New words, crazy sex parties and cheap champagne. It’s a mad, mad world. We’re tired of all the COVID-19 restrictions and horrified by the rising death toll. Belgian borders are completely closed, and we can’t even go to another Schengen country! (That’s the area of 26 European countries where passport and border controls were abolished in 1985.) But there have been some interesting and quirky developments. Here’s some of the news from Belgium.

Knuffelcontact was the Flemish word of the year.

Word of the Year

In Flanders, “knuffelcontact” was voted the 2020 word of the year. “Knuffel” is the Dutch word for hug. With lockdown restrictions, we’re allowed to have just one close contact or “hug buddy.” The word has taken on a life of its own. “Covidiot” ranked as the second most popular word. And I think we ALL know someone who fits that word. “Hoestschaamte,” ranked third. It means feeling ashamed or sheepish about coughing.

For the French-speaking community, “deconfinement” was the word of the year. It is the gradual relaxation of lockdown rules. We’ve seen that here, sometimes dashed by a return to lockdown when another wave of coronavirus hits. As in Flemish, “covidiot” was the second most popular word. “Coronapero” ranked third.

I learned a new word during the pandemic: “hamstering.” It’s the term locals use for hoarding. Like our neighbors across the pond, we found supermarket shelves quickly emptied of essentials. For a few weeks, toilet paper, disinfectant and hand sanitizer were in such high demand that it was practically a celebratory event when we managed to find some. Seriously, how many rolls of toilet paper do you really need?

A few enterprising Belgian companies came up with novel solutions to hand sanitizer shortages. A Belgian brewery hopped on the opportunity (pardon the pun) to pursue a new income stream. AB InBev, the company that produces Stella Artois beer, and the sugar refinery of Tienen manufactured 1 million litres of sanitizing gel.

One Potato, Two Potato

With restaurants closed and events cancelled, there was a sudden glut of potatoes. Who knew? Potatoes are a staple here in Belgium. Fewer frites meant that Belgium’s potato producers experienced a sharp decline in potato sales.

Christmas and New Year’s gatherings were a big no-no. Single people are allowed to have only one visitor. But on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, you could have two visitors, but only on ONE of the two days.  I wonder if Santa counted. There were no romantic Valentine’s Day dinners. It was cook-at-home or take-out.

Big Fines For Bad Behavior

Still, some people just don’t get it. HELLO! We’re having a pandemic here! Despite restrictions and warnings. Belgium’s College of Prosecutors-General reported an increase in fines for indiscretions. If you attended a lockdown party, your fine increased from the original €250 ($305) to €750 ($917). Organizers faced even harsher penalties as €750 tickets jumped to €4,000 ($4,890). Additionally, police can seize sound equipment and even cars of those attending illicit gatherings. The message is: stay home and don’t party with others. By mid-September, the Belgian government had collected €6 million in fines. I shudder to think what that number is now!

If only one Hungarian politician and his buddies had taken heed of that. Here’s a classic “oops” moment. A late November “gay” sex party in central Brussels made the headlines. When police arrived at the shindig, Jozsef Szajer was caught escaping by shimmying down a drain pipe. Gotcha! Fines of €250 were given to all the party attendees. You’ve got to laugh, though. Soon after, there was a temporary commemorative plaque mounted by Hungarians living in Brussels, as reported by The Brussels Times. It said: “The political career of Jozsef Szajer, MEP of Fidesz and the EPP, ended here when he tried to flee the authorities using this gutter after attending an illegal ecstasy fuelled orgy amid the COVID-19 pandemic on Friday 27th February 2020.“  Someone had a sense of humor about it. I think Szajer was not one of them.

The usual holiday fireworks were cancelled, too, to prevent crowds from gathering. The government declared a nationwide ban on the sale and use of fireworks. Many sulked over this regulation, but I have to admit my dog was very happy about it.

Faster Tests

Getting a driver’s license is a bit quicker during the pandemic. In Wallonia, the government has dropped the time alloted for a driving road test from 40 minutes to 35. It lets them schedule more driving exams and deal with the backlog of people awaiting a test.

With champagne sales down, prices dropped.

Bubble Break

The 2020/2021 holiday season saw few gatherings and virtually no parties. So, lucky us, champagne prices dropped dramatically. Many producers had two-for-one sales. It was a great time to stock up on bubbles. The cupboards are filled, and we’re ready to pop a few corks when this madness ends.

And to make the lockdown even more painful, we had a record cold snap in February. But it was followed by record-breaking spring heat. This week, our temperatures neared 70 degrees with sunny skies! It’s a good reminder that better days are coming.