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"the way of life" in Belgium

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As part of a research project I'm currently working on, can anyone here describe to me in their own words "the way of living" in Belgium?

Daily routines; stereotypes; beliefs; social etiquette and anything else you'd like to comment on?

The more varied the opinions the better, so get arguing!!! (kidding of course :P)

Thanks

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  • Demona .

    Belgian "way of life"

    posted by  Demona . in Belgium forum 

    Belgium is very inconvenient for anyone that works. Most sectors have based their working hours, more or less, around the 9-5 theory. A large number of store close at 6pm, grocery stores close at 8 pm and cafe's will close much later into the evenings. However, many banks, communes and other establishments will close their doors at 5pm, sometimes earlier. Therefore, not enabling the working person to actually get anything done, seeing how most people get off work around 5 and still have a long commute back home! If you are to get anything done, most of the time you have to take half a vacation day to do so. However, if you are married or have a partner that stays at home...most of the time, this person can do these tasks for you.
    Oh, I almost forgot, this country is a dead zone for things to do on Sundays! The Belgian’s that I know, student or not, go back home to visit their parents.

    As for Brussels, there is a sort of language war going on between the French speakers and the Dutch speakers. If you are caught by either side speaking the "wrong language" they will go out of their way to make life for difficult. If anyone must speak to someone from "the other team" then they usually prefer to speak English. However, I have seen Dutch speakers talking in French, but not the other way around.

    As for food, they are really big on potatoes. Whether it comes in the form of fries, mashed potatoes or cooked whole, I don't think a Belgian would be able to survive a few days with eating one! ^_^
    They do have a rather strange concept of 'cold' & 'warm' eating habits. For example, they prefer to have only 1 warm meal a day. Warm, as in cooked meals are pastas, meat & veggies, oven dishes, etc… A cold meal being salads, sandwiches, lunch boxes, etc...

    I hope that helps a bit. ^_^

  • Belgian lifesyle

    posted by Deleted user in Belgium forum 

    Hard to answer for such a young country, still really undetermined in term of identity.
    We have this linguistic conflict which can sounds silly but which is real:
    -South Belgians speak french and schools don't teach them a lot of dutch there.
    -North Belgians speak dutch and most of the time also french and english.
    Reasons for that?
    French stays a language spoken by a lot of people compare to dutch, plus, most of the Belgians dutch speakers speaks also french.
    Something else about this conflict is more deeply installed:
    Historically, Belgium is born from the liberation of The Netherlands domination. Then the riches and powerful peoples in Belgium where all speaking french, and the economy was stronger in the south (charcoal mines, ect..) So, naturally, inequality leads to anger. Then, during the 60's there was few conflict about what language to speak where in the country, what language to use in the administrations and so on..The University of Leuven become only dutch speaking and we created another new university with french language only. In the mean time the north economy become more important while the south one is failing down.
    So, today we have the north (dutch speakers) which have been fighting to get some rights about their language. And the south with french speakers who don't really understand that there is/was a conflict, for them, most of the time, they are Belgians and that's it. The actual conflict are mainly about Brussels and his surroundings: Brussels is mainly french speaking but located in the north part, up to the linguistic border...sounds silly isn't it?
    Ok, that's it for the history, I hope this may help you to understand the identity dynamic in belgium.

    Now, about the "cliché" Belgian lifestyle:
    We live in a country that counts up to 2OO day of rain per year, this determines a lot of our habits I think..:

    -We like indoors, we hang out (coffee, beers, games, chat..)
    -Belgium is a country producing a lot of comics and all Belgians have a lot of them,
    -We DO love potatoes (we are pissed off to hear about the english word "french" fries, ours are the ones!),
    -we really enjoy a wide variety of beers,and we also have some local alcools
    -our chocolate is good (note that this come from the colonisation time)
    -Brussels is messy
    -Despite of the linguistic conflict, we feel all Belgians when someone think you are french
    -Despite of the size of the country, Belgium is made out of a lot of small areas that all have their own landscape, habits and specialties, from the sea to the forest, from the waffles to the beers.
    -We love when sun and beers are around, hanging out in a park on the summer time, we try to get outside as soon as there is a little dry weather!

