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on 14 October 2016
Very funny and well observed; read beforte you go and after; not great while you are there
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on 24 April 2016
Hysterical observations of Belgian culture, places and people within Belgium. Acutely observant and knowledgeable about all walks of life in this fantastic country. Have now read it twice. A must read for all Belgophiles.
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on 3 May 2016
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on 17 July 2009
This is indeed a funny book, even if the author doesn't know much about Belgium. A bit like Borat and Kazakhstan. Having written two books about Belgian cultural history, I would say Belgium is per se incomprehensible and maybe the natives like it that way. Just don't believe what it says in this book.Flanders: A Cultural History (Cities of the Imagination): A Cultural History (Cities of the Imagination)
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on 1 September 2011
I decided to buy this book after two other books by Harry, (who I met at Lord's earlier this year where he won the 2011 Cricket book Award for "Slipless in Settle") left a very good impression on me. The other one was "Achtung Schweinhund". Being a Flemish Belgian (well, for the time being at least since we are currently heading for a evaporation of what is now a country in palliative care...) I was quite keen to find out how the author had fared in his cross-country between the Northsea and Arlon...
Unfortunately he dropped the ball very early on by stating that Flemish is a Dutch dialect... I have always lived in the assumption that Flemish is a German dialect (Nieder-Deutsch) but developed as a proper language, and has basically little to do with the Dutch which is the official language in Holland (and the current Dutch is in fact the dialect of The Hague. So they have been lucky their dialect became the standard official language there...) Right then, apart from that, I must admit I found it a very amusing read and a real page turner. I was thrilled to find out that Harry also seems to enjoy the bike races in Belgium (especially in Flanders that is...). As a true grit Brit he also tried to sample as many different beers as possible and only that effort would require a level headed man to spend at least a couple of months in Belgium. The reason for not giving full marks is due to the fact that Harry failed to visit (or write about) Mechelen (admittedly I am slightly biased here as a born-and-bred Mechelaar). But look at this: Mechelen was the former capital of the Netherlands, had the first ever official Legal Court (Grand Council) installed in the Burgundian era (Charles the Bold), was the starting point of the first train ever to ride on the continent (Mechelen-Brussels), is home of one of the oldest cottage industry breweries in the country (Het Anker, turning out a whole range of locally developed and brewed beers, winning awards all over the world) and finally, when Harry would have made a stroll in the local Vrijbroekpark on a sunny Sunday afternoon, he would have been delighted to hear that familiar sound of leather on wood, as Mechelen also harbours two cricket clubs, hardly a mile or so apart as te crow flies... So dear Harry, earn your fifth start and pencil in a follow up visit to this country as long as it still exists under that name that is, and yours truly will be glad to fill in the blanks left in this otherwise excelent read!
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on 5 March 2015
Well if you've spent some time in the low countries this is true observation of the quirkiness of the Belgium's a very misunderstood nation .but the deeper you look the more interesting it gets
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on 11 October 2017
An easy enough read. A little dated, as it's over 20 years old, but the main problem is the lack of structure. It's very scattershot, with Pearson zooming from one side of the country to the other within the same chapter and often the same day. Large parts of the country are barely touched upon, and Antwerp is left out entirely. There are plenty of info dumps, many of which are interesting, and a few half decent observations. The best humour comes from character observation; at other times the jokes seem a little forced
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on 11 August 2014
The most famous monument in Belgium is a statue of a small boy urinating. What other oddities and interesting facts can Harry Pearson discover? Well, quite a few as it turns out. Having lived in Belgium for several months, he totally immerses himself in the local culture - drinking beer, attending a festival of shrimps and goes to a museum which is ...pants.

We’ve been to see the Mannekin Pis and it really is as bad as it sounds. The girl version is ten times worse however. Still needs to be seen to be believed. And have you ever been to a museum that is quite literally pants? This is one museum experience I shall never forget.

Belgium is a wonderful yet misunderstood country I felt and reading this book where someone applies his own brand of observation and informal guide is much better than any guide book you will read.

This is a good guide to seeing the more unusual sites of the European capital and believe me, there are many more....
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on 6 January 2011
It must be said that Harry Pearson's book "A Tall Man in a Low Land: Some Time Among The Belgians" - whilst a serviceable and amusing account of this small but central European country - holds few surprises. This is very much a `bemused-Englishman-abroad' type book in the mould of Charlie Connelly's account of Liechtenstein ("Stamping Grounds"). However, whilst Connelly's book had a connecting theme and a purpose - following Liechtenstein's football team during their futile attempt to quality for the 2002 World Cup - Pearson's account seems a little unfocussed in comparison.

This is not helped by the fact that his disparate accounts of Belgium cover a series of trips made to the country, spanning several years and in the company of various companions. The narrative sometimes segues suddenly between these trips, which can be a little disorientating for the less alert of us readers. I was often left confused as to whether he was recalling a trip with Steve, an old friend, or a more recent excursion with Catherine, his girlfriend (both of whom are very much in the background in this book, and are rarely given any sort of voice). Indeed at some point in the book Harry and Catherine suddenly gain a young baby on their travels, which disorientated me even further...

