I’m not a great bar-drinker. Sitting for 2 hours sipping beer and battling with other people’s noise and possibly piped music is not my idea of fun. But since it was the last woodworking class before the Easter holidays, I joined the others down into a cellar not far from the city centre, where there is good beer on tap.
As the bar filled up later, I was struck by the profile of the drinkers. 90% male, the vast majority in the 25-35 age group, relatively well-heeled (the beer was not cheap), and almost entirely white European (their age cohort in Brussels is at most 70% white).
No, the body language told me that this was not a gay bar.
This is the age group which forty years ago (when I was their age) would mostly have been at home putting the first children to bed. Or which twenty years ago would have sought out female company.
Rather what we had here was a large group of men, in the key breeding age-group, who in their free time seem happiest in their own company, well away from the other sex.
While I hesitate to generalize, I start to put together the following story: this is an age group which has been brought up in a mixed-sex environment ever since they started nursery school (age 2 ½ in Belgium), including right through adolescence. General sexual mores and ready contraception will mean that they started their sex lives at an average age of 17. Most of them will be working in mixed office environments where they are in competition with very competent women. Compulsory conscription – a major binging-into-manhood exercise - went 20 years ago.
I am far from convinced that this is an environment which breeds either proper manhood, and its extension, good fatherhood. No wonder the Muslim population is heading for 40% in Belgium.