going into Tuesday's knockout round match with Team USA, the Belgian soccer squad are heavy favorites. Many pundits have the Belgians down as a dark horse team that could even win the World Cup. So instead of poking fun, it's time to get to know the enemy, by eating what they eat, reading what they read and listening to the ear-splitting EDM they love.

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Belgian food: pommes frites with mayonnaise

The Waffle House's call to boycott Belgian Waffles ahead of tonight's match is surely well-meant, but those big, grid-patterned breakfast delights are an American invention and virtually unknown in Brussels, Bruges or Antwerp. The nation's true national dish is what Americans would call french fries and what the Belgians terms pommes frites (fried potatoes) or Vlaamse frieten (Flemish fries). Though still a matter of debate, it is believed the long-cut deep-fried potatoes got labeled “French” by British and American soldiers arriving in Belgium during World War I. Given that French was the official language of the Belgian army at the time, it was probably an honest mistake. If you want to go full Belgian with your pommes, drown them in vinegar or smother them in mayonnaise.

Belgian drink: Duvel beer

A century ago, the average Belgian used to down more than 50 gallons of beer a year. That's down to just over 20 gallons these days, but the lowlanders still love their suds, with the country home to almost 200 breweries. Belgian-based beer giant Interbrew became part of the world's largest brewery following its merger with Brazil's AmBev and American's Anheuser-Busch. So despite the current World Cup rivalry, Belgium and the U.S. are united with their Brazilian hosts in beer. For some archetypical Belgian suds, try a Duvel, a strong pale ale whose name means “Devil” in a Dutch dialect. Coincidentally, the nickname of the Belgian soccer team is the Rode Duivels or “Red Devils.”

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Belgian filmmakers: the Dardenne brothers

The two-time Cannes Palm d'Or winners Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, whose work includes such acclaimed films as The Son, The Child, The Kid With a Bike and, in Cannes competition this year, Two Days and One Night, are the masters of a humanistic realism that has had an outsized influence on European art house cinema. Watch the Dardennes' films for a look at the “real Belgium,” the concrete suburbs and down-at-heel housing estates far from the romance of Bruges or the wealth and power of the Brussels elite.

Belgian literature: comic books

If there is a single art form where Belgium has made an indelible mark, it's in the funny pages. Comic books are finally gaining recognition as "real art" in the U.S., but the Belgians have been hanging comic strips in their museums for decades. Some of the most successful and enduring comic book characters and franchises have been created by Belgian artists, including Herge (creator of Tintin), Morris (Lucky Luke) and Peyo (The Smurfs). The country claims to have some 650 professional comic artists, the largest per-capita concentration of comic-strip makers anywhere in the world.

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Belgian sounds: electronic dance music

Belgium has a decent claim to being the birthplace of modern-day EDM. The 1989 track "Pump Up the Jam" from Belgian act Technotronic was the first house music single to be a crossover hit (it went to No. 2 on the Billboard charts). Belgian artists were instrumental in producing a subgenre of electronic dance music called electronic body music, or EBM, whose sparse beats, clear vocals and repetitive sequencer lines were a major influence on today's artists. Belgium is also home to arguably the best EDM festival in the world, the Tomorrowland fest held every year in Boom, Belgium, just south of Antwerp.

Email: Scott.Roxborough@thr.com
Twitter: @sroxborough

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