As you know, I have recently dove into Belgian culture headfirst,and, I have been shocked to say the least. Feel free to read my initial thoughts on Belgium in part one of our Belgian Culture Shock list. As a Canadian – buying that one way ticket to Belgium was exciting and I knew I was in for quite a few surprises.
Rent a Cart
It’s so strange to me that you have to put coins in a cart slot to use a cart at the grocery store. In Canada, you just use the cart and they trust you’ll put it back.
Automatic cars are surprisingly hard to come by. For those of us who like automatic cars – it’s a huge bummer. I am sure I can learn how to drive standard, I just don’t want to.
In Canada, when you buy something for 5 dollars, you generally leave some wiggle room knowing the taxes will be added to that. In Belgium, 5 dollars means 5 dollars the tax is included in that price. And yet, things are not more expensive here. It’s fantastic!
Our trusty Kleenex tissues are no match for a balled up, crusty cloth in your pocket. (sorry/not sorry for publisizing my personal hatred for this very European custom)
Drinking in Public
Officially – it’s illegal to drink alcohol in public spaces, but it’s very common to see people wandering in a park or on the beach with a can of beer.
Red Lights In Every City
As North Americans usually think of Amterdam as the place with the infamous “red light district” – every big city in Belgium has it’s own red light district.
Salut, Hallo, Bonjour
It’s very common to switch languages throughout a conversation – for example, a lot of Belgians will use both the Dutch “Dank je” and the French “Merci” to say thank you.
Closed for the Holidays…in the Middle of Summer
It’s very common for shops, restaurants and stores to close for a few weeks for summer holiday. Though I’m a huge fan of this, because holidays during the gorgeous summer weather seems like a great idea – it’s a little frustrating trying to find places that are open during these weeks.
Usually in late July-early August, most construction or government workers are given 2-3 weeks holiday – and many other occupations follow suit and take their holidays at the same time.
‘Tis the season, I guess.
Merry Christmas….3 Weeks Before Actual Christmas.
Speaking of seasons – Christmas time proved some shocking differences as well.
The strangest concept to me when I first arrived here, was the Christmas time spirit. Christmas doesn’t seem to have the same sentimental value here in Belgium as it does in my native Canada – and even more surprising is that Christmas isn’t just celebrated on Christmas day.
December 6th marks Sinterklaas, where people recieve gifts from “Sinterklaas and his little helper Pete”, which is what most children associate with Christmas time joy.
Cyclist of ALL Ages.
I know I mentioned this in part one – but there are cyclists EVERYWHERE. I suppose it’s great for the environment, but there are SO many people biking everywhere.
I’m 23 and I HATE biking – and I watch elderly people (some seeming as old as 80) bike past my house everyday. It blows my mind.
Who’s Cat is This?!
As previously mentioned in part 2, pets are a bit different here as well. It is ridiculous, the amount of stray or shared cats here. It’s normal to see a few cats on the side of the road, ducking into the bushes as you drive by.
And it’s totally normal for one family’s cat to go from house to house – gathering food and love wherever they go.
WHY ISN’T THIS A THING IN CANADA!?
Card readers are a (totally awesome) invention that allow you to use your debit card the way you would use your credit card. This is handy for a lot of Belgian people, because a lot of people don’t like to have/don’t have credit cards.
Using a card-reader is easy – choose to pay online with your card reader, enter your pin into the reader and follow the instructions.
Buy and Renovate, I repeat, BUY AND RENOVATE
A shocking amount of people purchase unfinished houses to renovate them.
A shocking amount of finished houses are re-renovated every time they fall into new hands.
From what I’ve seen, it’s rare to just purhcase a home and move in straight away without making any changes.
I don’t know if I’ve just been cheese-ignorant my whole life – but I never knew there were so many different kinds of cheese! Belgian’s love their cheese…it goes well with the sandwiches.