That is not to say that there aren't some amusing passages in this book - such as his description of the Belgium enthusiasm for (if not proficiency in) ill-advised and potentially-lethal DIY - and his musings on the possible link between the Belgium sense of national individualism and the large quantities of dog mess on the streets of Brussels. However, occasionally one feels that Pearson is trying a little too hard to demonstrate his credentials as both author and comic. For instance his description of a farmers' wife as having the "slender, pallid beauty of one of the female revellers of Bosch's 'Garden of Earthly Delights' (though she was wearing considerably more clothing, obviously)" - seems a little forced.

That said, whilst it took a while for me to engage with this book, I did begin to warm to the accounts after the halfway mark, and Pearson obviously has a certain affection for this idiosyncratic nation. His accounts of the various nationalistic affiliations to Belgium's official languages - especially between the Dutch-speaking Flemish and the French-speaking Walloons (who generally seem to ignore each others' existence; with the minority German-speakers caught somewhere in the middle) - are informative and entertaining. I particularly enjoyed the scene where a train announcer has to change the place-names of destination stops on a single journey, according to where in Belgium the train happens to be...

Another interesting account, which comes late on in the book, is of Belgium's former monarch: King Leopold II's barbaric yet farcical colonisation of the Congo in the 19th century. Whilst drawing on the full horrors of both this debauched individual and his actions (Pearson makes the astute point that King Leopold made around £3million out of his African land-grab; slightly less than a pound per African life lost as a result) he also finds some telling irony here: "Soon African chiefs all across the Congo basin had signed away their independence to an organisation with a blue and yellow banner and its headquarters in Brussels. Euro-sceptics may wish to pause at this point and have a good old rant".

All in all then, a bit of a mixed bag; but - as with the previous book - an informative and largely engaging account of a small European country seen through the eyes of both a fellow European and a cultural outsider.

I must say, I felt that the conclusion of this book reflected my point about the lack of narrative structure here. Of course, this is a travelogue and not a novel, but the abrupt Epilogue - a mere two pages which start with a stroll through Namur, take in a paragraph's worth of Antwerp and end with the ferry back to England via Holland - seemed especially sudden and a little dissatisfying.
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on 8 March 2001
I was given this book for Christmas by my Aunt, who had seen it in a local book shop when looking around, and had noticed it from the subtitle "Some Time Among The Belgians" and thought it would appeal to me. Harry Pearson was hitherto known to me for his "Fever Pitch"esque book about life in the North East as a Sunderland supporter, covering the 1993/94 season, and also for his contribution to When Saturday Comes - the half decent football magazine.
Having lived in Belgium myself, I was able to empathise a lot with Pearson's point of view, notably his comment that their "passion for DIY electrics leaves a permanent smell of singed eyebrows in the air". Whereas books like "The Xenophobes guide to the Belgians" is very upbeat, with myths dispelled and Belgium generally promoted, even if they are guilty of producing Atomium underpants (hmm...), Harry Pearson portrays it as it really is, namely that it's grim in Belgium.
If you are planning a trip to Belgium, you might be dissuaded from the accounts of general lack of pride, self-esteem and shoddyness, especially shown by the frequent mentions of DIY prowess. You may dismiss this as a caricature or cameo of what Belgian life is like, thinking that Pearson has just done the usual and flitted around the country and left. However this is not the case, as Pearson, along with his partner and their daughter, has seemed to have been everywhere there is to go in Belgium.
The book is broken down into ten chapters, each of which tends to focus around a different group of places, or a different facet of life, whether it be bureaucracy, cycling, architecture, or the murderous Leopold II. There are some carefully selected black and white photos in the middle of the book, each wittily captioned, although to get some of the jokes, you will have needed to have read the book beforehand.
The book takes a look into the Belgian psyche, the institutional figures, the traditions, their general outlook, modesty and general way of life, in a way that you would not usually expect to hear from a foreigner. Pearson has obviously got very close to the Belgians, rather than casting askance glances across tables in cafés and trying to overly prey on their smalltalk.
As well as discussing trivialities, Pearson cleverly juxtaposes a trip to a museum filled with the spoils of Leopold's "Conquest" of the Congo, with an insight into one of the most evil rulers of the modern world, and a trip to the Museum of Wallonian life, to go into Wallonian militants, and how they forced the abdication of Leopold III in 1950, after his Nazi sympathising. This then allows Pearson to cover the issue of the day in 1990, when Belgium temporarily became a republic when King Baudouin didn't want to sign an abortion bill.
The insight into this book is incredible, but it still remains a lighthearted read, with politics interspersed with pleasure, and travel with torment, with biographies of some of Belgium's most famous sons. If you are about to go on holiday to Belgium, don't be offput by this book too much, but take it as lighthearted reading. It is a great book...
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