Living over here takes a little getting used to. There is nothing essentially “wrong” about how things are done differently here, it is just…well…different. These different ways can be somewhat annoying in everyday day-to-day life but as humans, we are pretty adept at figuring things out and carrying on. I could make a list of 100 things I LOVE about Brussels, but I’ll save that for summer. When it’s not freezing out with 5 inches of snow on the ground and I’m not trapped inside with two small children.
1. Restaurant hours
Your average Brussels restaurant is open 12-2 for lunch and 7-10 for dinner, with at least 2 days a week that they are closed (could be a random Thursday). And believe it or not, there are some restaurants that are closed for dinner on Saturday nights. These hours can be rather troublesome if you are hungry before noon or want to eat dinner with your children. The folks here typically do not put their children to bed early so a lot of times at 9pm at night you will see them eating in restaurants. There are, of course, exceptions to these standard hours and where there are, you will find me stuffing my face inside.
2. Closed on Mondays
Before you head out anywhere on a Monday, you must check to see if it is open. Museums are closed, bread stores are closed, toy stores are closed and pretty much anything you want is going to be closed. This makes Monday my most dreaded day of the week. The grocery store I frequent isn’t open until 2pm on Mondays so I need to make sure that I have stocked up for food on Friday for Monday’s breakfast and lunch. It has taken me a long time to learn this. Many times I have shown up, almost walked into a glass door and stood there looking like an idiot until I remember that it is Monday.
3. It will get done, just not quickly.
Think you have to wait long in the US for ANYTHING? Not even. There is a park across the street from us. When we moved into our home last February, they were in mid-construction of the playset. The playground finally opened July 14. There is a road that runs through the commune of Uccle that has been under construction for 3 years now, they are just replacing the paver stones and resetting the curbs. Calling to have any work done to your home typically requires weeks if not months, unless it is an emergency. Emergency house repair calls usually can be done within the week. Not the hour. Need something dry cleaned? 4 days. Need your hair cut? Better mark off half your day. Going out to dinner? That will take about 3 hours. Oil change? One whole day. Getting the check is normally at least a 20 minute ordeal. Stubbornly you could say, well good, life needs to slow down a little bit, which may be true. However, when you were born and raised in an at-this-instant society, it is really difficult to switch gears.
4. Road work, getting in the right lane to turn left, wrong GPS and that &#$!+@ “Priority from the Right” you always hear about.
“Now turn right”…into the field. “Bare left”…onto the one way street. Getting around in this city takes patience and lots of practice. There are multiple streets under construction at any given time, and most of the time the detours that they provide for you are so asinine you either laugh or beat the crap out of your steering wheel.
I have this theory that when Brussels turned in their street maps to the GPS Gods they did so with great intentions. We WILL build a road here someday, so let’s just put it there. This 2 exit roundabout WILL be a 5 exit roundabout someday, let’s mark it now so we don’t have to resubmit this stuff.
The personal relationship most of us have with our GPS is a love/hate one but our relationship with the road workers is pure hate. Swinging cranes, bulldozers and construction men can just appear out of no where and do not give a damn if you are driving in their path. You have to be quick on the brake and even quicker on the accelerator to make sure no one ends up crushed.
The civil engineers of Brusselsland do not like the protected green arrow, for some reason. Therefore, a lot of the intersections where a left turn is needed you must either get in the far right lane (since traffic from the right always has priority) or dive out of the main lane half a mile back from your turn to prepare for it. This is hard to describe in words but, hopefully the Google maps down below will illustrate what I mean.
To turn left on the horizontal street there, you need to get into the right hand lane and go to the right of the trees, then turn left after the tree line. You can not turn left from the center lanes to the left of the trees. Your GPS will not tell you this. It will just simply say “Turn Left Now”. If you didn’t know in advance about the righthand side cut away, you’re going to be late.
