It is just over 3months since I packed up my life in Paris and decided to move here, so for this month's 15-for-15 post, I've decided to talk about Brussels; the good, the bad and the downright strange.
On my walk to work
One of our many Tuesday meeting snacks
Snow glorious snow!
The Bizarre (to me)
Children drinking coffee. The Nigerian/British/Parisian "bush geh" that I am, was shocked the first time I saw this happening, but it's apparently quite normal here. I was like is this a good idea for some of our already hyper children? My colleague just looked at me as if I was weird and started to pour out the coffee...still not convinced about this though.
Kisses: I am British and we do NOT do kisses, so Paris was already enough of a culture-shock, but I had to recalibrate again my brain when I moved here. The first thing that surprised me was the men (cheek)kissing each other! In Paris, this only happened in woman/woman or man/woman duos. And the fact that Belgians give one kiss instead the Parisian two has almost put me in (as Ibibiogirl says) a hot of pot ogbono soup a few times. So many awkward situations have resulted from this, such almost lip-kisses (with colleagues and my boss!) and my cheek hanging out in the air as I waited for the second kiss!
Even the hospitals in Brussels have 3 different funding systems! My hospital for instance is completely francophone and was funded by the French community which is now trying to force us to choose the bilingual funders (from the capital, Brussels). This would in theory be a good thing as it means we'll have more resources, but the trouble with being funded by them is that we will have to become completely bilingual; accept Flemish children, re-write all our stuff and get bilingual staff. However, the law also says each person has the right to choose what language to live/work etc in....so freaking complicated and pointless for an outsider looking in.
A few weeks ago, I myself experienced the animosity that exists between the Flemish and French communities, when I called the Flemish university in my good deeds post. The guy on the phone refused to speak French even though I could tell he understood me! In the end I asked if we could speak English and it was only then that he started responding.
Snow, and so much of it! Coming from Gravesend where it hardly ever snows, Brussels is a welcome change because I really really love snow and the way it makes the world look. Luckily for me, my work which is only a 20minute bus-ride from my flat seems to be in a particularly snow-prone and beautiful area of Brussels.
Learning new Belgian words and using French in a different way. Now I say things such as "gai" and "chouette" which sound very informal and almost childish to my Parisian ears. I'm also learning to say "GSM" instead of "portable" (mobile phone), and "à tantôt" instead of "à tout-à-l'heure" (see you later). The funniest thing though is the fact that the Belgians say "je sais" (I know) instead of "je peux" (I can). So for example, instead of saying "tu peux me donner..." (can you give me...), they say "tu sais me donner..." (do you know how to give me...). In the beginning I wondered why they seemed to spend so much time asking me if I knew how to do even the tiniest things! Luckily a colleague explained it to me, and I realised it's really just like Yoruba where we sometimes replace the verb "to be able to", with the verb "to know" e.g. "mi o mo bi wo se'n je ijekuje" (I don't know how to eat rubbish), to mean I don't (can't) eat rubbish. Yeah, Brussels is making me into an amateur linguist ;) On top of this, the fact that everything is both in French and Dutch is helping me learn Dutch and by extension German by osmosis.
Work. I am learning a lot about psychoanalysis! There is a different school of thought in France where psychoanalysis is being discouraged but here in Belgium, it is neither encouraged nor discouraged, although they say that there are no scientific bases for it. However at my hospital, it is very important and in fact our whole philosophy is based on psycho- analysis and therapy, so I'm having to learn very quickly. Luckily we have regular seminars, meetings and training days.
I also love the family setting at work, for instance, at Xmas there were presents for children and adults alike, the children are well cared for and the staff go out of their way (bringing/buying stuff for the kids, looking up info on their days off, etc). We have lots of parties and are always celebrating something, for example, they celebrated my first day there with wine/cider/champagne...I was like what manner of place is this?! The management also trust staff noting their own hours, and they feed us loads! Eating at work is encouraged, and I sometimes have breakfast, lunch and sometimes even dinner there. This really helps me with budgeting and saving.
It is hard-work, working with the kids physically and often-times emotionally too, but I love the job and I can see why no one seems to leave the hospital (one of my colleagues has been here for 30years!)