    hope this help,
    best,
    --
    nicolas

  • Nils De Groef

    Belgium way of life

    posted by  Nils De Groef in Belgium forum 

    Hi Fernando,

    Hope I can help you out with some of my observations. I was born and raised in Belgium, but have chosen not to live there for the past 5 years because of various things, some related to my ideas below:

    - Belgian life is still very conservative, everything new and more modern is usually frowned upon at first and takes a long time to be properly established.

    - Belgians love potatoes, beer, chocolate, pastry, football, free concerts in parks and in city squares, going on sun and ski holidays, and generally eating and drinking royally. Oh yeah, don't tell Belgians you like Heineken beer if you don't want to be mocked for the rest of your life.

    - Most Belgians will say they are not racist, but believe me a lot actually are (against non-white people from outside Europe in particular).

    - There is a general idea that politicians and the government are messing up the country and have been doing it for a long time, but no one actually thinks about trying to change things themselves.

    - Belgian political power has been fragmented so much that it seems like nothing actually ever gets done.

    - The organization of everyday life is quite hopeless, everything from store opening hours to public legislation doesn't seem to make any sense.

    - Belgians are generally proud of the educational system and it's probably one of the only things that doesn't get overly criticised all the time.

    - Public infrastructure is a joke. I think 85 % of countries in the world have better and safer roads than Belgium. Cycle lanes, when available, pose a real threat to cyclists' lives. Especially in cities.

    - Though a lot of people moan that life has become so expensive, lots of people still spend a lot of money on luxury products and services. It's all about living above your class and showing it to others.

    - Sports are a big factor in Belgian life. Primary and Secondary school students have Wednesday afternoon off to dedicate to extra-curricular activities such as sports and hobbies. Traditional sports include football, basketball, tennis, cycling, gymnastics, swimming, horse riding and athletics. Various competitions, leagues and open meets usually draw a good crowd. This might play some part in the very low obesity level in Belgium.

    - Though we moan a lot about the goings on in our country, most people would never think of relocating to another country. Loyalty to the country runs deep, but not so much on the surface like in the US.

    - There seems to be a general tendency to look back at 'better times' and constantly compare to the present. The same goes for the older generation and the Euro. Many of them still calculate back to old Franks, though prices have changed substantially and are no longer comparable to pre-Euro standards.

    - Even if it seems that my list shows more 'negative' aspects than 'positive' ones, it's part of the Belgian mentality to shrug off some of the bad and soldier on. It seems to be generally accepted that all is not so bad and that we are lucky in comparison to so many others.

    - Don't call fries 'French Fries'. It's a sensitive issue. Don't rub us the wrong way.

  • Go to Pascale SZTUM's profile

    Belgian way of life

    posted by  Pascale SZTUM in Belgium forum 

    Hi Fernando

    As Belgian and cultural trainer, as a person having lived overseas for a long time, I would say that a factural description of the Belgian way of life is impossible. All depends of what you are used to and where you have previously lived. If you come from a place where shops close at 5 pm and close on Sunday, you would not mind finding the same in Belgium.

    If you come from a place where shops close for few hours at lunch time, you will be pleased to know that in Belgium most shops remain open during the whole day!

    From my experience of training expatriates, I know that foreigners often find it difficult to make friends beyond the expat community... This is related to them having a preconceived idea of how to make friends and if the locals do not meet their expectations, they think Belgians are not open to them... the truth is that there are many different ways to make friends... like there are many different ways to build trust, to fix a problem, to succeed in a job interview...all depends on each side's expectations...and all is invisible to most people... this invisible Belgian way is linked to the specifics of the Belgian culture...developing your cross-cultural competences can help you ion making the best out of your stay and work in Belgium. Good luck and welcome Pascale

  • Go to Natacha Ivanov's profile

    "The way of life" in Belgium

    posted by  Natacha Ivanov in Belgium forum 

    Hi Fernando,

    I can only agree with Demona and Niels.
    Unfortunately, Belgium is not a happy place to live.
    I'm 34 years old, came here from Moscow in 1991 with my parents, am fluent in French and in Dutch, have studied in the university here (ULB) and I can tell you the following:

    - For working people life is for sure very difficult. It's difficult to get everything done, because the shops close so early, because it's hard or sometimes impossible to find a cleaning lady, it's hard to go from one point to another because there are huge traffic jams, there is not much to do.

