Saturday, June 19, 2010

Hagel Slag

This post is long overdue. I can't believe I haven't written about Hagel Slag before now! (I think I overlooked it because I already introduced all my friends in L.A. to it when I was back there visiting a couple of months ago.)

Hagel Slag is what's known in the U.S. as chocolate sprinkles--the kind you buy in small quantities (if you bake) to put on cupcakes, or maybe ice cream sundaes. You can also find them on donuts. Usually they're used as a decoration, a finishing touch, if you will.

Well, Belgians have found a much larger gustatory purpose for the lowly chocolate sprinkle. Here, it's sold in large boxes (400-500 g) and used as a topping for bread or a sandwich filling, usually for breakfast. ("Hagel slag" means hail storm. Go figure.)

What you do is you take a slice of bread (or a roll) and spread it with butter, and then load it up with a solid layer of sprinkles. VoilĂ ! Breakfast is served--or maybe lunch. You and I might call this "crazy" but I know at least one American who thinks it's "genius." A Belgian, of course, thinks it's normal.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Elections tomorrow

Tomorrow is election day in Belgium and everyone I know will go to the polls. That's because voting is mandatory here, and has been since 1892. Belgium has the oldest compulsory voting system in the world.

By law, you must enter the polling booth, but since the act of voting is still private and confidential, you don't have to mark a ballot.

After an election, a list of non-attendees is sent to the public prosecutor. Penalties for non-participation without a good excuse (like being in the hospital or out of the country) range from a small fine for a first offense to losing your right to vote for 10 years.

And unlike the U.S., which holds elections on a weekday, Belgium has elections on a Sunday morning when people aren't at work. (Very few businesses are open on Sundays here, and I bet even those are closed tomorrow.)

I did a little research online and found that voter turnout in Belgium is regularly over 90%, unsurprisingly, compared to U.S. voter turnout, which has hovered around 50% (during presidential election years) in recent decades but rose in 2008 to 68%.

You may have heard that Belgium's coalition government collapsed back in April, which is why they're having elections now. At stake is the future of the 200-year-old marriage between Dutch-speaking Flanders and Francophone Wallonia.

The AP has a good summary of the issues and major players in tomorrow's election. I'm not eligible to vote here yet, but I plan to go to the polls and observe the voting process.