A couple of months ago, I was asked to fill in a questionnaire by Expatica, the website that has already published a couple of my blog entries. Every now and again they feature an expat and attach his/her answers online.
Far be it from me to have given them the dull, bland, inoffensive answers they were probably hoping for. And so they never published my responses. Swines. Therefore, for your own enjoyment, you can now see what they missed out on:
1.What was your first impression of Belgium?
That I was in France.
2. What do you think of the food?
A bit samey. Streak, frites, mussels. Not enough variety, and certainly not enough vegetarian options (I’m not one, but like vegetarian food). Then again, I think only Britain caters well for vegetarians in Europe. The desserts are great though. I do love my Crepe Mikado. But the coffee is dreadful, pretty much everywhere. Cream on everything! Belgians need to spend time in Italy and Spain to learn how to make a good coffee.
3. What do you think of the shopping in Belgium?
Better in Flanders in my experience. Find more of the kind of shops you’d get in England. Not much of it in Mons, but that’s not really a problem for me.
4. What do you appreciate about living in Belgium?
The pace of life. The general friendliness about people, the civility towards one another. The lack of a ‘yob culture.’ I also think Belgians have a very similar sense of humour to the English: very self-deprecating. I also like being in such close proximity to the rest of Europe. A 2 or 3 hour train hour journey and you could be in one of four different countries. Britain is so cut off from the rest of Europe, both physically and metaphorically.
5. What do you find most frustrating about living in Belgium?
It’s one big out of control bureaucracy. I have to say, at times, I think I feel like I’ve gone back in time. My feelings in Wallonia are very different to my views in Flanders. Wallonia is a region that feels like it’s stuck in the 1970s. What’s frustrating though overall? The fact that the arguments over whether Belgium should split are almost irrelevant. Belgium may as well already be two separate countries. A trip to Flanders and then Wallonia will highlight the enormous differences.
6. What puzzles you about Belgium and what do you miss since you’ve moved here?
Again, as I’ve said above. The political situation is fascinating if you love politics (which I do), but an absolute scandal for ordinary Belgians. The current crop of politicians are not fit for purpose. None of them.
Also, Belgians seem very polite and respectful, until they get behind the wheel of a car!! They’re crazy, dangerous drivers. All of them!
I miss certain types of food that I can’t really get in Belgium: Indian food (it’s just not the same here), good fish and chips, different flavour crisps (that aren’t paprika), being able to listen to live sports commentary from the UK. Being able to understand and take part in general day to day humour. My French isn’t good enough for this yet, although it’s getting there.
7. How does the quality of life in Belgium compare to the quality of life in other countries that you’ve lived in?
Have only lived in England. I think people in Wallonia seem happier than in England. Less obsessed with material things, buy less, want less, and don’t need as much. Belgians in general know how to enjoy themselves. Without the need to get totally drunk to do it. Life in England (whilst I love the country) isn’t always very relaxing.
8. If you could change anything about Belgium, what would it be?
Force every child from the age of zero to learn French and Dutch. Force both communities to mix, talk to each other, get to know each other. Just have one parliament. Failing all this, split the country up!
9. What advice would you give to a newcomer?
Don’t get annoyed when things take ages to get done. They’re not going to change, you have to. Enjoy the festivals, and for godsake, learn some French.
There was a 10th question but it was optional and asked if I wanted to add 'anything else,' which I didn't.