Brussels Stories: You're never more than 10 feet away from a Eurocrat

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The rain clouds have lifted and the children are clambering happily over the climbing frame at Renier Chalon playground, so what could possibly disturb this rare moment of weekend tranquility? On this occasion it is a conversation about liberalisation of air transport and the prospects of a deal on voting weights in an EU constitution.

The rain clouds have lifted and the children are clambering happily over the climbing frame at Renier Chalon playground, so what could possibly disturb this rare moment of weekend tranquility? On this occasion it is a conversation about liberalisation of air transport and the prospects of a deal on voting weights in an EU constitution.

One of the joys of Brussels is that it is a manageable city with pleasant, spacious suburbs. But that also means that many of the thousands who earn their livings from the EU crowd into the same elegant quartiers. Rare is the weekend visit to the local, multilingual newsagent without a bit of lively banter about the likelihood of reconvening the inter-governmental conference.

The same is true of the local playgrounds; it is rumoured that many a commission deal has been struck by off-duty parents by the sandpit of the leafy Tenbosch park. As Tenbosch is further away from home, my offspring opt for Renier Chalon instead (spartan, but with better slides).

Two weeks ago there was a relatively modest Eurocrat head count round the swings: just one Danish and one French commission cabinet (or private office) member. Last week the turn-out was more substantial: two commission cabinet members, one MEP and a Spanish diplomat. But these are just the recognisable ones. Given the range of languages being yelled, the Council Secretariat, the Committee of the Regions and the internal fraud-busters are probably well-represented too.

Even the childless find it difficult to escape the EU on their time off. One colleague arrived recently at a restaurant near Place du Châtelain for a romantic dinner with her partner - only to be seated near two European Commissioners engaged in earnest discussion over their foie gras.

They say that in an average city, you are never more than 10 feet away from a rat. In Brussels, for "rat" read "Eurocrat".

¿ It is not Mother's Day today in Belgium but our household knows all about the importance of today, and will be sharing in Britain's festival of motherhood. Not that this will prevent a second round of gift-giving on Belgium's Mother's Day (9 May), an event about which the city's many praline-makers will shortly be reminding us.

The need for a European directive on the harmonisation of festivals is underlined by the fact that France's Mothering Sunday is held on a different date again. By chance we once visited France on the relevant weekend, allowing my spouse to notch up a third round of celebrations.

Children, particularly those born to parents of more than one nationality, quickly realise the benefits of observing as many national customs as possible.

All expatriate youngsters living in Belgium expect presents both at Christmas and at the Belgian festival for children, St Nicholas. And one of my daughter's Anglo-French friends manages to extract two payments for the loss of each milk tooth: one from the tooth fairy we know so well, the other from the Gallic tooth mouse.

¿ Because of the need to appeal both to French- and Dutch-speakers, businesses often look to the English language to provide a neutral name. Hence my membership of a squash club called Winners, which to a Belgian ear ("weeners") seems to have a sporty ring. Somehow that is lost in the translation back into English.

It could be worse. The city once boasted a special canine grooming centre named "Doggy Style".

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