Culture shock is real. Let’s start with the fact that people are speaking different languages around you everywhere you go. As proof, Brussels is the 2nd most international city in the world. Typically you’ll hear French but Dutch is there too. I go through phases where this is charming and other phases where I want to scream at everyone to stop talking because the confusion of hearing something you don’t naturally understand and have to make sense of gives me a mega headache. At these times, I’ve learned to put on the headphones and let it pass. The elegance of French eventually woos me again.
What is great about living in such an international and diverse city is the people you’ll encounter. It never ceases to amaze me that I can have a steady conversation with someone in English and then marvel as they turn to their friend and speak in perfect French. It is strange to not be able to speak at least two or three languages, especially in Brussels given its international reputation.
As the hub of Europe, Brussels draws people from all over the world. The city is a melting pot, which makes it so easy to bump into someone who happens to be from America or even your hometown back in the states. Brussels is where you will be saying what a small world on the daily.
Looking around, hardly anyone is staring down at their phone. During meals, it’s a given that there will be no phones. The situation in the US is essentially reversed. It’s freeing to be less dependent on technology but also embarrassing realizing the cell phone addiction engulfing America.
With signs and stops expressed in Dutch and French, public transportation started as a fuzzy intimidating maze. Buses, trams, and the metro, oh my; and that’s all just for travel throughout the city. Add in the various railways and train lines to reach other cities and regions within Belgium and you’ve got a headache.
The trick to comfortably navigating these waters is to do it alone with no data on your phone.
Just kidding, but that’s where I was the other day testing out my hour commute to work. And luckily it was a test because I got crazy lost. It’s freeing to find your way by asking people though, especially if you sometimes have to do so in a different language. Who needs technology.
Also, I now have two phones. One cost me 20 euro and is my beautiful Belgian phone. The struggle is real using that phone, but it helps when trying to reach or meet up with people and wifi is not an option.
The process of getting this very retro phone was much more complicated than necessary and required trips to three different Orange stores (their version of an AT&T or Verizon). It turned out I was putting my SIM card in wrong, but no one knew what my problem was because probably no one had this issue before (duh) or because I was communicating it all mostly in English.
Another big difference from home is portion size. Each time I get ice cream or coffee especially, I think of how someone would react in the US. In order to get what’s considered a tall at Starbucks, you’d likely need to order the largest possible size here and even then it might not reach the height of our humble tall Starbucks cup.
But yes, the streets are incredibly narrow, cars don’t get much larger than a Prius, and most apartments and supermarkets are baby size compared to the US.
For an added fun yet random fact about Brussels, it’s not required and in fact not common to pick up after your dog. So naturally, dog poo is everywhere and stepping in it is actually considered good luck.