    - People are in general very cold and not sympa. Nobody will talk to you spontaneously (especially in Flemish part), even if you smile and speak their language. Life is very hostile and grey here especially for SINGLE people.

    - If you had a bad luck and did not find a partner (husband) in your young years when you were in university (for instance because then you were not well integrated, did not speak the languages, was hard to study , etc), then had a long bad realtionship, and now as a 34 year-old woman want to find a decent optimist person on who you can count and who you'd like to build your life and family with - good luck. They do not exist. And in Belgium it's extremely difficult to find new friends/partner once you are after 30. Everybody is living very family oriented/children/parents, etc and is not looking for any new contacts.

    - I have a couple of friends or people almost as close as friends (from the Belgians)here but I can tell that I already had some bad surprises. People who are friends with you (especially Flemish) as long as they are interested or want something from you, and then just drop you from one day to another after 10 years because they finally found a girlfriend for instance and they are not interested in you anymore.

    - Each 3 or 4 months I have to go on holidays away from Belgium, otherwise I feel like I become crazy. Life here is certainly very depressive.Huge long raffic jams - getting worse every year and nothing is being done to improve them, political games at work, economic crisis, government that has been paralyzed for years (and after the results of this election it will be worse), no public transport developped, high pollution, not enough green spaces, high taxes, etc.

    - I have a good diploma and a good job, and yet in the past 2 years I lost my job twice because of the economic crisis. Bonne chance in finding another job on your level and getting to know people. All seem very introvert into their problems.

    I'm sorry I can not be more positive for the moment, but a lot of points in terms of quality of life would be a lot better in France or Switzerland in my opinion.

    The worst moments of loneliness I experience them here. I can not leave from here because my father has gone through a surgery recently, otherwise I would have done so.
    The only thing is that indeed it's better to leave once you find a partner, I do not a lot of women who start over at 34 years alone and migrate to another country. It's difficult psychologically.

    Cheers
    Natacha

  • Chalks Corriette

    There is areason why Belgium scores high on quality of life

    posted by  Chalks Corriette in Belgium forum 

    Personally, I have lived and worked all over the world and there is nothing wrong with Belgium, that I cannot experience anywhere else in the world.

    If you want to make some thing happen - you will. You can organize your time to pop to the commune; most open from 08h00 (some days) and close at 19h00 (on some days). You can order most things online and have it delivered to your home or office. If you can manage without it - you probably do not need it - so shops do not actually have to stay open for long hours for us to get organized.

    After 20 years here (travel for 40%), 2 children (in local schools now), self employed (now), running a charity, hosting events and more - I can still get things done, meet people, spend time with my family, meet Belgians, get out (even on a Sunday) and enjoy life.

    Why - because it matters to me to do that. Nothing stands in my way - ever. There is so much chioce here, places to meet people, groups and clubs to join, netwoks to be part of - my only problem is that there are only 24 hours in day.

    If you want to make it happen - it will. If people want to eat potatoes - cool by me. If some people want to spend most of thier time with family - that is OK as well. There is plenty of room for all kinds of people, minds and prefrences. Lets enjoy that......

  • abd tanrıkulu

    coming belgium

    posted by  abd tanrıkulu in Belgium forum 

    I am coming to belgium for five years, but I am not happy after reading this page. I will be there for teaching turkish childeren.(our goverment sending us) hearing those negative things demoralized me a little.

