After two months having an expat status in Belgium and at the same time I’m going for my 3rd year here, these are the list of things from my love and hate relationship with this tiny wonderful country.
Belgium has 3 official languages; Dutch, German and French.
But the most complicated thing about it is that most legal papers are only in Dutch or French (or German) based on the region where you live. For the past 2 years I’ve been living in Flanders (which is the Flemish speaking part) with no knowledge of Dutch/Flemish at all. The paper from legal taxation, medical statement and everything is in Dutch. Letters from city hall, paperwork that you have to fill in are all in Dutch.
Even when I looked for some information about taking Dutch course from the language school in the area, they put all the information in Flemish. Yessss… I know I do need the language course :((
But the nicest thing living in the Flemish area is that people would like to talk to you in English. When they hear you don’t speak Flemish in the proper accent or they see you have difficulties in speaking Flemish, they wouldn’t mind to change the conversation to English. Even though I lived in small town in Hasselt for two years, I can survive with English for going to the market or ordering food in the restaurant.
This situation is a bit different when you go to the Wallonia. The people there more persist to speak French. Once I traveled with a friend to Liege and we asked for bus direction in the tourism center office in English and the lady insisted to reply us in French. Whaaaattt?!?!
Just because a train/bus is scheduled to arrive, doesn’t mean it will.
Welcome to the day to day frustration that you have to face when you live in Belgium and depend heavily on public transportation. The bus schedule is there, but sometimes they just don’t come. Even though the situation is less severe than in Indonesia (of course), but when you have to commute 50 minutes to work (like I do now), it somehow becomes part of your daily frustration. Sometimes they are leaving 2 minutes earlier than the schedule or sometimes coming more than 5 minutes later than the schedule.
In this year, at least I have felt 4 strikes on train slash bus. Clap… clap… clap… Apparently money comes easily in this country *sigh*.
Belgians are very nosy people, but also very private… Hm, confused? I am…
It’s known that when a Belgian ask you how are you, you should just reply them with ‘how are you’ as well. No story, no drama, nothing… They don’t really like you to pet their dog on the street. They will look at you as if you’ve just escaped from a mental ward if you try to have a small talk on the train.
But don’t worry, there is always the elder people who will always greet you nicely on the street, on the train with a gentle smile for a small conversation (that unfortunately I couldn’t keep it going since I don’t speak much Flemish *shame on you, DeaR!*)
When you have over than 800 different kinds of beer, you (by force) become a beer person.
Ooooh yeah, who doesn’t know the infamous Belgian beer such as Duvel, Westmalle, Leffe, and many more? I came to Belgium not as a beer person (even though I am still not) but somehow it changes your drinking behavior. Going out to grab a beer is part of social life and you can always have good beer anytime, anywhere, available in all different type of it. Fruit beer, brown beer, dark beer… Name it!
But please be aware! Once you drink Belgian beer, you will hardly find beer anywhere else in this world as good as theirs! Take it with your own risk!
Cash? What cash?
I am out of habit now to bring cash anywhere I go. No matter where you go, or how small amount of money that you have to pay, you can almost always pay it with your debit card. In Indonesia, if I want to pay a dish or going to mini market to get something in less than IDR 5,000 and ask them if I could pay with debit card, they will kill me in the eyes. But not here.
Card reader is readily available to you as soon as you open your bank account. So, bye bye credit caaarrrdddd!!! *waving*
People bike everywhere
Belgians are very fit people! Seriously, I’m impressed. They would be very surprise if you tell them that you don’t have bike. You can find various ages of people – no matter what season is – on the street and biking. It hurts me deeply when I biked and a grandma passed me by with her bike 😥
Other than biking, the people also really like running. Even if it’s dark, cold, and raining. May the force be with you…
The opening hours of every single business will be vastly different from anything you’ve ever experienced.
I come from Jakarta where the city lives for 24 hours a day! You are hungry in the middle of the night? Just waive your hand and a food seller will come to your place with warm foods. But not here… It looks like no one in Belgium knows what shift work is. At 6 pm, everyone leaves at the same time. Everyone! Yes, maybe they think a single-working-people like me do not need grocery after work. (Who does?!) And don’t forget, they are close as well on Sunday.
Welcome to the future, where anything can come from a vending machine.
You name it, and they do have it! Bread, lasagna, condoms, soft drinks, snacks, hamburgers, sunglasses, toothpaste, tampons…
Hold your seal!
Going to toilet will cost you a fortune in Belgium. Normally you have to pay between 40-70 cents to use toilet in public area (even in the cinema). Sometimes you just couldn’t make sense of it when you have bought a ticket for a movie and still have to pay 40 cents to use their toilet.
You can be rich (very hardly).
Belgians pay some of the highest tax rates in the world! Around 40% of your gross earnings will go to tax. Taxation represents 45.6% of the country’s GDP. Sometimes I wish I could ask my company to just show me the net salary rather than the gross one 😥
Until today, I’m still learning all the interesting facts about Belgium everyday. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s frustrating. But, still I love this small little amazing country where they joke that you will arrive in different country as soon as you start your car engine 🙂