Like many expats, Brussels was not a choice of love but one of reason. I came here for work. I had tried first to find a job in which I would combine my passions for Europe and for politics in Amsterdam, a city I fell madly in love with at first sight. But there was no job for me there. I tried in Paris too but it also turned out unsuccessful. I didn’t want to work in the Euro-bubble of Brussels because I thought Europe should be everywhere. Being surrounded by people who live and breathe Europe didn’t seem to be the best way to give a push forward to Europe and be its advocate. I wanted to spread the word to the world. I wanted to share my love for Europe with people who wouldn’t have a clear idea of what it consists in. But I also wanted to live from this passion. That’s how I ended up in Brussels. I’ve been here for six years now.
At first, Brussels drove me crazy. Nothing worked. The general mess exasperated me. But little by little, I found those little flaws endearing and funny. I like this chaos now because it’s always surprising. When Parisians visit me in my lovely Brussels and I see them getting upset à la parisienne at the malfunctioning of the city, it makes me smile. I tell them then: “welcome to Brussels”, with a big smile on my face, tell them not to be bothered, to relax, and to cheer and enjoy. Brussels is surreal. It’s part of its charm.
A beauty to discover
After a year and a half, I understood I was here to stay. I had explored the city. Even if it didn’t have the stunning beauty of Paris or the simple beauty of Amsterdam, it was beautiful too. Brussels’s beauty is full of flaws and surprises. For who knows how to look, Brussels contains a flock of hidden treasures. For example, on a sunny day, you look up and notice this gorgeous little art nouveau house, which you’ve passed by every day but never paid attention to.
I like the capital-village aspect of Brussels. Human-sized capital, Brussels has the best of both worlds: big enough so as never to be bored but small enough not to feel dehumanised by the anonymity of big cities. When I go out in Brussels, I always meet people I know, but not too many –that would be smothering- just enough to feel warm.
During a single night in Brussels, I can use the four languages I speak, a delight for language lovers. And being able to make plans on how to save the world around a beer with Greeks, Brits, Spanish, Italians, Poles, and Germans, is one of the most beautiful adventures one can experience. It happens to me every day.
Brussels and I had been living together for three years when one day it stroke me. It was a beautiful day and I told myself that I liked this city more and more. Since then, I often get this feeling. I look up, notice a lovely little detail that I had so far ignored, I take a deep breath of humid air, and tell her: Brussels, every day that goes by I love you more and more.
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I’ve been quite silent on this blog in the past two months… This is because I’ve moved from one commune of Brussels, Etterbeek, to another commune of Brussels, Ixelles. In Paris the town’s districts have numbers; in Brussels they have names. Where it gets complicated is that there is a Brussels commune called Brussels. It’s Brussels, Brussels, the oldest district of the city. It’s tiny. All around it, the communes have different names. I am now a proud inhabitant of Ixelles, Brussels, where you can find some of the most beautiful Art Nouveau buildings.
Finding a place in Brussels is not that difficult … but a move is a BIG DEAL. You’ve got to find boxes, kind friends to carry them, a moving van, a driver, sign all kinds of paper at the bank, cancel your Internet subscription – which took me half an hour over the phone, find a new Internet provider – it took me a month to get the connection active, terminate your current renting agreement, clean up the mess that’s kept on growing in your old place for years, buy furniture, assemble your furniture, tell the various organisations and institutions that still like to send you post mail that you’ve moved, go register at your new commune, etc, etc, etc… as my favourite online cartoon Hyperbole and a Half put it, you kind of feel like that every day for two months: “I did three things yesterday! Now I’m supposed to keep doing things? It’s like the things never end!”
To make a long story short, I’ve been busy preparing my move for a month, and I’ve been Internet-less since then. Tough for a blogger. The good news is: I should finally get the Internet tomorrow. Hurrayyy!
There were lots of familiar faces at the Butterfly Europe event this afternoon.
