Brussels Stories: How a helpful madame tried to plot my downfall

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While I was driving along a main road in suburban Brussels, another driver pulled out without looking from a tiny side street to the right, ploughed into my right-hand front wing, and cannoned into the rear of another vehicle for good measure. Then, as the Belgian madame got out of her car with an air of controlled aggression, the realisation sunk in. Of course the accident was completely my fault.

While I was driving along a main road in suburban Brussels, another driver pulled out without looking from a tiny side street to the right, ploughed into my right-hand front wing, and cannoned into the rear of another vehicle for good measure. Then, as the Belgian madame got out of her car with an air of controlled aggression, the realisation sunk in. Of course the accident was completely my fault.

Belgium, like most countries, drives on the right. Yet this nation sticks stubbornly to a priorité à droite rule so absurd that it was long abandoned by its neighbours. Hence, on Belgian roads, drivers must give way to cars from the right, even if the traffic is coming from a tiny, insignificant side street. The true Belgian driver will not bother to look to their left as they steam on to the main road.

Sensing she was not dealing with a native Belgian, the madame offered to fill in the insurance form for me. A quick look at her entry suggested that this was not such a kindly offer, since it went on at length (incorrectly) about my driving en vitesse while claiming that she had been proceeding lentement. The only comfort came later from my insurance agent, who knows that particular junction well. Even Belgians have a lot of accidents there, she said.

¿ Once upon a time it was so easy to know what to do to treat a heavy cold: take a large dose of lemon juice, an even larger dose of whisky, add a spoon of honey, then retire to bed.

But in Brussels sufferers are plunged into confusion by a wealth of advice. Many countriesswear by a series of completely different remedies. In multinational Brussels, the origin of the remedy is almost always obscure due to inter-marriage, confusion and trial and error. Thus one English colleague suggests oregano tea. Or try this one, from Mexico via my daughter's French violin teacher: take two cloves of garlic and a bay leaf, add hot water and a spoonful of honey. As yet we have no scientific evidence that any works better than the hot toddy. More to the point, they don't taste as good.

¿ Tomorrow is the EU's birthday. Schuman Day marks the start of the European Community, by celebrating the declaration made on 9 May 1950 by the French foreign minister, Robert Schuman, in which he proposed that coal and steel resources should be pooled. The European institutions know how to sell this event to staff: they have all been given a holiday. So have children at the European School, though there is an even better idea about how to commemorate Europe's founding father next Tuesday, when children return to lessons. Parents in some classes have been asked to give their infants a second, sugary snack which can be consumed in honour of the great man.

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