  • Chalks Corriette

    It is not that bad at all

    posted by  Chalks Corriette in Belgium forum 

    As I have said a number of time's - Belgium is a fantastic place to live. It is in the top 20 place for quality of life in the world. You wil not have a bad time in Belgium if you make an effort to enjoy the many things that are here.

    I love it here and I have been to many countries around the world for work, including Turkey.

  • abd tanrıkulu

    ı hope to agree...

    posted by  abd tanrıkulu in Belgium forum 

    I hope to agree with you chalks when I come there, I heard before about belgium that peoples aren't very eager to communicate with foreigners and hearing similar things here made me upset about there. because the most important reason for me to come there is to experience to living in different country, different cultural, languages etc. so if I can communicate, live only with turks then it doesn't mean much to live in belgium, I do this already here.
    any way, I don't think that will be bad living in there, just hearing about communication problems so much is worreing me little. T

  • Diantha Booi

    "the way of life" in Belgium

    posted by  Diantha Booi in Belgium forum 

    Hi to all ,

    I am a Dutch lady who is planning to live in Belgium to and am surprised reading all these negetive things of Belgium I have a friend who has only positive things to say about Belgium .
    So if there are more people with possitive things about the way of living and work in Belgium are welkom for me I need to be encouraged cause I am moving in August , and I need to know if its a good place to raice kids .

  • Chalks Corriette

    We love Belgium....

    posted by  Chalks Corriette in Belgium forum 

    Sorry that people may have taken some comments as negative, but that is not the case. Belgium is a fine place to live - I have been here 20 yeras! There are no problems here that you do not experience back in your home countries when it comes to people that are non-native. People are not nasty, and some will not make much effort to connect if you cannot speak a language they can speak. Is that so different to anywhere else in the world? me thinks not. People do tend to hang out with people they can connect with - that is a normal human thing to do. But, I have not experienced big issues with integration into Belgian life, I have so much fun here, I love living in Belgium, my kids love Belgium and so do the rest of my family and international friends.

  • Diantha Booi

    "the way of life" in Belgium

    posted by  Diantha Booi in Belgium forum 

    Can you give me some tips by mooving to Belgium where is there the most work and what should I do move first to Belgium or seek first for a job ?
    Every where that I have sollicitated they told me come back after I am living in Belgium .
    And about the schools which ones are good for Dutch kids ??
    Hope to get some tips in this isue .

  • Chalks Corriette

    Tips for Belgium

    posted by  Chalks Corriette in Belgium forum 

    My advice would be to move when you have a job. The job market is complex right now, as it is every where. Things are getting better - but better to be safe than sorry. All the Flemish speaking schools in Belgium are good - I have not heard of any bad stories. Where to live is a matter of preference - Antwerp, Leuven and Ghent are great - but if you speak Dutch, then the world of Belgium is open to you. You can check out jobsinbrussels.com or the jobs section of expatica.com.

  • Diantha Booi

    Tips for Belgium

    posted by  Diantha Booi in Belgium forum 

    Yes I speak Dutch and Spanish English and Portuguese the only one I do not speak is French .
    Thanks for this information

  • Go to Pascale SZTUM's profile

    Dutch willing to settle in Belgium

    posted by  Pascale SZTUM in Belgium forum 

    Hi Diantha,

    You should bear in mind that in Belgium, most jobs require people to speak French as well at least in the business arena. Unless you find a niche where your English and Dutch suffice, you may be better off getting started with French classes.

    On the other side, you should also know that in Belgiam schools, kids learn both national languages from an early age onwards. Might you kids being older than 8, they might have to catch up with French.

    Bear also in mind, that in Belgium we look with envy towards Dutch schools.

    International comparisons have showed that the happiest children in school were the Dutch. In Belgium, the system is very elitist, kids repeat their grade when they fail and this is not well accepted by the society. The teaching style is very teacher-centered with students remaining very passive during the learning process.
    98% of the schools are public and the syllabus is imposed by the region. There is no way foreigners attending Belgian schools would be allowed not to attend French classes.

    This is of couse different in international schools but the fees are very high.

