Manon : Hi, I hope you're well. We have a special video today because we have a special guest: Benoît.

I had asked you on Instagram the questions, you had about the difference between France and Belgium and I thought it would be perfect to do this video with Benoît because he is Belgian and I am French and I think he is well placed to talk about it.

Benoit : That's right, exactly.

M : So, here I let you introduce yourself for those who don't know you. There are some who do know you.

B : You have already seen me several times during the French Coffee which I really enjoy hosting three times a week since September.

So here I am living in Brussels, I have been a History and Geography teacher in a secondary school for 15 years. It's my fifteenth start of the school year, so I have a few years of experience.

And Manon and I met when I decided to go back to school to become a French teacher after a trip to Vietnam where I had the opportunity to teach French. And that's how it really became a passion and when Manon developed her website, that's how it happened.

M : It was obvious that we would work together.

B : Exactly. After having done the Master's degree, we got to know each other during this Master's degree and we immediately collaborated well. We had the same way of seeing things, whether it was from a pedagogical point of view or in terms of the objectives of learning French and the way we wanted to transmit this love of our mother tongue. So there you have it, and it is with pleasure that I will answer, that I will try to bring some light on the questions that you asked to Manon.

M : And it's perfect that you have a History / Geography background because we don't necessarily know everything about how the French language has developed in Belgium and in France.

So, we can start for those who don't necessarily know Belgium is to present Belgium, namely that French is an official language, but that there are parties where French is spoken, others where Flemish is spoken. If you can briefly introduce Belgium.


Introducing Belgium

B : Yes, yes, it's very complex, so I'm not going to give a history lesson with dates and so on. We're going to do it in a nutshell to get to the point.

But, basically, Belgium is a federal state with several levels of power and especially with three regions, but also three communities. And so the communities are determined, established according to different criteria, including language, and the three communities that we find in Belgium are the French community, the Flemish community and the German-speaking community. Recently, the French community has also been called the Wallonia-Brussels federation.

In concrete terms, what this means is that there are three official languages, depending on the geographical area where you are located. Obviously, there will be languages that will be privileged or that will simply be used. This is the case, for example, in Flanders, which is roughly the northern half of the country where Flemish is the official language. Finally, Dutch.

M : Yes, I never know if I should say "Flemish" or "Dutch".

B : When we talk about Flemish, it's more like a dialect. So Dutch is the official language. So we have the southern part, Wallonia, where French is the official language.

Then we have Brussels, a region in its own right where we have both communities. And so in Brussels both languages, Dutch and French, have the same status. They are both official languages. Any employee or administrative worker, municipal worker must master both languages.

And then the small part, well, it concerns a little less people since it is the German-speaking part. This German-speaking part comes from territories that were ceded, confiscated from Germany after the first world war and that were taken back in the second. And then, retroceded.

M : A bit like Alsace and Lorraine.

B : It's the same principle. And here, we speak German, but it concerns a more obvious minority.

M : So, you were born in Brussels.

B : Yes, in Brussels.

M : So you speak French?

B : 90% of the inhabitants of Brussels speak French and have French as their mother tongue. But, at school, we have Dutch classes from elementary school on. So we are familiarized with Dutch quite early. And at the age of 18 you are not supposed to be bilingual, but you are supposed to have a good level of Dutch.


Why do we speak French in Belgium?

M : Let's start with the first question, which is not the easiest: why do we speak French in Belgium? I don't know!

B : So, well, it's not a very easy question.

So, given that once again without making a course of history, in the broad outline.

French is quite recent since we speak several dialects that it is already in several regions of France, it is really the compulsory education which is going to generalize the use of French.

 But, beyond that, well, French is a Latin language, it is a Roman heritage, and in fact, to see things in a simple way, the Belgian linguistic border between Wallonia, the French-speaking part, and the Dutch-speaking part, corresponds in general to the end of the Roman Empire.

So, the end of the influence of the Latin languages and this border which is not as clear as the borders we know today, we speak rather of the end of a zone of influence will continue to last afterwards between the end of the zone of influence of the kingdom and then of the Carolingian empire and the zone of influence on the other side of the Holy Roman Germanic Empire. Two languages. If we go back really far, it really comes from the antiquity, from Rome.


M : It's not as simple as that.


Do the French and the Belgians understand each other?

