David: Brussels Blog
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Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Brussels, etc.
I’m an IT contractor, originally from Scotland, but I currently live in Cheshire in England. I’ve been working in Brussels since April and generally spend the week here, going home as many weekends as I can afford.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I decided to start blogging for two main reasons. Firstly I struggled to find out some of the things I wanted to know before I came to Brussels and then once I got here. I figured that if I wanted to know it and couldn’t find it then other people would want to know at least some of it too, so I decided that I would share what I found out. The second reason was to give me something to do with myself in my spare time and learn more about blogging and the internet in general. I intend to go on and blog about other subjects in the future.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
My most popular post so far has been about Gare du Midi station. When I first arrived I found it very confusing and complicated, and I see people asking questions about it on tripadvisor quite a lot.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Brussels differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
The biggest way that my life is different here is that I am on my own away from my wife and son. It has been a bit strange to be away from home so much but needs must. The specialty I work in at the moment is quite unusual so I have to take the work where I find it. I don’t think I did experience that much culture shock. I spend a fair amount of time in France, and have been to lots of other big cities so it wasn’t too bad. There are obviously some things which are different, and the language can be an issue at times, but nothing insurmountable.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Brussels? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
No I wasn’t fully prepared. I would have liked to find medium term accommodation before I started work, but as I didn’t understand how it worked in Brussels it took me a few weeks to figure that out. I had some issues with my short term accommodation too, the seafood festival meant that Brussels was full one week so I stayed in Antwerp instead!
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Not so much funny anecdotes, but there has been a surreal element to a number of things that have happened since I arrived:
- My first strategy meeting, in French, but that covered the same themes as every other software team strategy meeting was on.
- Seeing Morris dancers in Anderlecht, in among a load of Harley Davidson owners was another. They just walked up and announced “we are Morris dancers from Birmingham” (in English) and started up. The bikers were amused and bemused by the whole thing.
- The Scottish pipe band from Antwerp marching through the centre of Brussels playing ‘Scotland the Brave’ was another surreal highlight.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Brussels?
- Try to get a good feel for the city before you arrive at your office on the first day, which will help orientate yourself and find your way about.
- Belgian people can be very reserved and quiet when you meet them, but persevere they are friendly underneath on the whole.
- Go easy on the beer, it’s very strong!
How is the expat community in Brussels? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
There is a huge expat community in Brussels, partly because of all of the international organizations here, the EU, NATO etc, they make up a significant percentage of the residents of the city. You will hear lots of languages, particularly in the city centre or Schuman. There are a number of different internet sites dedicated to helping expats like this one, which all have a different emphasis on expat life. I have found it quite hard to get to know people, but that’s mostly because I work long hours and am not here most weekends I guess.
How would you summarize your expat life in Brussels in a single, catchy sentence?
Interesting, surreal and not as scary as you might imagine!