WHEN JOHAN VANDE LANOTTE, Belgium's Vice Prime Minister, goes to the toilets today, he finds the urinals in the offices of his ministry decorated with stickers. They show an American flag and the head of George W. Bush. "Go ahead. Piss on me," the caption says. Vande Lanotte is one of Bush's hosts in Brussels. Is peeing on your guest's head appropriate? In Belgium it is. After all, Brussels' best known statue is that of "Manneken Pis," a peeing boy.Ugh. Would you like to be the rabid Bush-hater who has to press down that sticker on the bottom of the urinal? It doesn't sound like a very sanitary task. Yuck.
The piss stickers, specially made to be used in urinals, can be seen these days in the public toilets of Belgian schools, youth clubs, and pubs. They were designed by Laurent Winnock, president of the Young Socialists, the youth branch of Vande Lanotte's Socialist party. Winnock did his creative work during his office hours, which would not be worth mentioning if Winnock did not work in the offices of Vice Prime Minister Vande Lanotte, as one of his press spokesmen.
Last Friday, Belgian television asked Robert "Steve" Stevaert, the Socialist party leader, what he thought of the stickers. It had not been his idea, he stressed, but he refused to distance himself from it. He hardly could, seeing as the stickers can be ordered for free through the party's official website
But Bush should not feel too bad. There is a tradition of another famous American in Europe finding his likeness in such a distasteful unlikely place.
Benjamin Franklin's experience while ambassador to France is quite instructive in this regard. Shortly after his arrival in France in 1776, Franklin's likeness began to appear "on medallions, snuffboxes, rings, clocks, vases, handkerchiefs, and pocket knives." Louis XVI found this iconization of Franklin so excessive that he presented one of Franklin's devoted female admirers with a "chamber pot adorned with [Franklin's] picture."