Our man in Brussels

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BrusselsI thought I’d share some personal observations and impressions about living in Brussels. But first, let me make myself clear that I’m only talking about the city and people of Brussels, not Belgium as a whole. I believe Brussels is like Paris in that it’s like a small country within a country. It seems to be quite different than the rest of Belgium.

When I say people in Brussels, I mean people living in Brussels. This includes both the local people and people coming from various countries.

Brussels is like onion, full of surprises. Its beauty is not always apparent and visible, but if you find it, you’ll be rewarded. Many people are actually surprised when I say I like Brussels a lot. I think these people are not curious enough, or they’re just looking for something else.

Positive remarks

  • Many people in Brussels are nice, relaxed and open-minded (I should add when they’re not driving!). Sometimes they can be a bit formal, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. When you talk to them, they’re very helpful and hospitable.
  • Brussels is a city of culture and festivals — especially in the summer. Many of these happenings are free.
  • Central location in Europe: it’s easy to travel to international destinations.
  • Lots of international organisations. This brings about a lot of work possibilities — and lots of qualified candidates too.
  • History, art, architecture. Brussels, the capital of Art Nouveau, still has some 1200 Art Nouveau buildings. You can have a drink at the same bar where René Magritte used to go, but what’s largely missing here is modern architecture.
  • Three official languages. This makes Belgium open to influences. The existence of linguistic barrier is not always appreciated in Belgium, but I think it’s good for any country to have more than one official language.
  • Belgian beers, chocolate, and fries are admittedly the best in the world.
  • Excellent restaurants, offering good value for money, serving local and international cuisines. However, the choice is not as good if you’re vegetarian.
  • Good accommodation rates and possibilities. Just walk in the area you would like to live in and look out for signs posted on the buildings.
  • Belgium has no clear identity. It’s easier to settle down in a place where everyone else is a foreigner too. But why is this good? Because people in Brussels recognise the fact that life is colourful and that there’s not only one truth.

Questionable things

  • Climate. According to wikitravel.org, the weather is rainy, humid, and cloudy. It rains here more than in the UK. Do I need to say more?
  • Hegemony of cars. Many people tell me if you have a car you feel free. I disagree. I feel free when I’m walking or cycling. Driving habits are so bad here that I’m wondering how many people driving a car in Brussels actually have a driving licence.
  • Most pedestrians don’t give way to you (even if they see you), not even in railway stations where most people are in a hurry. On Saturday afternoons, don’t even think about walking on Rue Neuve. The idea of “keeping to the right” is not heard of in Brussels.
  • It is very difficult to find information on the web. If you do a search in French, you get results from France, and if you search in Dutch, you get results from the Netherlands. Search in English, and you go to pages in all over the world.

Selected oddities

I’ll pick out some things I find particularly peculiar. First of all, many people in Brussels love their car. They love it so much that they spend hours inside it, in their private bubble, every day. In fact (dare I say this?), it’s their second home. You can be sure to find at least one person in his/her car in every block, eating, sleaping, reading, waiting and what not. In addition to this, they spend hours in traffic jam, trying to find a parking place. I understand many people come to work to Brussels from outside the city centre, but I also know people who think they need a car even for a short distance. I’m happy that I don’t have a car. Public transportation system is good so there’s no need for one, for me.

Someone has said bureaucracy is the art of making the possible impossible. Now, in Belgium they take this quite seriously. It’s no coincidence that websites such as kafka.be exist. It all depends who you speak to: one official says one thing and the next completely the opposite. You have to have a good sense of humour and some time on your hands. Information sharing doesn’t seem to belong to French culture. They don’t tell you if you don’t ask. But if you ask, they are happy to answer. It’s up to you to find the information, not to them.

If you read this far, it should be obvious that I love Brussels :-). Over to you, people.