blindé Titus

Something has changed for me since the latest terror attacks. Something subtle, yet disturbing. It’s as if the shock and horror of so many innocent lives lost has diminished a notch, as if somehow this has become the new normal.

Paris. Brussels. Nice. Orlando. Manchester. London.

Yet how can we accept terrorism as the status quo?

The same way the world has grown immune to stories about the migrants drowned at sea. Just as America accepts the hundreds of lives lost each day to guns – ten of which are children. And not so different from our increasing immunity to the latest lunacy of its president. It is becoming harder to separate the tragic from the comic.

Perhaps we have become blindé.

Like the armoured vehicle shown here, known in French as ‘un blindé’, we have toughened our exterior. I read that this model, called Titus, was being tested in Paris to transport security forces following the attacks at the Bataclan. It is tough but moves quickly, and can safely carry 13 men and wounded under fire.

It is not uncommon to see heavy artillery on the streets of Paris.

When I first came to France in 1986, Paris was the midst of a wave of terrorism. A bomb went off in a popular store called Tati on Rue de Rennes, killing seven people and injuring 50. Suddenly there were machine gun-toting military and army tanks on the streets. I was frightened and perplexed. Were we at war?

I learned that for the French it is vital to have a show of force at such times, to see that the government is doing something to maintain order — whether to control student riots, to bring an end to massive strikes and demonstrations, or to protect the people from acts of terror. While I was terrified to see so much visible weaponry, most people found the police presence reassuring.

Yet, how can you protect anyone on the street from a maniac behind the wheel of a van? From someone with a hammer or a knife who takes another by surprise? You can’t, of course, and that is why we must grow tougher. Learn to live with the threat. Keep calm and carry on.

Not immune. Not blasé. But tougher none the less.

‘Se blinder’ means to become used to a threat, to toughen up, thicken one’s skin. It also means to go on a bender, to get rip-roaring drunk.

In a weird way that makes sense. Either way, we are feeling less pain.

So what will it be: get tougher or get drunk?

Do you feel you have become ‘blindé’?

Humour Belge

Humour BelgeBelgians are to the French what Newfies are to Canadians. The butt of many a joke.

The French find the so-called Belgian accent (which is actually the Brussels accent) funny. They find the fact that ‘frites’ (which are not French but Belgian) are the national symbol of their neighbour, funny.

There is just something the French find funny about Belgians. So they make fun of the fries, the flat country, the ‘thick’ people.

The Belgians, while they may not entirely appreciate such jokes, take them with a particular brand of irony and self-deprecating pride.

Some have made a career of la blague Belge. Many popular artists, entertainers and on-air personalities in France are Belgian, including the cartoonist Philippe Geluck, who explains the phenomenon of Belgian humour (in French) here.

And then there is Megan, a YouTube star whose video following Tuesday’s terror attacks has gone viral. Here it is (also in French):

For the non-French speakers, she is saying: “Seriously? You expect that this will keep us down? You really think that the ones who invented the waffle and the frite, the land of chocolate and beer, will not be back out on the streets again tomorrow? Really?)

It doesn’t feel right to laugh or make fun following the unspeakable loss of innocent life. Not In New York, or London, or Paris. But perhaps, after all, it is the right thing in Brussels.