When you are an EU geek -by that I mean a person who is both active in EU affairs and in social media- you tend to attend any single event that talks about both. And as social media is the “it” subject in the EU bubble at the moment, there have been many of these events in Brussels in the past months. So when you are an EU geek, you tend to always see the same people around, be it online or offline. As Antonia and a few of us EU geeks put it today on Twitter, at the Butterfly Europe event, the usual suspects were attending and some of them were speakers too. We are indeed a bubble inside the bubble. No surprise there: the EU bubble is already small enough that the group of people in this bubble who are also passionate about social media is inevitably smaller.
Amongst the EU geeks usual suspects who attended Butterfly Europe, there was a shared impression that the discussions turned around in circles, and that somehow, any event we go to talks about the same things amongst the same people. Being of optimistic nature, I look at things in a different way.
First, if we get the impression that nothing new is said in the social media events we go to, well that’s actually a good sign for us on a personal level. It means we know our stuff! As early adopters of social media in the EU bubble, we are and always will be ahead of others who are only starting to develop an interest in it.
Then, of course the usual suspects were there. We know each other, appreciate each other and naturally gather and chat when we are at these kind of events. Here comes the bubble effect… but gladly, there were also plenty of new people at this event, let their tweeting commence!Tags: EU Bubble, EU Geeks
I was born and raised in Paris. I speak Paris slang called “verlan”, which consists of putting word syllables upside down. I have a Parisian accent. I swear and grumble a lot. I am an intellectual; I can talk about politics and films all night long. I could find my way in the underground blindfolded. Yet I have trouble doing so outside. I am a feminine feminist. I’ve never really gotten rid of my bad smoking habit. In short, I am a true Parisian, genuine produce of the city of lights.
As any Parisian, I have a love and hate relationship with my city. I left when I was 22 because I couldn’t take it anymore. Paris was too much for me. Now every time I come back I feel like a tourist in my own city. The beauty of it amazes me.
I live in Brussels in the expat community. When you meet someone there, the first question you are asked is always: “Where do you come from?” I used to respond: “from France.” But as this answer is always followed by “Where in France?” now I’m taking a short cut and respond directly to the first question: “From Paris.” The mention of Paris always has the same effect on the person I’m talking to. Shiny stars appear in their eyes and they ask me filled with wonder: “Don’t you miss it? Paris is such a great city!” With a typical “been there, done that” Parisian look on my face I usually say: “No. Actually I’m not really fond of Paris”. And each time, it makes me feel as if I was telling a child that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.
But I’ve evolved over the years. There are things I love about Paris and things I dislike. So I thought I would make a list.
Things I love about Paris:
- Shops that open late
- Butcher’s shops, bakeries and cheese sellers at every street corner
- The old Parisians known as “titis parisiens”
- The markets you find every 5 minute-walk
- Food is a religion
- Asian restaurants that are both good and cheap
- Waiters. I know they have a bad reputation. But they don’t behave the same with tourists as they do with Parisians. Being a waiter in Paris is more than a job; it’s a career. Their professionalism always astounds me. Besides they always make funny jokes. I love them.
- Parisian waiters calling me Mademoiselle
- Politico-philosophical discussions until the end of the night
- The city’s harmony, the beauty of its architecture, illuminations
- Cultural diversity
- Department stores’ windows at Christmas time (see video below)
- Public bikes
- The Eiffel tower by day
- The Eiffel tower by night
Things I dislike about Paris:
- The snobbery of some Parisians who think Paris is the best city in the world although they have never lived in another city
- How very French every conversation is, the ignorance of anything that takes place outside of Paris, be it in the rest of France or in the rest of the world
- Sky-high housing costs
- The underground. I don’t know why but it seems it’s always pick hour in the Parisian underground.
- Hours lost commuting
- Cars and their constant traffic
- The underlying violence in the air. As soon as I get out of the Thalys at Gare du Nord I can feel it. It’s ineffable. Something is in the air. People are frustrated and unhappy. As a woman I don’t feel safe walking around on my own at night in Paris.
- Going out is expensive. I remember a night out in a trendy club a few years ago. Entrance was 12 Euros. Nothing outrageous. Then I ordered two bottles of Heineken: 14 Euros. Ouch. In these conditions, what do young Parisians do to have fun? They throw dinners and parties in their own apartments. As a result, they only meet people like them and Parisians function in tribes.
