Friday, 20 February 2015

Clara's Travel Tales: The Belgian Edition

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

 Grand Place

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!

The "Bad"

Belgium is a small trilingual/tri-cultural country which is deeply divided along linguistic and geographic (north-south) lines; the French speaking Walloon in the south, the Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north and the tiny German community to the east. Brussels being the capital of both Flanders and Belgium is in a weird position, since it's smack bang in the middle of Flanders and officially bilingual but in reality, French is the lingua franca here. This drives the Flemish community crazy, as everyone knows how important Brussels is to Belgium and even Europe. So they decided with lots of compromise, discussion etc. that the solution was to have 3 bus lines (one for Brussels and then one each for the French and Flemish communities), and different library networks, schools etc. You can imagine how confusing this can be for the newly arrived expat who learns that her bus/library pass works in certain places and not in others...I was so mad because this cost me so much money in the beginning.
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 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.

The Good 

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!)


  1. Interesting post about Belgium, many thanks for sharing! And hey first time on here, woop!

    1. Hey thanks for visiting, hope you enjoyed it.

      Have a lovely week!

  2. kids drinking coffee? That stuff taste so bitter without plenty creamer and sugar! Ha! This kissing-kissing thing, me no likey many person go kiss in a day fa? ahahaha...just look at the snow,, a Christmas card.

    1. You know! But apparently people can get used to it. I used to drink it black (only for the smell) with so much sugar, but since my new healthy lifestle thing, I now drink it with lots of milk but still no sugar. I guess they're used to it from childhood?

      And the kissing, so annoying when ppl are late and they still insist on kissing everyone before taking over the duty. I'm always like Mscheeeewwwwwww!

      Thanks for the compliment, and have a lovely week!

  3. Say what?! 30 Years?! OMG If that were me yeah, I would be 53 years by now :(.. I feel so old already **Cringes.. :( Turn up Turn up ladies and gentlemen, cause when it comes to Clara AKA my Egbon toh Sure, you just gotta love her. You see ehn Bubba, all of you that have gone to Obodo Onyibo used to suprise me baje baje oh! I mean when i read Your tales, You Ausserehl and to be precise, i am like what kind of life do they live beyond these shores?! and often times there is usually and Adrenaline surge through my pumping veins as i read through, indicating a desire to one day live the crazy seemingly scattered but yet arranged and organised life. Isorait.. Tomorrow will come **Shines teeth.. Echi di Ime. Now this post has helped me understand the **With all due respect the seeming accent confusion in your Angelic voice.. heheheh I mean how can 1 nation speak 3 DIFFICULT international languages?! Aha! Kilo happen Egbon?! Who died?!

    In other news.. So after you have enjoyed all the ghen ghen meals at the office yeah, you will still come home and be giving guy man like me that has Ojukokoro longer throat on Instagram ba?! Diarisgodooo :) lmao.. This was an exciting read as usual, and i just kept giggling at intervals.. This lines tickled me the most though: "German by osmosis" no be small Osmosis oh! lmao and and "my cheek hanging out in the air as I waited for the second kiss!" hehehehehehe to the later i can imagine your eyes closed and face outstretched waiting for the second side kiss on this cheek that will never come.. lmao.. Issoarait.. You Rock Egbon.. aswear.. You rock on all levels of coolnes.. and teh crowd goess Yyyeeeaaahh mehn. Cheers. xx

    1. Yes me too I can't understand it. my ajala lifestyle hasn't let me stay in any nursing job for more than 1year. But I can really see why they would stay, really the work environment is great!

      Abi nau I have to document for posterity, whenever I cook because it's not often, what with all the food from work. And I'm telling you Duru, almost planting a smacker on my boss from the kissing confusion was the most embarrassing thing ever!

      Have a fantastic week. x

  4. Toller Post! Ich habe den gut genossen. Lol @ children drinking coffee?! You can't convince me on that one either. I need the Belgians to take several seats on that one...

    I think it's so backwards to have three different ways of life as a compromise in a such a small countries. I could comprehend it in the USA (there are actually 50+ different ways of life; one language, but various dialects). That has to be frustrating....

    This sounds so amazing. I never really considered Belgium but I think I'm curious now.

    Gruß und Kuss,

    La Deutsche Diva — The Denglisch Blog

  5. What happened to my post?!?? It got eaten by the internets 😭😭😭😭


    La Deutsche Diva — The Denglisch Blog