Claire: Claire's Brussels Blog
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Brussels, etc.
I’m a proud Brit (with some French blood). I actually grew up in Brussels, and wanted to move back to reconnect with the dormant Belgian part of myself. It was never my intention to live as an expat, but coming here has made me realize just how British I really am, and the rest just sort of happened.
I work as a language tutor, and also increasingly as a freelance journalist. I blog about language learning at conqueringbabel.wordpress.com.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started my blog just before I moved, as a way of recording my experiences and letting people back home know what I was up to. Oddly, and for reasons I won’t bore you with, not long after moving here I fell in love with America, politics, and writing, all at once, so my blog has tended to be more about that – and about the catalyst for it all, The West Wing – than about Belgium per se.
Do you have any favourite blog entries of yours?
(entries related to Belgium and being an expat are in bold)
- (my current favourite!) All because of Aaron Sorkin: how the West Wing changed me
- Book Review: Come to the Edge, by Christian Haag
- 2011: this was the year that…
- Ah, Europe, how I’ll miss you (Christmas markets)
- Quirky things about Belgium: the Atoma notebook
- On the birthday of a talented actor
- Readable French books
- Belgian taxis
- Snapshots of Starbucks
- 11 Ways to learn a Language
- AH, Belgium
- A relevant entry on my other blog: Why bother learning their language when they all speak English anyway?
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?
In some ways, it’s exactly the same. I did the same job back in London – teaching French and Spanish to adults, though I’ve added English too. But in London, I mostly taught in cafés, and mostly over lunchtimes. Here, cafés are different – only Café de la Presse approximates the kind of atmosphere I’m used to – and no Belgian would spend their lunchtime learning a language. They need their break! It’s healthy, but just so different from London, where everyone is squeezing everything into every available minute. Then again, I can teach people “after work” here, and “after work” is at a reasonable and predictable time, even for lawyers and bankers.
Yes – I still am experiencing culture stress three years after arriving here! The hardest thing about Belgium is how inefficient it can seem, and how many things I assumed were part of normal 21st century life in a Western capital city are just not applicable here.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Brussels? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I don’t think it’s ever possible to be fully prepared for a move! I probably would have learned to drive. I don’t regret living out of Brussels, and most of the time it’s fine, but at the weekends with only one train per hour it makes socialising difficult.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
I wouldn’t call it hilarious, but I did once get almost all the way to the Mechelen before I realized it wasn’t the same place as Machelen.
And then there’s all the “shake your head in bewilderment” moments, like my bank telling me that oh yes, we open till 4.30, but you can’t get money out of your account till 4.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Brussels?
- Stock up on teabags – you can get them here, but you’ll be ripped off.
- Sign up for the Eurostar loyalty points system!
- Ditch any expectations you may have of how things should work in what is the capital of Europe.
How is the expat community in Brussels? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
It was easy peasy, but I go to an international Church, so that helps a lot. I think sites like internations.org and meetup.com, and facebook groups, make this really easy now.
How would you summarize your expat life in Brussels in a single, catchy sentence?
So much better now there’s a Starbucks!