So, the second question: do the French and Belgians understand each other? Do we understand each other well?

B : Yes, we understand each other very well. Obviously, between French-speaking Belgians of course, because with the Dutch-speaking ones, well, there's the language barrier. Even if they also learn French at school, very young.

M : Yes, they speak French very well.

B : Most of the time, they have a very good level of French. We understand each other, yes. So, sometimes there are some small regional particularities in terms of vocabulary.


What are the main differences between French in France and French in Belgium?

M: So, that was the next question, but we can include these two questions: these are the main differences between French in France and French in Belgium.

So, there are many, but we understand each other very well. There are a lot of differences in vocabulary, the accent, yes, but I would like to say that in France there are very different accents. If we take the South in the North, the East and the West there are very different accents. The Belgian accent is very similar to the northern one.

B: Yes, there are similarities. Yes, it is clearly more similar than the Marseille accent, which is much more singing.

M: The Belgian accent is more dragging. We have this effect of slowness where we have the impression that the Belgians speak more slowly, a little like with the Swiss.

B: Yeah, and sometimes we insist more on certain syllables, like I just did on certain syllables on the R's, which are sometimes pronounced a little harder. Now there are also big differences between the Brussels accent in Belgium.

M: Yes, I've noticed that.

B: Which has influences from Dutch or Flemish.

M: For me, in Belgium, there was only one Belgian accent and in fact, no, when I lived here, I saw that there is the accent of Liège, which is very different. The accent of Brussels, that's it, it's often the accent that we know the most in France where we laugh about it a bit. Exactly. And there is the accent of Dutch people who speak French, which is the accent of someone who is learning French as a foreign language.

B: That's exactly it, so that's already a point that you put your finger on, but which deserves to be underlined. In fact, there is not just one Belgian accent, like the French accent.

M: There are several. Generally, we imagine the Brussels accent. That's the one we remember, for example, in films and French comedy sketches, we use the Brussels accent. It's the one we know the most, even if there are different ones. But it's very understandable, there's no problem.

As far as pronunciation is concerned, and as you said I like it, there is a difference in pronunciation on the eight which is sharper in your language.

B: Yes, we insist on syllables

M: But it's hardly noticeable for someone who doesn't necessarily speak French. So, there is no problem with that.

After that, it will be more about vocabulary. Well, we already have the most familiar nonante / septante; quatre-vingt-dix / soixante-dix, we'll come back to that because there was a question about that.

B: Otherwise, yes, little words.

In Belgium, it rains, we have very heavy showers, so as you say, we say that it drains. We hear, I insist on the R's.

M: But I would like to say that it is like in France. In the south, we call a chocolatine a pain au chocolat, for example, and in Belgium we say a chocolate croissant.

B: So that's the influence of Dutch. It must be said that there is a Dutch influence on certain things, especially in Brussels.

Someone who is boastful, for example, we'll say that he has a big neck, but we say it in Dutch: Dikkenek.

M: And in French, it means to have a big head. To have a big head, exactly.

B: In Belgium it goes up to the level of our neck.

M: Yes, and in France at the level of the head, it goes up higher. But apart from a few differences like that, either we understand each other, or we can guess from the context what the person is talking about. Or you ask.

When I'm in Belgium, I sometimes ask "What is that? What does it mean?".

For example, a few days ago, I heard; but it comes from Flemish: babeler. I didn't know it at all and I said "What is babeler?".

B: Yes, which means: to discuss, but in the sense of chatting.

M: Well, that was a new word for me. But, don't hesitate to ask if you don't understand, it's not a problem.


Why in Belgium do we say: septante and nonante and why in France we say: soixante-dix and quatre-vingt-dix?

So, the next question, the famous question of why in Belgium they say: septante and nonante and why in France they say: soixante-dix and quatre-vingt-dix. So, we both inquired because for the moment we don't have a concrete answer, we don't know exactly where it comes from.

We know then that in France, that also, it is not sure, but that they say 80 90 70 because the Gauls counted by twenty. So, we think it comes from that, so why did we change it in Belgium?


B: Probably a little bit like we explained in terms of the linguistic border and in fact, it's true that in Belgium we're getting closer to the end of the influence of French and Parisian French of the French Academy because it's the French Academy that has fixed this usage of soixante-dix / quatre-vingt-dix. And perhaps how precisely in Dutch, as in English moreover one functions in septante and nonante.

