Why Belgium arouses suspicion – and should an atheist say grace?

Worst of all, the name “Brussels” evokes, other than sprouts, the tyranny of the EU

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David Tang, entrepreneur and founder of ICorrect, offers advice on questions about property, interiors – and modern manners for globetrotters


As an atheist I’d be interested in your views on saying grace. On one hand, I’ve always considered letting a meal go cold to be the greatest disservice one can pay to the animal that died to make it and to the cook. On the other, I see there is value in reminding myself that I am lucky to have food and good friends to eat it with. Also, when my wife invites over friends from church should I adopt their gracing ways or they mine?

So let me get this right: you don’t believe in God, but you believe in being considerate to a dead animal and a cook? I must confess I find this slightly bizarre. In any event, any cooks worth their salt should be able to time their cooking to arrive after grace is said. But of course if you were to have plated food already on the table before you sit down, then you are beyond social redemption.

On the point of others wishing to exercise their convictions, you would do well to respect them in an open and tolerant society. After all, you would not mind taking your shoes off when visiting a mosque, or doing a hongi to a Maori? So why irk over a few seconds in which others might like to say grace? If friends of your wife were involved, all the more reason to be accommodating and score a few brownie points with her.


You have mentioned Belgian detective Hercule Poirot twice in the recent months. Though he wasn’t originally from Brussels, he reminds me of the city during the heydays of art nouveau, with fantastic architecture such as Stoclet Palace. As a seasoned traveller, you surely have been to Brussels. However, and despite its cultural gems, I fear you may have left as fast as you could.

I have always been suspicious about Belgium. OK, it produced Magritte, but he never made it to the big league. The country also produced Sax, who invented the saxophone, but it is hardly an indispensable instrument. There is, of course, Tin Tin, but he was fictional. But worst of all, the name “Brussels” evokes, other than sprouts, the tyranny of the EU, with its countless greedy and bureaucratic members savouring their lunches and dinners in Michelin-starred restaurants washed down with fine wines on expense accounts. This is a country of self-indulgence by foreigners and for the Belgians, I hesitate to think what happens beyond all of their net curtains. Its veneer of respectability gives me the creeps.

If I were to pass through this country, I would scarper with speed. Maybe the only point of interest is the site of the Battle of Waterloo where Bonaparte, who was already short, was cut down to an even smaller size. This geographical coincidence seems to be the greatest contribution Belgium has made to European peace.


What do you do if you were host at a dinner at which your guests start arguing with each other? Do you let them fight or do you intercede and try to make peace? Would you react differently if your guests were eminent people and you selfishly wished to hear them?

The best thing to do is allow your guests to carry on arguing. I always like some firm disagreements over the dinner table to liven up the food and beverage, or some interesting anecdotes, which, if told with proper embellishments, are far superior to jokes. I once had Freddie Ayer, the brilliant philosopher, and Roald Dahl, the great children’s writer, come for dinner. They both boasted about their squeezes like a game of call-my-bluff. To claim decisive victory, at least in quality, Dahl told a story about sleeping one night in the bunker of The Dorchester hotel, and how he saw Ernest Hemingway two beds away, separated by a woman in between them. Of course what Dahl recalled from that night might well have been one of his vintage “Tales of the Unexpected”. I simply couldn’t tell. Ayer, arguably the world’s most authoritative empiricist by virtue of his logical positivism, was naturally sceptical about Dahl’s anecdote. But for me, the two fossils bantering for the higher status of virility was faintly sad but also quaint. That’s the kind of dinner I like.


Is black tie for funerals?

Yes, if you mean wearing a tie that is black. But not “black tie” as an ensemble, which nowadays is regarded as formal wear, usually with ghastly bows already knotted, irregular lapels, dubious waistcoats and unacceptable colour handkerchiefs over the top pocket.

Email questions to david.tang@ft.com


Letter in response to this column:

Non sequitur / From Mr Dallas Reid

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