The country that treats its king like family

In what other country would you see a monarch, his successor, their spouses and a few ministers, arms draped around each other, sitting on an official platform, and  singing “Ik hou van U” (I love YOU) at the top of their lungs? And on the eve of the abdication of the first and the accession to the throne of the second? You’re right: this could only happen in Belgium. It was at Place Jeu de Balle, Saturday night.

It all began two hours earlier. At the end of a classical music concert at the Palais des Beaux-Arts, thesoon to be king Prince Philippe had ordered a special performance by the comic duo Framboise frivole (Silly Raspberry) especially for his father, It looked like the National Orchestra of Belgium musicians did not take it well. It wasn’t very worthy of the NOB’s standing. Their standing made no difference. The future King Philippe had made his mark. When you are king of the Belgians, you don’t act like the queen of England!

Welcome to “Volle Brol”

The mockery, the je-ne-sais-quoi bawdiness and familiarity that would be seen elsewhere as disrespectful, ridiculous or in bad taste is the ultimate in etiquette in Belgium. Arriving at the Place Jeu de Balle in their glossy Mercedes, Albert and Paola got out of their car under the sign of the “Volle Brol” bistro at the nerve center of the Marolles. They stepped out to the sound of Johan Verminnen, an extremely popular Flemish singer, who after having asked the crowd to applaud the royal family, began to sing, beer in hand.

No bowing, plenty of affection in the little videos with which the Marollians sent good wishes to the king: “Bye, Albert, we’ll drink to your health!” or in the somewhat easy way that Lio called him, “Mister King.”

“Big kiss to the queen”

If the incongruous is at home in the Marolles, they have no problem with the strange things that come out of the august royal mouth at solemn moments. The clumsy “big kiss” sent (off-script) by Albert II to his wife Paola, in front of the State’s highest authorities, was another “silly raspberry”. Only a king of the Belgians could do such a thing, as all his subjects realize.

In what other country would you see a karaoke contest on the national anthem – a Le Soir cartoon played out in a Brussels park – with a huge success, showing off, in an extraordinary way, the total ignorance of the anthem’s words on the part of the population. And did the ministers really take off their jackets at the national parade?

In what other kingdom would a prime minister feel no pressure, except having to go to speech-filled ceremonies and let himself go with a few steps of the samba at the Brazilian booth put up for the occasion?

And, in passing, why a booth for a samba school on the Belgian national holiday? No reason: It’s fun! It’s Belgian…

JUREK KUCZKIEWICZ

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