Which is, I'm sorry to say, much more logical. So there you have it, no matter what the French say, it's more logical, there's less mental calculation. As you said it well indeed, it seems that the Celts counted by packets of twenty.

M: And there's the little anecdote about Louis XIV, which is not 100% sure either, but which is amusing.

B: That's it, Louis XIV had a very bad experience of passing the age of seventy, of becoming a septuagenarian, and as it was fixed during his reign to use 70, the legend says that it was because he had a very bad experience of having to say "I'm seventy".

M: He still wanted to stay in the 60s a little bit, that's it. He would have said 70 to have, keep that 60 and just add 10 years, but that has this side of unspoken.

B: Exactly.


Do the French and the Belgians get along well? What do they think of each other?

M: So, the next question: do the French and the Belgians get along well and what do they think of each other?

B: Well, that's a very delicate question because we like to bicker. It's a little bit like "I love you but I don't like you either". We like to make jokes, but we get along very well.

M: We're kind of cousins, you could say.

B: In fact, we get along well, for example as a Belgian or I have always been very well received in France. We generally have a capital sympathy in Belgium, we have a lot of humor, we have a lot of self-mockery. More than the French. Yes, we like to laugh at ourselves. We like to party, to drink alcohol, to drink beer.

M: That brings us closer together!

B: Without going into stereotypes, but let's just say that we have a rather festive folklore.

On the other hand, there is a difference with the French, because of the regional divisions in Belgium, we don't have a very strong national feeling. In any case, yes, it can happen when there is the World Cup, or on certain occasions. But, a patriotism, there is for some people yes it happens, but compared to France for example.

M: Perhaps you are more divided on the Belgian political level, which is not unified.

B: Yes, for example, as French-speaking Belgians, we are often more aware of French singers, French politicians and French television presenters than of their Dutch-speaking counterparts in Belgium. Because we don't really watch Dutch TV.

As a result, the French are rather proud of their country and their history and this is sometimes perceived as chauvinism. Yes, they will sometimes look down on others. That's it, and it's sometimes perceived a little bit like that from the outside, I say that with a pinch of salt.

But once again, we have to distinguish a state of mind that may be more specific to the Paris region. That's what we say. Because the mentality in Paris is very different compared to other regions, to the provinces. So there you have it, so there is this feeling. This has led to a deep rivalry, so to speak.

M: Which can be felt a lot on the soccer fields, like yesterday's PSG/Bruges match.

B: Exactly. So, there is a real rivalry.M: We felt it a lot during the World Cup too, there was a great rivalry which is stronger in the field of sports, because in reality there is no problem.


What are the stereotypes about Belgians and French?

So, the next question that is linked to the previous question is the stereotypes about the Belgians and the French.

We have already said that the Belgians think that the French are chauvinistic, that they love their country too much. As we said the Belgians are warm, they like to party, they are friendly. You eat a lot of French fries too. I think that's true.

B: As far as that goes, yes, generally speaking, once again, we are in the stereotypes, so it's a bit of a caricature. Well, not all Belgians are like that. But there are French fry shops. Yes, sometimes they even call them fritkots.

Because the kot is a small place, a small place. We say a student kot to talk about the student studio. A closet is also a kot in a way. And here are the fritkots.

Yes, there is this bon vivant aspect; beer, fries, chocolate. As far as gastronomy is concerned, it's true that it's often a simple gastronomy, I'm not going to say simple because we also have high gastronomy in Belgium, but generally the national dishes are more like dishes that fit the body: waterzooï, Flemish carbonnade, fried mussels. So, let's say that it goes well with a state of mind where we enjoy simple things without complex.


What are the differences between Belgian and French beer?

M: The next question: what are the differences between Belgian and French beer?

B: That's a tricky question. The main difference is that Belgian beer is much better. Ahaha. Beyond that, it's true that Belgium is a country known for its beer. Clearly.

M: France, it's more wine, it's also a question of climate.