- The noise, the shops at every building, the crowd, the lights everywhere. Too much of it all.
But I like Paris. I even like the Parisians. Yet sometimes I dislike Paris… and especially the Parisians. A friend sent me a test on Facebook: “Test your relationship with Paris. Paris and you, where do you stand? According to the test, it’s perfect love between Paris and me. Who would have thought?
Here’s a piece of Paris wonders, the animated Christmas windows of the most emblematic Parisian department stores:Tags: Brussels
Do you know a girl? Yes? Good.
Does she have plans for Saturday? No? Great.
Is she bored? Even better!
Imagine learning how to launch a rocket by a real astronaut, working together with an architect to design your dream home, programming a robot to walk down the school halls, using physics to play pool and ride a rollercoaster, understanding how the body works, playing with the chemistry in make-up, manufacturing new fashion designs… Fun isn’t it?
On Saturday 20 November at the International School of Brussels, 300 girls will spend an entire day esploring science and technology in fun and exciting ways. On that day, Greenlight for girls -an NGO with the mission to encourage young girls of all ages to consider a future in math, science, engineering and technology- will host its inaugural ‘Science Day’ event with a full complement of free, hands-on science and technology workshops, for girls aged 11 to 15, led by outstanding women in their fields, and some very exceptional men.Tags: Girls, Science
They’ve become impossible to ignore. Bright yellow bikes have invaded Brussels. They are called Villo!, which is a smart contraction of the words ville (city) and vélo (bike). Public bikes have existed for years here but until a few months ago, there were still very few stations available. But as the map below shows, this has changed drastically! The Villo! website tells me there are now Villo! stations every 450 meters in the central communes of Brussels. That’s right, not every 449 or 451 meters, but every 450 meters. You got to love the precision of this figure.
Here is what the city currently looks like:
Clearly, Villo! stations are everywhere. And if there is still none around your place, don’t worry as that will change soon. Villo! stations are currently spreading like wild mushrooms.
This year the subscription is for free so why do without? Click on the image on the right to order your Villo! pass online. Hold two weeks patiently and the Villo! pass will be delivered directly in your mailbox. Then go to a station, put your pass on the terminal. That will unlock a bike. Take the bike. Cycle gently until you find the closest station to your destination. Return the bike. Now if you’ve managed to do all that in 30 minutes, your ride was for free! If it takes you longer, the extra half an hour is 50 cents. Almost nothing.
I think Villo! is great. I have my own bike, which I use every day to go to work. But from time to time, when I go out right after work, I let my bike at my office’s car park because I don’t want to burden myself with it. Then later on to go back home or the day after to go to work, I take a Villo! The Villo! bikes are even of better quality than my own, although it is brand new. For instance, there are 7 speeds on a Villo!, only 5 on my personal bike.
There’s just one hiccup. It seems the production of Villo! bikes has not followed the same rate as that of Villo! stations. Here’s an example, Friday morning, 09:05 at Mérode:
30 terminals but not a single Villo! available. Unfortunately, empty stations are still very common.
There is a way to avoid to go to a station full of enthusiasm only to find it empty: you can check the Villo! website to see whether bikes are available at the stations around you. However, as far as I know, there is no BlackBerry application. There is a Wap application for mobile phones. I’ve tried it on my BlackBerry but I can’t get it to work. It seems there is an iPhone application. I don’t know whether that one is working.
So there are still improvements to make but it’s really worth ordering your Villo! pass and using it from time to time. Cycling gives you a whole other experience of the city. But be careful, the streets of Brussels are still rather dangerous for cyclists.
My daily journey to work makes me pass by two billboards that I can’t help but notice.
In each case, we see women almost completely naked -not completely, of course, as that would be truly shocking, sic- in situations where one is usally not naked: biking on one hand, walking in an urban environment on the other hand.
As there is really no reason for these women to be naked in such circumstances, I can’t help but wonder: why are they naked, actually? Probably because it catches attention… I guess. That might be naive of me but I can’t help but wonder: why is it that advertisers still think that showing super photo-shopped abnormally skinny naked women will actually make women want to buy a product? Is it true what some say that there is no such thing as bad publicity? Or is this simply the result of a lack of creativity?