Flavio Ensiki / Flickr

The tongue-in-cheek effort reflects a real problem with the country’s transportation networks.

Belgium has a new candidate for receiving UNESCO world heritage status: its traffic jams. Supporters of the idea insist that the country’s car-clogged roads that deserve celebration as achievements as uniquely, specially Belgian as its already listed belfries, art nouveau mansions, and historic mines.

That, at least, is the tongue-in-cheek claim being made by a spoof ad currently doing the rounds. The video features a pompous British actor extolling the splendor of Belgian congestion followed by a link to a petition. Its wholesale trolling of the country’s packed road system comes from exactly the source you might expect—it’s essentially an attack ad from Belgian national rail company NMBS.

The video may be meant as a joke, but the problem it describes is real enough. In 2014, Belgium’s two largest cities, Brussels and Antwerp, both had the worst traffic congestion of any cities in Europe—a place they earned thanks to a toxic combination (well outlined in this piece) of poor road planning, suburbanization, and generous company car policies. It’s no wonder the country’s railways want to poke fun at the whole mess.

The snag is that Belgium’s railways are themselves part of the problem. Belgian trains are notorious for delays and overcrowding—the sort of poor conditions that have people running for their cars in the first place. As a result, the railways are getting a taste of their own medicine. A counter-petition is also doing the rounds calling for Belgium’s train delays to get UNESCO world heritage status, too—showing footage of delayed passengers soundtracked with lush, tear-jerking strings.

If anything comes out of the spat, it’s that Belgians really seem to suck at transportation. The two campaigns do nonetheless reveal a talent for which Belgians are arguably world leaders: self-deprecation. Belgium is, after all, a country whose greatest recent Internet hit has been Ugly Belgian Houses, a tumblr and Instagram celebration of its domestic architecture’s monumental fugliness. Even the best-known, most poetic song about the country—local boy Jacques Brel’s “Le Plat Pays”—describes it as having “a sky so grey you have to forgive it.”

Looking at this cultural outpouring, you could easily forget that grey, rainy Belgium is often a rather beautiful and strangely interesting place. If only Belgians could somehow channel this remarkable talent for taking themselves down a peg into sorting out their transit, they’d probably be leading the world.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A man and a woman shop at a modern kiosk by a beach in a vintage photo.
    Design

    Why Everyday Architecture Deserves Respect

    The places where we enact our daily lives are not grand design statements, yet they have an underrated charm and even nobility.

  2. A chef prepares food at a restaurant in Beijing, China.
    Life

    What Restaurant Reviews Reveal About Cities

    Where official census data is sparse, MIT researchers find that restaurant review websites can offer similar demographic and economic information.

  3. A NASA rendering of a moon base with lunar rover from 1986.
    Life

    We Were Promised Moon Cities

    It’s been 50 years since Apollo 11 put humans on the surface of the moon. Why didn’t we stay and build a more permanent lunar base? Lots of reasons.

  4. The legs of a crash-test dummy.
    Transportation

    A Clue to the Reason for Women’s Pervasive Car-Safety Problem

    Crash-test dummies are typically models of an average man. Women are 73 percent more likely to be injured in a car accident. These things are probably connected.

  5. Environment

    How ‘Corn Sweat’ Makes Summer Days More Humid

    It’s a real phenomenon, and it’s making the hot weather muggier in the American Midwest.

×