Ten famous Belgians

Here’s an odd thing: the intended implication of “Can you name ten famous Belgians?” is always one of the supposed shortcomings of a small country with a comic name. But I always hear it as “I’m so incurious, ill-read and uninterested in the visual arts that I don’t know the first thing about a country that’s closer to London by train than much of England.”

If you haven’t heard of at least half of the following people:

  • René Magritte, painter
  • Django Reinhardt, guitarist
  • Adolphe Sax, inventor of musical instruments
  • Jacques Brel, singer
  • Georges Simenon, crime novelist
  • King Leopold II, king responsible for millions of deaths in the Belgian Congo
  • Marc Dutroux, a somewhat more notorious serial killer these days, but on a scale five or six orders of magnitude smaller
  • Hergé (Georges Remi), cartoonist
  • Maurice Maeterlinck, poet and playwright
  • Jean-Claude Van Damme, actor

then it’s your fault. I deliberately haven’t listed anyone whose career was before the foundation of Belgium in 1840. What would your list of famous Britons look like if you excluded everyone before the foundation of the UK in 1801 or when it gained its present borders in the 1920s? I deliberately haven’t included any present-day politicians or people who are well known in their own field but less so outside it, like Ensor, Horta, Broodthaers, Prigogine, Merckx, Audrey Hepburn, Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin-Hardenne, Jacques Tits (sic), Georges Lemaître, Solvay, Delvaux or Panamarenko.

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