Those who are familiar with the weather in Belgium will understand why everyone here wants to leave for vacation as much as they can. That creates an enormous demand for house sitters and cat carers.
Hence, immediately after house sitting in Antwerp, I was hired to take care of two cats in Brussels, our beloved European capital.
On the last day in Brussels, the doorbell rang. Contrary to my worst fears, it was neither the Jehovah’s Witnesses, nor Belgian counterintelligence (luckily, they had already gone on holiday, too), but a gentleman who introduced himself as representative of the “Belgian Royal Federal Commission for Ensuring the Equal Consideration of all Regions and Communities in Belgium”. He had a business card that I needed to fold out in order to read everything – in three languages, of course.
“Guten Tag, bonjour, goedendag,” he began, and I will henceforth only translate him once, “it has come to our attention that a world-famous blogger is currently in Belgium, looking after Belgian cats.”
“Yes,” I admitted, as denial would have been pointless.
“You have been to Antwerp?”
“And now in Brussels?”
“Obviously,” because that’s where we were.
“Have you already made the acquaintance of the German-speaking part of Belgium?” he asked sternly.
“Yes,” I explained happily, “I have been to Kelmis for a few days. And to Eupen.”
“And don’t you think that something is missing?” One could see that he would have loved to have become a teacher, just to pester pupils who couldn’t recite Pelléas et Mélisande by heart.
“There is a lot that’s missing. Of course I also want to visit Mechelen, Ghent, Leuven, Bruges, and so on. There are so many fascinating places in Belgium.”
The gentlemen lost his composure: “What would you think if someone was writing about Germany, having visited only Bavaria?”
“I am from Bavaria myself,” I explained.
“Or only in Saxony?”
But, to make sure that the dumb foreigner really got it, he explained: “Belgium consists of three communities and three regions: the Flemish Community, the French Community, the German Community, the Flemish Region, the Walloon Region and the Capital Region of Brussels. As far as I can tell, you have been to the Capital Region, to the Flemish Community, the Flemish Region, the German Community, the Walloon Region, because the German Community is part of that one,” – he had lost me by then – “but not yet in the French Community.” It sounded like someone reproaching a father of six children who had never bothered to care about one of them.
“But people also speak French here in Brussels,” I interjected.
“The Capital Region of Brussels has a special status! It’s the only bilingual region in Belgium. Anyway, as Commissioner for Ensuring Equal International Coverage about the Regions and Communities in Belgium, it is my duty to suggest to you, politely but unequivocally, that after Flemish and capital cats, you have to take care of Walloon cats, too.”
“Oh, I would gladly do that,” I replied, relieved that my unintended discrimination of almost half of the country could be straightened out in such an agreeable manner. “Could you help me find such a placement? I am available from tomorrow afternoon.”
“For the unity of Belgium, we do everything!” The commissioner, who, as it turned out, due to the delay in forming a government was only the provisional pet commissioner at the time, became very friendly and helpful. After the experience of two large cities, I asked if I could work in the countryside next, for a change and for recovery.
The same evening, I received notice that I should report to Chastre, a small town in Wallonia, the next day. Until the end of September, I will be taking care of two cats named Rock & Roll, cleverly transcending all linguistic policies.
I am happy to oblige.
And even happier that the Congo is no longer Belgian.