Belgian Culture Shock; Part One

I love living in this country, it’s become home to me and there are a ton of positives about moving to Belgium – but there are also a lot of changes I’ve had to make and things I’ve had to get used to.
 

 

Sandwiches

For the love of all things wheat.

Belgian’s LOVE their sandwiches. 

I’m talking anywhere from 3-7 sandwiches per day here…

 

Store Hours

Although I’m a huge fan of the “life before work” outlook here, finding a store that’s open on a Sunday or Monday morning is difficult!

Government agencies are the hardest, because they are usually only open 20-30 hours per week and often during normal work hours (closing before 5pm).

 

One “Hot Cooked Meal”

Generally (in most families) they stick to the “one hot meal a day” schedule. Generally dinner on weeknights and lunch on weekends, most other meals have some variation of bread.

 

Saving Hydro & Water Costs…Or Whatever.

Heating only one area of the house (usually the living room/dining room) is really common, leaving the bedrooms fairly cold – or in my case, hiding-under-2lbs-of-blankets-with-a-hot-water-bottle-and-a-snuggie cold.

Men also generally urinate outside whenever possible.

So that’s good for water costs…I guess?

 

Soups On!

Coming from a family where soup is for when you’re sick in bed or too lazy to make anything else – having fresh, delicious soup before every (cooked) meal is something I can definitely get used to!

 

Pets

While outdoor cats are a very common sight here, the community often bands together to take care of them. They are like time-share cats, really. 

There are also a lot of uncommon animals kept as pets, but in really humane ways.

Deers, Emu, Llamas and Alpacas are all common farm pets, and they’re usually kept together in a very large pasture. As weird as it is to see a deer as a pet, I actually love how happy and calm they are.

 

 

Less Travel

When North Americans think of Europe, we think of backpacking, train riding and travelling all across Europe in a matter of months.

Realistically, most Belgians don’t travel that often.

 

More Saving

It’s common for Belgian’s to have a good amount of savings – spending their money only when needed and not “splurging” like we’re used to in our North American culture.

This has done wonders for me, a previous shopping addict and terrible saver. Since moving to Belgium in 2013 I’ve paid off my mastercard completely and started 2 seperate savings accounts. 

 

 

Beer and Wine at 16

Beer and wine are legal to drink when 16, and for other hard liquors the age of consumption is 18.
Beer is often sold in corner stores and gas stations.

 

All Aboard…Maybe. Actually, probably not.

The amount of public transportation strikes in Belgium is insane!

Public transportation (trains mostly) are definitely not very reliable, as there could be strikes every week or month lasting a few days.

 

NEWSFLASH!

Nothing has changed since the last news report 3 hours ago.

News is a very big part of Belgian society, and while I like keeping up with the times, I don’t feel the need to watch the news more than once a day.

 

 

Cycling Everywhere!

Riding your bike is definitely a great way to meet people and fit in here in Belgium. Not only is Europe more into cycling as a sport, but there are a lot more cyclists here in Belgium than in North American areas. 

Honestly, as a Canadian who lived in the country for most of my life – I stopped riding my bike at 16 when I got my drivers license. 

 

 

 

Pride

Belgian pride is one of the few in the world that can compare to that stereotypical “American pride.” 

Any celebrity, any famous person or any good thing that’s ever happened in Belgium – you’ll know about it because almost every Belgian you meet will bring it up.

 

 

Fries

You put mayonaise on fries? Ew. Wait. This is. OMG THIS TASTES AMAZING. 

The photo has already made me crave it.

 

 

Traffic Jams

There is no traffic jam quite like the Belgian traffic jam.

11,787 square miles – this country is packed with almost 11 million people. With only few main highways getting you to the big cities – it’s a certainty you will be stuck in some pretty bad traffic jams.

 

Shoes On?

While it’s a common thing around the world to wear slippers inside your own house to fight the cold, it’s a really common thing in Belgium to wear your shoes inside other people’s houses.

In other places (like North America) this custom would seem strange and even rude at times, as your shoes would dirty the floors of the home.

 

Waffles

Waffles for breakfast treat once and a while is normal in North American culture. Waffles for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner are the norm in Belgium, though.

Incorporating the Belgian signature into your meals is a fairly common thing. 

 

 

Living in the Past…

While Belgium is known for it’s old architecture and amazingly preserved battlefields and war museums – there are certain aspects of living in the past that aren’t exactly awesome. Unchanged roads that are way too small are the biggest downfall in the area we live in.

Often times when a car is coming from the opposite direction, we have to pull onto the grass or into someone’s driveway to allow them to pass.

While I’m all for preserving the past, some things just need to be updated. 

 

 

 

Bombarded…Literally.

Last year when we were living in Antwerp, news broke that there was an old war bomb found a block or so away from our apartment.

While I was watching the news of them digging it up in awe and shock, K just casually said “yeah, that happens sometimes here. it’s probably not active..”

This was both really interesting and slightly terrifying.

 

 

CloseKnit Families

While I love my family, once I turned 19 and moved off to college – I became a lot more independent. Grocery shopping for myself, (attempting to) pay my own bills, do my own laundry, etc. Now, at 23, I’ve had years of practice living independently and doing my own thing.
In Belgium (like a lot of other European countries like Italy) it’s really common for people (especially men) to live with their parents until the age of 25-28. 

While living at home, most of the time the mother of the house attends to the laundry, the cooking and the cleaning.

 

 

School and Home

Often people move away for school, you actually MOVE AWAY on your own. You live on your own in an apartment,with some room-mates in a town house or on your school’s campus. That’s really not the case in Belgium.

It’s very common to live with your parents while you’re attending college or university. Even when you do have an apartment in the city of your school, most students return to their family homes every chance they get.

 

Ice Cream Wagons

The first time the Ice Cream truck drove past our house I basically reverted back to a 5 year old. Every day (in the summer) at 5pm I know that magical music will start to play and that kid inside me will awaken.
This ridiculously awesome trend has not gone out of style here and, while I’m sitting here eating my berry yogurt in my pajamas – I’m really happy about that.

 

Chocolate

The self explanatory obsession with Belgian chocolate commences the second you land on Belgian soil. Literally, you walk out of your terminal at Zaventem (Brussels) airport and are greeting with Neuhus, Godiva and Cote D’or stores. 
Never in my whole life would I have imagined that chocolate would be this important to me.

 

 

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2 Replies to “Belgian Culture Shock; Part One

  1. Oooh, I miss my sandwiches, soup before my meal and definitely the fries 🙂 Yes, a good waffle and the chocolate is also something I crave. Have you already tried the ‘Americain Prepare’? Everytime I visit my friends and family in Belgium, it’s the first thing I buy when I arrive: een broodje americain prepare 🙂

    You’re right, Belgian don’t tend to travel that much. While I find so many other long term travelers on the internet, I’m one of the odd Belgians who is traveling for independent time 🙂

    The strikes, you’ve noticed it. I once couldn’t even visit Belgium because there was a strike in the airport 🙂

    The reason why students are not moving out while they studying is because the university or college is so close to their homes. Why pay for a studio if you can save the money while living at home? 🙂

    It’s so funny to read about my ‘normal’ customs while for someone else it looks like a culture shock. That’s the interesting part of traveling: learning about the differences in cultures. I hope you enjoy Belgium! Give Manneke Pis a hug from me 🙂

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