Sandra: Brussels Sprout
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Brussels, etc.
I’m Sandra and I live in Brussels. I was born in the US to Portuguese parents, where I lived until I was 12, at which point we moved to Portugal. In 2006 I married and moved to Brussels. I have a legal background and was working for a Fair Trade NGO until I had my first Sprout and soon realized I couldn’t do it all (and do it well) so I decided to stay home with my son for the first years of his life.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
A friend of mine kept telling me I should start a blog, to which I would reply “what about?”. When I later discovered I was pregnant, I was surprised I found hardly any information online specific to Brussels, and none of the little I found was in English. I decided to put up the info as I went along, sharing a bit of my adventures of having a baby in Brussels. So, voilà, I had a topic I felt was useful!
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Hmm… hard to say. I guess I would go with both birth stories of my two sweet boys. The story of my breastfeeding journey is also dear to me because of how hard it was in the beginning, and how we braved through it, as well as pondering schools for my oldest.
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?
I definitely like Brussels, I feel it’s a comfortable city to live in. To be quite honest, the hardest part has been, as I believe it always is when moving, missing friends and family. Although I’ve made friends here, I was surprised at how fast and how constantly people (in the “expat bubble”) would come in and out of my life because they’re just passing through… I find it’s hard to make friends with the locals. Culture shock definitely came with the languages and clash between Flemish and Francophone. Customer service and store opening hours was also a bit of a shock.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Brussels? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
At the time I think I was decently prepared. I had come beforehand to look at places to live, get a feel for the city. I didn’t need much in terms of preparation; there were no kids so it was just mostly a matter of looking for a job for me and finding community.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
There have been a few bizarre instances, from seeing a carriage driver in Bruges (with passengers in the back!!!) hollering obscenities to Francophone Belgian “tourists” to go back to Wallonia to our neighbor screaming out the window while we were mowing the lawn at 1pm on a Sunday, saying we’d better stop making noise before he called the police; apparently we had interrupted his nap and lawn mowing on Sunday afternoon is off limits in some communes! Oh, and my marital status on my Belgian id was XXX for a couple of years ;)
Among the expat community, the use of what is aptly referred to as “Brussels English” can lead to many misunderstandings. One time, an Italian lady introduced herself to me at a party and when I replied, she just kept telling me in English that she was sorry but she didn’t speak German, only Italian English and a bit of French! Oh,
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Brussels?
Bring your sense of humor and an open mind, venture out of expat circles, and enjoy the food (but don’t bring your scales)!
How is the expat community in Brussels? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
Brussels has a very big and thriving expat community. It wasn’t hard at all to find like-minded people and other expats. As I said earlier, the hardest part is when you’re staying for the long-haul and everyone else seems to be passing through. Although I have found that’s changed since having kids and meeting other parents with long term plans for staying here.
How would you summarize your expat life in Brussels in a single, catchy sentence?
It’s rainy and grey, but it’s home to me!