Our most commented on series of posts have been about what it’s been like to transition from Canada to Belgium and all the strange changes that have come with that. (You can find part one here, and part two here.)
Before I dive into the 3rd of this series, I wanted to say for the record; Belgium is my home now and I am so, so happy here.
I have lived here on and off for 2 years and absolutely adore it.
Being a Canadian farmers daughter, I will obviously always love Canada and it will always have my heart because my family lives there.
Belgium is where K and I have settled (for now) and we have begun to build our lives together – and that’s only a part of why I love it. Belgium is a historic, beautiful and fascinating place to live.
So, that being said…here is the much anticipated part 3 of Belgian culture shocks. More of the good, the bad and the totally strange;
Paying for The Toilet
My friend and I discovered this annoying custom while in Oostende at the beach – and have since complained about it multiple times while wandering around in Antwerp.
Public restrooms here in Belgium usually need anywhere from 20-50 cents (some places even 1 euro!) to use them.
“Holding it” is apparently bad for your health, so take my advice – have some change on you at all times!
Something that has made me giggle since the first day I moved here is the very old custom of answering the telephone with your name.
Belgian’s always answer the telephone with some version of;
I understand identifying yourself if you called them, or if you’re in a professional setting = but if you’re home on a Tuesday night and your cell phone rings, why do you need to identify yourself when you pick it up?
I’ve mentioned something like this before in post 2 – but the pride I’m talking about here is the pride for the national Belgian soccer team the Red Devils. If there’s a game tonight, you can expect the pubs to be filled with hoards of roaring fans with big colured afros, loud toys and a lot of beer. It’s definitely an exciting environment to walk into – keeping that energy high as you drink with some friends is the best way to enjoy the game.
Lunchtime – let’s all leave.
I’ve mentioned something similar to this in part one – but today I’m venting about the ridiculous notion of everyone leaving to have lunch at the same time, forcing stores to close.
Has no one ever heard of shift work here?!
It’s bloody annoying when you have 30 minutes for lunch and want to run to the store, but can’t because there isn’t one open.
Life doesn’t stop because you want to eat a sandwich, people.
A Bug’s Life
Although I’ve been told that not all houses have this custom, a lot of the homes I’ve been to (ours included) have no screens in the windows.
So during the summer months, it’s either die of heat stroke in our non-air conditioned house or be eaten alive by bugs. It’s like a terrible game of “how would you like to die this summer?”
Adorable Neighbourhood Pets
(finally, a positive one! I do love this country, I swear…)
We have a little hedgehog that runs about in our garden and it’s the best thing ever. The neighbourhood is also home to many fuzzy felines that hop from home to home. Pets (of any kind) are just very respected here, which is so refreshing!
Too Much Curiosity
Not to blanket all Belgian’s into this stereotype, because I’m sure not everyone is the same – but most Belgians I have met are quite nosy about other people’s lives.
We pass a kid biking on the street and for the next 3 minutes K is talking about where he might be going and what he might be doing tonight. It’s even worse when something is on the news…because then it’s all anyone can talk about for the next 3 days.
And Yet, Weirdly Private
For being such a curious people, Belgians are also super secluded and conservative…maybe that’s WHY everyone is so nosy? From the tall hedges around most homes, to the closed off persona most give off on a train – striking up a conversation with a Belgian you just met can be really difficult.
The hedges. They are taking over.
The amount of work that goes into hedges every year. Trimming, shaping, re-trimming, growing…it’s just a lot of effort when you could just as easily put up a fence and get the same effect.
Belgian Family Dynamic
This was brought up in the very first post, but I’ve noticed something a little different now. This is not meant to be a stereotype and I mean no offense by it – but Belgian mothers seem to be very…overbearing. It’s very common in Belgian families, for the mother to take care of the laundry, cooking and cleaning – even when the children are well grown and perhaps, even living on their own. This means that 25 year old men moving on their own for the first time don’t seem to know anything about cooking, cleaning or how to start a washing machine – because those things have always been done for them by their mother. Being the girlfriend to one of those men definitely has it’s struggles.
This is a concept that vexes me to this day. K rolls his eyes at me every time I ask if what we’re eating needs to be on the “heibluft” or “micro” setting.
Is it a microwave or an oven? I guess it’s both?
I will never understand how an oven can be the SIZE of a microwave.
How do you cook Thanksgiving turkey in a tiny oven like that?! You don’t.
Sometimes I can’t really understand how historic and meaningful this place is until I visit somewhere really old and preserved. I’ve stood in actual trenches from the great war. I’ve walked through churches that were build CENTURIES ago. As someone who isn’t from Europe – it’s really humbling and mind-blowing to be in the midst of all of this history.
Second Chance Exams
It is so strange to me that if you fail an exam in university, you can just take it again in a few months. It’s SO strange. In Canada (like a lot of other places) if you fail the final exam you fail the course and have to re-take it. Belgian students will never actually know the stress of failing a final, because it’s not actually a FINAL.
The Cost of Post-Secondary Education
For people who live here in Belgium, university/college fees might seem steep – but coming from Canada where I needed a 25 thousand dollar loan for 2 years of college, paying 700 euro tuition for one year really doesn’t seem that bad.
Respect for Your Elders
I’m not saying Canadians/Americans don’t share a love for their grandparents – but I myself am guilty of only visiting my grandparents maybe once a month. From visiting a few times a week to popping over to mow their lawn or trim their hedges – Belgian’s are just very respectful of their elderly people – and that’s really refreshing to see.
Don’t swear off beer until you’ve been to Belgium. All my life I had LOATHED the taste of beer, until one night K took me to a bar near our apartment that had 350 different kinds. I definitely found a few I like – because there were THREE HUNDRED AND FIFTY to choose from.
This one goes for Europe in general – but as a Canadian, it’s SO strange to just casually drive into the Netherlands or France. This whole “no borders” thing is awesome!