It is no secret that Brussels has a large population of expatriates – more commonly referred to as “expats.” Most of them end up in Brussels because of a job opportunity or they fell in love with a Belgian. Whatever the manner in which they come to Brussels, the common denominator is they typically come begrudgingly. Many learn to love the city, but there are still some things constantly reminding them that they aren’t in Kansas anymore.
What’s With the Weather?
It is completely normal to complain about the weather no matter where you travel, but it seems the weather in Belgium can be exceptionally unpredictable. The forecast says it is going to be sunny; not only will you not see a single ray of sunshine all day, but it will probably rain as well. It’s February, so you decide to layer up for the cold; you find yourself sweating by midday as you go out for lunch. The redeeming quality that makes this weather/temperature fiasco worth it is a glorious, sunny day. A beautiful day in Belgium makes you thankful to be here.
The first hurdle to overcome for expats is obtaining a Belgian visa. The process is extremely tedious and many hopefuls will need to redo the application – multiple times. That is only the beginning. There are a number of online forums trying to predict how long it could take to get a new identification card, driver’s license, marriage license, etc. My personal favorite is for construction permits with waiting periods ranging from four months to several years. Belgians seem to be used to the wait, while expats find it infuriating.
Landmines on the Sidewalk
Belgians all seem to have cute little dogs that they parade around on city sidewalks and in the parks. Those cute little dogs have cute little poop as well. Since it is the norm in most countries to clean up after your dog, expats are baffled by the nonchalance with which dog owners walk away from their pooch’s excretions. As you stroll down the streets of Brussels, you can see the marks left behind. Previous unfortunate walkers have already flattened many of the piles into the pavement, and you can only be thankful because that shoe wasn’t yours.
Belgium strictly regulates sale periods for shops, only allowing two per year – one in January and one in July. Many expats find this idea to be very perplexing because stores only have two opportunities to mark down their merchandise. Defenders of the practice say it keeps the smaller, local shops in business because they are not priced out of the market by larger, chain operations. However, Belgians seem to be faithful to their favourite neighborhood shops, and a reduction in prices at a larger shop may not make a difference in Belgian purchasing habits. Whatever the reason for keeping the practice alive, expats don’t seem to like it one bit.
One of the main commentaries from expats – especially American expats – is that Belgian shops don’t take credit cards. Yes, there are some that do, but that normally includes larger shops or chain stores. The situation that will forever stump expats is when a shop owner insists he or she doesn’t take credit cards, but the card machine is right in front of them. This issue speaks to the larger problem of customer service in Brussels. The laid-back atmosphere is fantastic 90% of the time, but when you need something done, it may take a while.