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.
Did you like this post? You might also like Paris, je t’aime… moi non plusTags: Amsterdam, Brussels
January 4th, 2011Quote of the week
The euro blogo/twitter/facebook sphere is a resonance chamber for sufficiently switched on EU institution actors to assess just how hollow their words can sound.
Can Web 2.0 help save the EU from itself?, posted on the IABC’s Ning
Next Web2EU event is on 17 February. Are you coming? Web2EU is where EU geeks meet – and where the EU Girl Geeks actually met in real life for the first time.Tags: Brussels, Web2EU
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
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.
Most people in their late twenties experiment what I would call a “mid mid life crisis”. They studied for ever, finally got the first real job that matter, then get bored and feel they need a change. While most people in this situation would react by changing job or having a baby or even starting a new hobby, the kind of people that I am – people that have lived abroad, just think: “I need to move to another country”. As if changing country would solve anything.
A childhood friend of mine, who lived in New York for years and came back to Paris a year ago, recently confessed that she found it nearly impossible to make holes in her walls to hang posters, paintings or pictures. She just cannot do it. I went to her place last weekend. The walls were totally blank, and frames were displayed on the floor, waiting to be hung. It made me realise that although I have lived in the same apartment for 4 years, I still haven’t made any hole in the walls either. Like my friend’s, my walls are blank. Actually, looking back at the 4 places I lived since I left my parents’ place, I realised I never made holes in the walls at any of these places. I never paid much attention to the decoration either. As if all those places where just temporary.
But when does temporary stop being temporary? Are we, the expat generation, doomed to moving from one country to another until we find our dream land? And if we don’t, will we be frustrated our whole life long, always keeping in the back of our mind that life could be better in another country?
Always ready to pack and head to another exotic destination, I think that’s how many young expats in Brussels feel. People come and go. Every year, some decide to go back to their home country while some decide to start all over again in another foreign country. And others stay. I remember a former Dutch colleague of mine, a man in his early forties, telling me he had always considered Brussels as a temporary location. Until one day he realised he had been there for 15 years, and that it might mean that Brussels was actually not temporary anymore. Yet I could sense that the fact he had been living in Brussels for 15 years, did not convince him that Brussels had become his permanent residence. As if he couldn’t accept to be tied forever to one location only.Tags: Being 30, Brussels, Erasmus, EU Bubble, Expats, Friends, Travel