Ten years ago I had a discussion with an Irish "free-marketeer" type - you know, the ones who are all socialists now? He predicted that Belgium would soon be bankrupt.
This, I might add, was the sort of person who thought Michael McDowell and Charlie McCreevy were economic geniuses.
He wasn't alone back then of course, with media commentators from all Irish outlets eulogising the pair and their decades-late brand of Reaganomics-for-beginners.
Back then, of course, the Irish - or at least a disproportionate number of them, from postpeople to the likes of the Quinn family - were movers-and-shakers, cut-and-thrusters, and go-getting property investors.
You know, the kind of people who made Ireland bankrupt?
A recent visit to Belgium prompted me to think of this... and whatever Belgium's economic difficulties, it certainly seemed to be functioning and wasn't joining the ranks of the EU's bailout nations. Its capital's transport system consists of bus, tram and an underground network. Its healthcare is truly excellent. Its roads are pretty good.
Downsides? Well, the bi-lingual nature of the country is a bureaucratic and administrative nightmare (it is officially tri-lingual, including German-speaking parts close to the eastern border) but at least that is real and genuine rather than imagined and engineered as in Ireland... more on that next week.
Then there are the Madame PeePees. Even if you spend a couple of hundred euro in a Belgian department store, and three pairs of jeans will see to that, you'll have to part with another 50c to the lady that minds the toilet if your bladder demands it. Madame PeePees are as much a part of Belgium as Riverdance and failed would-be property tycoons are in Ireland.
I suppose every country has its piss-takers.
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