B: That's it, but beyond the simple "Pils", there are all these special beers: the "lambic" beers. There are lots of them and they are generally very good. They have taste. Then the Trappist beers which are also made with a very particular know-how and are very good too. Then, we also have the abbey beers, so the abbey beers are not made by monks, but they are made according to an ancestral recipe that was used in the abbey during the Middle Ages. There are also these abbey beers. There are many, many of them. Here, it's just the recipe in a way. Then, there is brown, blonde, amber, white too, so there you go.

There are many kinds of beers, which means that we can say without Belgian chauvinism this time, but that we should leave the beers to us. We have chocolate, but the Swiss also make good chocolate. The Germans make beer. The French make beer. The English make beer. But we do have a variety, a very large variety of beer, especially for a small person. In terms of variety, it's quite important.


Do Walloons and Flemings speak to each other in English?

M: Next interesting question: do the Walloons and the Flemish speak to each other in English? What language do they speak to each other, given that the Walloons speak French and the Flemish speak Dutch?

B: Well, I'll say that it happens, it's happening more and more, especially among young people, I would say, who are more and more familiar with English.

They have more and more ease in speaking English because of music, movies, TV shows, etc. So, generally young people live English in a more concrete way because they also learn it at school than learning Dutch which for us French speakers is very widespread. Well, we watch French programs on television, French music is very widespread compared to Dutch.

So for young people, it is often difficult to speak Dutch. They are simply less confronted with it on a daily basis and for Dutch speakers, well, it's not easy to speak French either because, as you know, as learners of French, it's much more difficult than English. So, very often they communicate in English.

Now, what we must also underline is that dialects are getting lost and it's the same thing in France. For example, before in Brussels the dialect: the Brussels dialect which was a mixture of French and Dutch was very much spoken or at least spoken.

My father, without having really learned Dutch at school, was familiar with Dutch because it was easier to mix the two languages.

That's something that gets lost, so it does happen. So I wouldn't say that it happens all the time because there is also, I would say, respect for the speaker. I learned Dutch and every time I can make the effort to speak Dutch with Belgians. Afterwards, if we see that it is too difficult and if the Dutch speaker with whom I am speaking knows how to speak French, we try a little in French or sometimes we speak in English. It's not the rule, it's not done all the time, but it's done.


If I work in France, can I say septante and nonante?

M: So, the last question: if I work in France can I say septante or nonante. So, that's perhaps more of a question for me, I think.

I think that it doesn't pose a problem if a Belgian or a Swiss or even in Quebec we say it, I believe will say septante or nonante. We will understand without any problem of course we won't not understand what he says. You can do it maybe you will have the right to little jokes because we like, we said it, the French and the Belgians like to joke. There can be little jokes about that.

Afterwards, I would advise if we are in the country to use the vocabulary of the country. I know that when I am in Belgium, when I lived in Belgium, I made the effort to say septante and nonante.

It was sometimes difficult. I found myself saying weird things like "nonante-treize", I wanted to say "nonante-trois" and I was mixing it with "quatre-vingt-treize". I know that the Belgians make an effort when they are in France to try to say seventy and ninety. Even if in your head you have to do a little translation.

B: It requires a little mental gymnastics.

M: You have to make an effort to use the vocabulary specific to the country. If you can't do it, it's not a big deal, but it's a matter of respect to use the vocabulary of the country.

B: Yes, it's always a pleasure.

M: It shows that you are making an effort and that you are acclimatizing to the country you are in.

B: To come back to what we were saying earlier about the little bickering. If in Belgium, you hear a Belgian or if you hear someone say seventy or ninety. They will say: "Who does this guy think he is? He wants to give himself a genre?" That's it, because we're going to find that a little bit dikkenek, astonishing, we want to give ourselves a kind of French speaking style in a way.

M: That was the last question, thank you for having asked these very interesting questions about France and Belgium, if you have others you can put them in comments. Maybe we could do a video like this again, even on other subjects, more conversational videos. In any case, it was very nice, I don't know what you thought of it. Tell us if you liked this kind of video.

B: Well yes, we would be happy to have your feedback if you want us to do other videos. Well, this was also an opportunity for us to meet again after our studies, after the Covid. So, we hadn't seen each other for a year and a half, since the Covid. And so, the fact that you are in Belgium, it made things easier. So, for us, it was a pleasure and even at a distance we can make this kind of video.

M: You can find us both at Ohlala French Coffee where Benoît is a teacher in this conversation group and I am too. 

M & B: See you soon!