    Hope this helps you in making up your mind

    Pascale Sztum
    Cross-cultural trainer

  • Go to Mats Karlsson's profile

    I love it here!

    posted by  Mats Karlsson in Belgium forum 

    Hi i moved to belgium from sweden a month ago and i find it very nice here, not so different from sweden :-)
    i´m used to the potatoes and i also like the people here (vlaams-brabant)
    have not learned to talk netherlands yet but i understand when my friends speak and those who can english usually try to talk in english with me but soon i will start school and learn to talk netherlands too.
    many words are simmilar in swedish so i find it not so difficult, just to bad that the french talking people wont speak english or netherlands....

  • Go to Natacha Ivanov's profile

    Belgium...

    posted by  Natacha Ivanov in Belgium forum 

    Honestly, I'm surprised to read all these comments here.
    I speak fluent Dutch, French, English and Russian.
    I live in Belgium since 1991. Of course have Belgian nationality. And the more I live here, the less I like it.
    Sure, when you're a foreigner and when you just moved in here it seems fine. Sure, you take some classes, etc, it seems fun. You have most foreign friends. But I can assure you, unless you came already with a family/partner, if you come as a single - it' really not a good place, unless you try to find another foreigner, you are not likely to marry a guy from here.
    I do not consider myself as a foreigner anymore after 19 years, but I like Belgium less and less.
    Flemish people are quite nationalistic (it' not for nothing that NVA+Vlaams Belang - nationalistic parties - get more than 65% or 70% of the votes in the last federal elections in Flanders). It's not for nothing that there is still no federal goverment formed.
    You're leaving on a cloud in a complete denial if you say it's good here.
    Soon there will even be no federal state.
    You just don't see all the political, structual and social problems that are here, because you're too new.
    Let's talk after several years, and when you are a 34 year-old woman, single, good looking, with excellent diploma, job, etc who can not find a guy her age because the good educated ones are all taken and there are not that many of them anyhow - we're not in Paris, London or New-York.
    Then we'll talk.

    Natacha.

  • Go to Pascale SZTUM's profile

    Natacha

    posted by  Pascale SZTUM in Belgium forum 

    I understand your feeling Natacha. I know that you are not the only one in this situation. I think that the different feeling that some expats might have about living in Belgium is related to them not socializing with the Belgians...or at least not relying on Belgians to develop their social network.
    In order to understand what you are experiencing, you have to be aware that Belgians do not have any training about developing their social skills... nothing is done at school to have children being open and comfortable getting to know strangers. Add to this that Belgians are terribly risk adverse and you will understand how uncomfortable they are in front of a stranger. There is no maligious intention, just a lack of skills... as a result many people have no other option than meeting over the Internet because behind a computer screen they can hide themselves.

    I would advise you to join expats clubs and activities... as you speak English and know the country, you will be greatly appreciated. And you will soon understand why foreigners and expats like it here!
    Good luck
    Pascale

  • Chalks Corriette

    All countries have problems

    posted by  Chalks Corriette in Belgium forum 

    There are many debates like this one on many sites and all countries around the world. I have lived and worked all over the world and at 51, I can tell you that problems are to be found in every country. Why do we not have one country in the world, that is the best example or the best government? As soon as a person leaves a home country - they are accepting that things will be different, for better or worse. If not, do not leave your home country. Dealing with the commune in Belgium is much easier than dealing with the commune in Bahrain, for example. Belgian people, are as locally community focused as any other community I have encountered. International people all over the world, meet an dhang out with other international people, in places that you localize as best as you can.

    We have the choice - get on with ife where we are or go some where else and try there.

    I mean this information in the best possible way and I wish to stop people from only assuming that life is complex in Belgium. Here we are at least in the top 10 countries in the world (UN Poll) for quality of life. The quality part is what you choose to make of it.

  • Victoria Landa

    Yes

    posted by  Victoria Landa in Belgium forum 

    Well put chalks...belgium may not be an easy place for foreigners at times but one must put in the effort to make it a little easier. We have to stop complaining and make our lives here what we want.

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