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December 2010 / January 2011

10 there to here

Québécoise Brussels identities from A to Z

When Claire Deslongchamps first arrived in Brussels on a sunny spring day two years ago, she was immediately struck by how rich the city is in orchids. “I saw orchids everywhere: in restaurants, in banks, at my office, in the city’s Délégation générale du Québec. Later on I realised that not every day in Belgium would be as sunny as that first one, and that this exotic flower, which needs little warmth but a lot of light suits the country very well.” Claire has two more years to go before returning to her native Québec, the French-speaking enclave in the English-speaking ocean which is the rest of Canada. A situation which might sound familiar to some in Belgium.

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here are twentyeight Québec representations spread all over the world, but the Brussels delegation is one of the most important. We promote Québec’s culture, economy and tourist attractions. We work on a partnership between the EU and Canada, we have bilateral contacts on many levels, and we work with European institutions. There aren’t too many Québécois and Canadians in Brussels though – officially only a few hundred. But I do have the feeling we fit in well here: Belgians, after all, are relatively uncomplicated; they have a self-deprecating sense of humour and are not, in the main, too big-headed. The same qualities that the Québécois have – compared, for instance, with Americans, who have a quite different mindset. With language comes a whole culture and way of thinking – people who speak a different language to you are, as a consequence, quite different to you. Here in Belgium, I notice a lot of good will toward Québec. Of course, there is a long tradition of intense exchange with the French-speaking part of the country, but we also experience a great openness on the part of Dutch-speakers. After all, the Québécois too belong to a minority

Claire Deslongchamps in Les Halles Saint-Géry, where, on June 24, Québec’s national holiday is celebrated. “This is one of the oldest places in Brussels. It’s where the city began, in the midst of a swamp. Now there’s this wonderful hall where we can celebrate our national holiday. On that occasion, we always dress the Manneken Pis in a Québécois costume, and in the halls we serve Québec specialities such as poutine – no, not the former Russian president, but fries served with gravy and cheese.”

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language group and Québec is a staunch defender of languages – a policy with which I agree. You have to make sure minority languages remain living languages, that they are not obliterated by more dominant languages. When I came to Belgium I was fascinated to discover the country’s Dutch-speaking culture and history. I am now studying Dutch and am taking part in ‘conversation tables’, because I think it’s important to follow the media in their original language, so as to be better informed about what’s going on in this country on a political level, but also to be able to enjoy Flemish culture fully. But I’m exploring the whole of Belgium, from Bruges to Mons, from Ghent to Charleroi and from Liège to Antwerp. This last city  Royal Museum for Central is my favourite. As a Québécoise, I’m enthralled by Africa, Tervuren. I stumbled the ancient history of all these cities – in Canada, of upon it almost by chance and lost my heart to it. I revisited course, this is lacking a bit. It’s wonderful how much it a couple of times over the information, art and science from the Middle Ages summer to see the exhibitions can be found in museums here. on the 50th anniversary of I love the cosmopolitan character of Brussels. Congolese independence. Québec being predominantly French-speaking, I It’s a real gateway to Africa, am struck by how many languages are spoken here something we of course don’t and how everyone is able to keep their own idenhave in Québec. When I have tity – from the African mamas dressed in their colguests in Brussels, I always ourful robes to the Islamic men in their djellabas. send them here. Remarkably this leads more to a sort of harmonious  Place Sainte-Catherine. coexistence than to conflict. Brussels is an experiThe number of restaurants in ment in multi-ethnic cohabitation; it lends the city this pleasant area is unique. an open and contemporary image. I find it all fasciBelgian gastronomy is one of nating, and I am glad to be part of the experience Brussels’ assets. for a couple of years. Of course, Brussels has its less  Place du Jeu de Balle flea pleasant sides as well, and I don’t turn a blind eye to market. My partner loves them. What you can’t fail to notice, of course, is the to rummage through this poverty. I hope those in power will find a solution flea market, and so do I. for it, because homelessness is unacceptable. Afterwards you can find me A problem of a less serious order here is the road behind a beer at De Skieven signs. When you are used to the straightforward Architek, a classic wateringAmerican system, like me, then in the beginning hole which reflects the special, willful nature of the Marolles you will be lost by the often inconsistent and unclear neighbourhood. manner in which street names and house numbers are indicated. The street where my office is even has two names: one side is called Avenue des Arts, the other side is called Boulevard du Régent. But there you go. I’ve got used to it all now, just as I’ve grown attached to all the good things this city has to offer, not least the delicious chocolate which lies there smiling at you in all shapes and sizes, and that I always take to my mother in Québec as a souvenir. All in all, I feel perfectly accepted and integrated in this city and country, and I think I can speak here for all Québécois living in Belgium.” 

In praise of:

Interview by Veerle Devos & Kristof Dams Image by Veerle Devos

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Brussels identities from A to Z: Québequoise  

When Claire Deslongchamps first arrived in Brussels on a sunny spring day two years ago, she was immediately struck by how rich the city is...