We find comparison lists all the time on the Internet, but I never thought to make one of my own. Well, it’s been almost one month since my relocation to Kyrgyzstan, and I figured, Why not try my own hand at it? And so, without further ado, here’s a comparison between Kyrgyzstan and another obscure society I happen to know somewhat well… Belgium!
This is intended to be a tongue-in-cheek and decidedly not spiritually-inclined list, so take it as you will. It may or may not always induce a chuckle, especially at the start. And indeed, recognizing that, to a large degree, this is an exercisn id stereotyping; and moreover recognizing that, as an American, I’m a visitor to both of these societies, I welcome any additions, corrections, rejoinders, etc. So, please leave a comment at the end of this post.
Some things which I believe the Kyrgyz and the Belgians have in common
- When you say “Belgium” to a Kyrgyz, he immediately thinks, “Isn’t that some strange country somewhere in Europe?”
When you say “Kyrgyzstan” to a Belgian, he immediately thinks, “Isn’t that some strange country somewhere in Asia?”
- A deep passion for their native language coupled with a deep respect and knowledge of other languages.
- A strong feeling of themselves as a modern people but with ancient traditions.
Paradoxically, at the same time a tendency to consider themselves as “surreal”.
And even more paradoxically, at the same time also a tendency to consider everyone else as weird (even though it’s obvious they are the unusual ones!)
- The centrality of family (although that often translates to an inability to cut the umbilical cord).
- A desire, sometimes ambivalent, to be known better by the rest of the world.
- Locking their mouths shut and keeping all of their opinions to themselves until they can’t take it anymore, damn it Chris, WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU, YOU IMPERIALISTIC KNOW-IT-ALL AMERICAN?! DON’T YOU HAVE ANY CULTURAL SENSITIVITY?!
- A sordid obsession for “How I Met Your Mother” and all things New York.
- Having to live with political borders that were clearly drawn by someone else (and which almost all of their neighbors have disrespected at one time or another)
- To wit, having to live with the legacies of social engineering, industrialization, and neo-liberalization.
- Utterly malfunctioning governments, with questionable administrative ideas and practices from previous eras (Napoleonic and Soviet).
- Rampant corruption, from crooked parliamentarians to everybody cheating on their taxes.
- A suspicion of grand narratives (the legacies of Christianity and Communism).
- A shared passion for Russian literature (have you noticed how almost every Flemish household has an edition of Dostoyevsky?)
- Sidelong gawking at foreigners and anyone else with a nonstandard hairstyle.
- Keyboards that have been designed for the sole purpose of bewildering Americans.
- A bike would suffice, but not if you can ostentatiously spend all your cash on flashy cars.
- National cuisines that can slay you with cholesterol.
- Incredibly hot women (no, really, have you seen the girls in Leuven and Bishkek? Damn!).
Some things which I believe the Kyrgyz and the Belgians do not have in common
- Kyrgyzstan: OH MY GOD, MOUNTAINS! SO MANY FRIGGIN’ MOUNTAINS!
Belgium: farm, farm, farm, tree, farm, farm, farm, house, farm, farm, farm…
- The average Belgian man looks like he needs to get to a gym.
The average Kyrgyz man looks like he owns a gym
- You speak Flemish with the Flemish, and they immediately switch to English (which they may know better than you, anyway).
You speak French with the Wallonians, and they stare at you as though you were a humanoid duck quacking at them.
You speak Kyrgyz with the Kyrgyz, and they think to themselves: “Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold on a moment. He’s really trying to speak my language! Wow, that’s really awesome. Too bad I don’t know Kyrgyz…”
- The Belgians are rich and know what to do with it (absolutely incredible social democracy).
The Kyrgyz are poor and haven’t a clue what to do with the little they have (casinos, bookmakers, etc.).
- The Belgians have a vast, intricate, and relatively efficient commuter rail system that nearly covers every inch of their country, backed up by an expansive network of buses and trams.
The Kyrgyz have the marshrutka.
- Belgians fear that all those evil Muslims are coming to their country to suck dry their social welfare system and forcibly convert society to Islam.
The Kyrgyz know what it really means to be one of those “evil Muslims” when they desperately go looking for work in Russia, often risking their very lives to support their families.
- Belgians, especially on the Flemish side, tend to believe that religion is passé and tyrannical: it’s such a cruel and awful world, what’s wrong with you all?
The Kyrgyz have difficulty understanding how anyone can’t have at least some religious sentiment: it’s such an amazing and beautiful world, what’s wrong with you all?
- The Flemish still resent the Francophonic Wallonians for what their own Francophonic Flemish ancestors did to them in the nineteenth century.
Despite everything the Russians did to Kyrgyzstan — which was a lot — the Kyrgyz still esteem Russians and their language as the bringers of an advanced and sophisticated civilization.
- Sometimes it seems the only thing Belgians care about is making rules, and sometimes it seems the only thing Kyrgyz care about is breaking them.
- “Guest” in Belgium means, “Don’t eat my food”.
“Guest” in Kyrgyzstan means, “Please eat my house.”
- “American” in Belgium often means, “Everything I want to be but can’t, everything I don’t want to be and am”.
“American” in Krygyzstan often means, “The latter-day Soviet” (and all the good and bad that entails).
- Kyrgyzstan is an island of democracy in a vast realm of authoritarianism.
Belgium is a sort-of-non-monarchical-confederacy where the two halves of the population aren’t permitted to vote for entire parties just because of language.
- That’s because when government malfunctions or misbehaves in Belgium, the Belgians drink a coffee, watch a movie, read a book, take a nap, take a bike ride,
but when government malfunctions or misbehaves in Kyrgyzstan, the Kyrgyz march into the capital and BURN THAT MOTHERFUCKER DOWN!
- Sometimes, those incredibly hot women in Bishkek actually look at you!