I have previously asserted that there is nothing derogatory in comparing something to the size of Belgium (or any other country). However yesterday’s opinion piece in The Guardian makes this surprising claim …
Seen from China or India, the difference between the UK and Belgium is a rounding error: 0.87% of world population versus 0.15%. But this is not at all how Britain sees itself – consider the popular derogatory expression “a country the size of Belgium”
The author does not provide any supporting examples of derogatory use and although there may be some examples, the majority of comparisons with the size of Belgium relate to either:
a measure of area
an exaggerative simile such as “I woke this morning with a hangover the size of Belgium”.
Only a few days after my previous post, here is someone else who has “malsized” Belgium by 50%.
Canadian politician Arthur Green made an election speech, in the political district called Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon Riding in British Columbia. The district is 21,000 sq km, while Belgium is 50% larger at 30,000 sq km.
Nevertheless, Mr Green ignored the more accurate choices of Israel or El Salvador as his measurement.
Green described the riding as the “size of Belgium,” but pointed out that 86 per cent of the constituents reside in Mission and Matsqui, and that is where he would primarily be focused.
Authors sometimes choose Belgium as a comparison even when it is the wrong size by a large margin. Is this a genuine miscalculation? Or laziness?
This example from the London Evening Standard mentions the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve in Peru — which the author claims is “an area the size of Belgium”.
The Pacaya Samiria National Reserve is 20,800 sq km. Belgium is another 50% larger at 30,500 sq km. In fact there are more than 20 countries the author could have chosen which are a closer match than Belgium. Israel or Slovenia would be the best comparisons. Perhaps the author intended to type Belize (23,000 sq km) but typed Belgium by mistake.
“water erodes 970 million tonnes of soil every year in the EU. This would mean a one metre-depth loss of soil from an area corresponding to the size of the city of Berlin, or a one centimetre loss from an area twice the size of Belgium. “
So, if 1 centimetre of soil covering 2 x Belgium weighs 970 million tonnes then the weight of Belgium (the top centimetre only!) is 485 million tonnes.
Actually the JRC figures don’t quite add up as they imply that Belgium is 50 times the size of Berlin. Belgium is 30,524 sq km, whereas Berlin is 892 sq km so the ratio is not 50:1 but 34:1. This means that 1 meter of soil over Berlin would in fact cover three times the size of Belgium, not twice the size (assuming 1cm depth of soil).
First, it’s worth reminding ourselves what 5 per cent GDP growth – let’s call it the “worst case” scenario growth rate – would mean for a country of China’s size. According to the IMF, China’s GDP in 2014 was $10.3 trillion. That means 5 per cent growth in 2015 would add around $520bn to its economy. That’s the equivalent of adding a country the size of Belgium to the global economy in a single year.