This is not a roundabout. You may not turn from the straight lanes so you need to turn right into the circle lanes in order to get to that street with the three cars at the 10 o’clock position. Your GPS will also not tell you this. “Turn Left Now”
And finally the damn priority to the right rule means just that. The damn traffic that is coming from the damn right has the damn priority, unless it is marked otherwise dammit. So, you could be on a busy fast moving street but that little street that intersects with that main road? THEY have the right of way and will take it at all costs. In USA terms, think of it as the intersections are stop signs, but there are no stop signs, you just have to yield to the person that is coming on the right, which you may not see. This results in constant neck aches as you peer to the right over and over and over trying to keep an eye on the pedestrians that are crossing the street in front of you while checking to see if any cars are coming from the right. In addition to the Priority on the Right intersection rule, this also applies to the freeway. The slower cars entering the freeway, they have the right of way to come over into the faster lanes.
*See all those intersections on the thin roads? Look to the right because there are no stop signs.
5. Customer Service Attitude
Perhaps it is healthier, but it is really hard for a Texan girl to get used to the “I really don’t give a flying F attitude” you get from people in the customer service industry. They see no reason to smile at you, greet you with pleasantries or other things we have been spoiled with in the USA. As a youngster I was taught that the customer is always right and that ‘good business’ is doing whatever it takes to get your customers what they need/want. Here, not so much. Recently, our last guest had this experience when trying to go to the museums. She approached the woman and asked for the Magritte Museum ticket in combo with the Royal Museum ticket. She was told that it wasn’t possible to buy it this way. (blank stare from woman) Our guest then asked, ok, well how do I see the museums on the combo ticket. She said, well you have to buy a Royal Museum ticket with the added combo of the Magritte Museum instead. Same thing. Same price. No thought. When you hear “No” or “Not Possible” from employees when you first arrive here, you stand and wait. Because, as we all know, a “No” in the US is usually followed with, BUT, let me see what I can do to help. Here, it’s a No. Full stop. Standing there waiting for more help makes you feel like there are crickets chirping in the background and you should just smile to break the silence.
Similar topic, there is also a common lack of good business sense. You feel like people do not WANT to make money. Whatever they can do with the least amount of effort is good for them. I wanted to buy a blow dryer when I first arrived and they were all out on the shelf. I asked a sales associate if they had more in the back and she said yes. The end.
When we order coffee in the states it is usually a big ol’ cup of Joe. When you order coffee here you get a little baby ceramic cup of syrup that is disguised as coffee. It could strip a car down to the primer but sure wakes you up. To get a cup of “COFFEE” here you need to order a Cappuccino or a Lait Russe. If you want straight black coffee, order a coffee with a side of hot water.
Because FUCK censorship! (forgive the cursing, I’m proving a point). The radio stations here do not play radio-edit tracks. It still amazes me how many mainstream songs are filled with curse words and other not-safe-for-young-ears lyrics, I never knew! The day I walked into the children’s toy store and they were playing Macklemore & Lewis’s ‘Thrift Shop’, I about died of awkwardness. When they were playing Prince’s ‘Sexy Motherfucker’ in the Department store I kept looking around waiting for someone to come running across the store to tell the manager to change the station.
8. Personal space
Standing shoulder to shoulder, or hip to hip, or RIGHT ON TOP OF YOU is perfectly normal. I was eating at a restaurant with my daughter one day when two ladies behind me decided to stand up and have a conversation. Their flailing arms were brushing my hair as they talked, their words were so loud it was banging around my eardrums and one of them even put her hand on my chair back for a lean. People stand up in your face to talk and don’t seem to notice when they are running over your foot with their carts. Space is limited and so is my patience on somedays.
9. Sex, drugs and alcohol
Europe in general is much more liberal than the US and 1 degree north of Satan’s lair for Texans. Billboards advertising the Erotica Festival or the smell of marijuana in the morning are just things you get used to. I’ve been to a few parks where I’m pretty sure babies were being made under pic-nic blankets. Bus and Tram stops are *THE* place for teenagers to make out. A lot. With tongue. Drinking during the day is perfectly acceptable and even encouraged. I haven’t figured out if this is a good or bad things yet but it does tend to chill people out.
Mommy look! Those friends are hugging!
10. Dog Poop
It’s everywhere. Ev. re. where. On the sidewalk, in the grass, on your car, in the street, on top of rocks. I can’t even discuss this in a calm manner so I should probably just back off. But, for the love of all that is good and holy, it is not that hard to carry around a %#$!#%@ plastic sack and give a flip about being civilized.
10.5 Whatever is different for you….(leave a comment!)