Let me be the first to say that Belgium is (for the most part) a beautiful, awesome country to live in. Like anywhere else, it has it’s problems – but I love the life we’ve built here. I like Belgians (again, for the most part) and this post is to be taken with that proverbial grain of salt. This is an expat making some jokes and ranting about Belgium culture shock, and things that don’t actually really matter.
Over the last few years, I’ve written posts on Belgium Culture Shock (part one, two and three). I’ve learned to cope with/love a lot of these things – but even after 3 years there are just some things I STILL don’t quite understand about Belgium or Belgians.
- The fact that almost everything closes at lunch time.
I am all for the “work to support the things I actually love to do” outlook of Europe in general but I find myself getting more and more frustrated with things being closed at lunch time. Or even worse, for whole days of the week. How does anyone get their shopping done? SERIOUSLY – you need an hour and a half for lunch and there is no other possible person who could work while you eat?
- The amount of bread people tend to eat.
I like bread as much as the next man – if the next man isn’t a Belgian who eats 5 full sandwiches a day.
- The no air conditioning thing.
I have been told this is a fairly European thing – to not have/use air conditioning in your home. Forgive my spoiled Canadian ways but I would gladly pay the 80-some-odd dollars a month to not boil like a potato in my own home when it’s 35 degrees out.
- The screen to window ratio.
I’ve been told these mythical screens do exist in other peoples’ homes – although no one I know in Belgium has screens in their windows. Those who do – you’re doing it right and my mosquito-bitten body envies you.
- The appearance thing.
I understand that everyone wants to be liked. I understand that everyone would like to be thought of in a certain positive light. BUT – Belgians seem to care about this quite a bit more than anyone else I know. A lot of people I know (who just happen to be Belgian) are really into appearances from their house, to their garden, to their clothes. If you’re doing something that someone else might find silly or strange, the neighbours in your small town will surely all be gossiping about you. (Seriously, you would think I was being sarcastic but most of the time in small towns that is what happens…)
- The weather.
What even are seasons? Who knows?…Not anyone living in Belgium.
- The prejudice (or at the very least, resistance) towards “foreigners”.
I will never quite understand how to “win” with (most) Belgians. If I speak English, they look down on me for not trying. When I try to speak Dutch, they frown upon my mediocre Dutch skills. There is just no winning if you’re a foreigner. Trying to speak with someone at an interim agency in Antwerp when you can’t yet speak Dutch is impossible – they don’t even give you the time of day. Heaven forbid you be a visual minority or foreigner – because then everyone people make it fairly obvious that you “don’t belong” and things get even more difficult. ((I understand this is something that happens in every country and I also understand that not every Belgian is like this. I am just speaking from personal experience and the experiences I’ve heard from fellow expats in Belgium)).
- Why some “J”s are pronounced as “Y”s and some aren’t.
Is there some sort of rule as to why the name Jules is pronounces J-ules but the name Jelle is pronounced as Yelle?
- How people are almost offended or are at least annoyed by different dialects of the same language.
I will never understand how someone from our small town of Retie can have a problem with how someone from Antwerp speaks. Apparently the dialects are super different (I don’t hear it!) IT’S THE SAME LANGUAGE, and I’m sorry if this sounds like stereotypical foreigner but you all sound the same to me.
- The biking.
I absolutely HATE biking. My mother taught me that hate is a strong word and we shouldn’t use it for things we just dislike – but I can say that I more than dislike biking. It’s uncomfortable – my butt hurts, my legs are sore and bugs are flying in my face. I’d rather walk – but for some reason on my walks I am literally being passed by 60 something year old ladies and 11 year old kids biking their 10km to school in the morning. Why does everyone here love biking so much? Are you insane?
- The nosy-ness.
I swear I am not trying to stereotype but so many Belgian people have an issue with boundaries. I have witnessed this in my personal life and heard it from many other expats, so I know I’m not just being biased here. Whether it’s going through someone elses’ mail and thinking that’s okay, watching your neighbours out of your window and speculating what they may be doing or as simple as asking personal questions all the time – Belgians just need to know things about other people that I myself really don’t feel the need to know. Why do you care what your neighbour is doing at 4 in the afternoon – how does that concern you?
- The chocolate…where does it come from and how is it so heavenly?
…And you thought I had only negative things to say about this place! My goodness – the amount of new kinds of chocolates I have discovered…I don’t even understand how their can be so many different chocolatiers with so many different flavours and kinds. It’s heaven.
- The need to be right. And the general refusal to acknowledge someone else might also be right.
I’m not sure if this is just the small town we live in (or my boyfriend and his family just being stubborn), but I seriously think Belgians can/will argue like they are a 6 year old on a playground. Most of the time, if someone is arguing with me and I know they aren’t going to see it my way I just say “okay” and go on with my life. Because it’s not that important and I don’t feel the need to make people believe in or see things exactly the same way I do. I don’t believe Belgian’s understand this concept and I am fairly certain they will argue with you until you give up (even if you’re right and they know it). It’s not a sin to be wrong sometimes, guys!