The Belgians, like other continentals, quiz in a somewhat different context to we Brits – they do not have the same ‘Pub culture’ that we do, and so their opportunities for quizzing are not the same as ours. I wanted to see how this affected the way they quiz. I learned there was much to applaud in how they quiz, and much to learn about how events are staged and run and how questions are presented. I’m not saying they necessarily do it better than us in all respects (I’ll let folk make their own minds up according to their preferences) but it is refreshingly different, and I found it to be very, very enjoyable!
It will assist if I set out some more of the background to quizzing in the Flemish parts of Belgium (the French-speaking parts of that country may or may not have their own way of doing things - my experience and this article only applies to Flanders).
As I said, our Belgian counterparts do not have our somewhat unique pub culture and so they do not have the same opportunities as we enjoy for ‘informal’ pub quizzes and pub quiz leagues - which is probably the principal form of quizzing enjoyed by 90%+ of British quizzers. Instead they have a network of quiz teams and groups who each stage a quiz-night from time to time. There are some 540 teams participating in the rankings with about 700 quizzes ranked last year for VQR purposes. These quizzes may be held in a church parochial club (as was my experience in Bruges), a basketball club, a school, or a village hall or community centre.
Via networking, the internet, and advertising at other events, groups publicise their evening and gather teams to compete. Quizzes might be held on any night of the week, throughout the year, but the weekend quizzes tend to draw the biggest audiences.
Quizzes are typically table-quiz events, with teams of five players, played over several rounds. Picture-sheets are much in evidence (on this, see more later) and questions are much longer than we are used to in the UK. We tend to be used to pithy, short and snappy questions whereas a Belgian question is typically of paragraph proportions. This means there is often knowledge to be acquired during a quiz as well as knowledge to be regurgitated. It also makes for a longer quiz.
The quiz I attended in Bruges began at 8pm and did not conclude till midnight. Teams had travelled to the event from as far away as Antwerp, some 90 minutes by car (as with the Andes Survivors) and in all some 24 teams took part. I was assured this was by no means a big quiz. One event recently drew in excess of 90 teams! I explained to my hosts that these numbers could rarely be matched in the UK simply because people have so many quizzes ‘on their doorsteps’, so to speak. In the village where I live there is a quiz on in one pub or other every night of the week save Saturday, some nights there is a choice, and that is without having regard to half a dozen active quiz leagues operating within a 30 minute car journey.
On the 13th December I was very fortunate to be welcomed by the Andes Survivors (named after the Uruguayan Rugby team who fed themselves on dead teammates after a plane crash in the 1970s) who let me participate in their company. There should have been five of us but illness left us a player short. However, my three team-mates were as good as four, as well as being thoroughly pleasant and generous individuals. Besides myself, our team comprised Steven de Ceuster, founder of the VQR (already mentioned), Lars (now an active member of this site) who is a wiz on music and films, and Eddie who is skilled in the all important 'Dirty Knowledge' of TV soaps etc.. Eddie was in fact still flush from a TV appearance a couple of days earlier in which he'd been seen winning several thousand Euros!
Another feature of Belgian quizzes is that the question can often be very difficult. The Flemish Quiz Rankings, the nearest thing Belgium has to a national quiz federation – devised and maintained by Steven de Ceuster – designates events (usually) into categories, A, B, C, or D, according to difficulty. Then, according to scores etc. teams earn ranking points. Exceptionally, a quiz might be so hard it is designated AA, as was the case with the quiz I attended last week. Here we finished as the team in 7th place, scoring 50% of the points available, while fully one fifth of the teams taking part struggled to score 20%! Your average Quizzing.co.uk event sees even the back-markers pushing through the 50% barrier.
There is certainly a lot of thought put into Belgian quiz questions. And while I had then benefit of three team-mates who all spoke excellent English, I was favoured also by the fact many of the questions tend towards Hollywood and international sporting events (Britain and British subjects, literature, words and geography etc. appear popular also).
As I said earlier, pictures are very much in evidence, and not just for straightforward questions such as “Who is the guy in picture x?”.
In one of the ten rounds we were all given a sheet with 10 or so pictures of famous people. We were told to establish the forenames of each since the answer to every question in the round would incorporate one or other of these (no particular order was revealed though).
Example: one of the images was a picture of the US President Lyndon B Johnson. During the course of the round we were played a snippet from Handel’s ‘Sarabande’ and asked which film soundtrack it was used on. We pieced the two together to correctly identify Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Barry Lyndon’ as the answer.
In another round we were given a sheet of images including branded products, everyday items, fruit & vegetables etc.. Here each image was a clue to the answer to one or other of the round’s questions (again, in no particular order). Well, one of the images was of a gentleman’s safety razor and this matched-up easily enough with a question about England’s World Cup Winning Rugby Union kicker Jonny Wilkinson. Another question though concerned ‘the most dangerous street in the world’, as distinguished by the number of suicide bombers attacking establishments in this Jerusalem thoroughfare! We were asked the name of this street. We narrowed the choice down (from the pictures) to ‘Raddish Street’ or ‘Orange Street’; we correctly then discerned the correct answer was actually ‘Jaffa Street’!
The top table, question master and markers etc..
Another feature of the quiz worth noting is the system of entry fees and prizes. The quiz I attended in Bruges charged 15 Euros per team (about Ł10), with up to 5 persons per team. In addition, the organisers might take a cut of the refreshments (Bruges saw a group of hard-working waiters flying between teams with food and drink orders - all at very reasonable prices - and with well over 100 people in the room for 5 or 6 hours this may have garnered some substantial sum for the hosts). Anyway, there was no cash prize for the winners, although everyone taking part, and I mean everyone, got a prize.
What the Belgians do is to have a ‘prize table’. On this is to be found books, more books, videos, DVD’s, household goods, and all manner of items. Many of these are shop-bought, some re-cycled, others perhaps donated. Whatever, at the end of the night, and as each team’s final score is announced (highest first) all the competitors are invited up to the table to each select one item each to take home. As I said earlier, we finished in 7th place and on our trip to the prize table we garnered three quality books (Steven chose a book on Roman literature for his wife, who would have played but for the flu), Eddie chose a coffee-table book on classic cars, Lars chose something concerning natural history and I acquired a set of 8 Michelin-quality touring-maps of France. That’s what I call a result.
There are many other things I could recount but I think its sufficient for now to conclude by stating how friendly and good humoured the whole thing was. I should also say that, despite any other differences in style, presentation, format, language etc. I can say with confidence quizzers are just the same in Belgium. They react to dodgy questions/answers with the same howls of derision you hear in the UK, display the same body language when quizzing (especially the congratulatory pointing when acknowledging a team-mate's contribution when their answer turns out to be correct), and find it extremely difficult to break off conversations and finally exit the building after the finish of the event. We quizziers are all so different and yet all so exactly the same!