Expat Voices: Susan Andrewes on living in Belgium
Susan Andrewes enjoys her frites and Belgian beer but thinks that Belgium could take a leaf out of her native New Zealand's book when it comes to customer service.
Name: Susan Andrewes
Nationality: New Zealand
City of residence: Brussels
Date of birth: 8 March 1977
Civil status: Getting married in January
Occupation: Conference interpreter/translator and, more recently, career and confidence coach
Reason for moving to Belgium: To make the most of the good interpreting and translation opportunities (EU institutions, international organisations)
Lived in Belgium for 6 ½ years
What was your first impression of Belgium?
Having previously lived in France for several years, my first impression of Belgium was that it was a very relaxed, easy-going country whose people who didn’t take themselves too seriously. I was also struck by just how small the country was.
What do you think of the food?
I am a big fan of ‘frites-mayonnaise’ from the ‘Maison Antoine’, washed down with a good Belgian beer! Belgian food is one of the great things about the country. The Belgians seem to enjoy eating well, and that is reflected in the vast array of excellent and varied restaurants in Brussels and throughout the country. My particular favourite is a wonderfully authentic Thai restaurant called KinD on rue Général Leman. When I first arrived in Belgium, I vowed to try every single Belgian beer by the time I left, but I have since become attached to a few firm favourites, and I am sadly far off my goal!
What do you think of the shopping in Belgium?
What I most love about Belgium are the specialty shops such as Olivier and Co for great olive products and natural cosmetics, the local butchers, the chocolate shops, the specialty cheese shops, and the fantastic bookshops like Filigranes and Waterstones.
What do you appreciate about living in Belgium?
One thing I really do like about Belgium is the relaxed way of life and the fairly high standard of living. There’s something for everyone in Brussels, be it restaurants, concerts, or recreational activities. I also love how easy it is to travel. Coming from New Zealand, I still find it amazing that within a couple of hours I can be in France, Germany, Holland, or even London. It gives you so many more opportunities. I also love Brussels’ multicultural and international side – how many other places can you walk down the street and expect to hear 5 or 6 different languages being spoken? As a linguist, it’s a dream!
What do you find most frustrating about living in Belgium?
Bad driving. I will never understand why drivers are so intent on stopping on pedestrian crossings, preventing pedestrians from getting across, or dangerously running red lights. Having said that, Belgian pedestrians seem to have no concern for their own lives either and will fearlessly step out onto the road without even looking. They seem to work on the assumption that the car (or ambulance, for that matter!) will stop to let them past, however dangerous that might be. There seems to be a general lack of common courtesy, stemming from a belief that it is your right to do whatever you like, whenever you like.
What puzzles you about Belgium and what do you miss since you’ve moved here?
I think what I miss most is Kiwis’ get-up-and-go attitude and their constant dedication to good customer service. It always puzzles me why Belgians don’t complain about poor service or stand up for themselves more. Belgians will happily stand for an eternity in supermarket and post office queues rather than complain about slow or inefficient service, and often seem reluctant to show initiative to get something done or make life easier. Many people seem hell-bent on making their lives and others’ as difficult as possible!
How does the quality of life in Belgium compare to the quality of life in other countries that you’ve lived in?
Despite low salaries (if you don’t work for the Commission!) and unbelievably high taxes, the quality of life in Brussels is great, with so many good quality restaurants, bars and entertainment options to suit every taste. I also love the fact that there are so many green areas and parks to while away an afternoon. Brussels has character and a definite charm to it which are hard to beat.
If you could change anything about Belgium, what would it be?
A proper summer would be nice! The two main things I would change, though, would be the customer service and the attitude towards driving.
What advice would you give to a newcomer?
Dig deeper to get to know the real Brussels, beyond the comfort zone of the expat community. Definitely learn French or Flemish (or even German!), as you will gain so much more from getting to know the locals. Enjoy the food and beer (which isn’t hard!). Above all, enjoy Brussels and Belgium for what they are, and accept their quirks and foibles as a sign of their charm!
Susan is a career and confidence coach based in Brussels, Belgium.
I coach clients throughout Europe.
To receive a free copy of her report ‘7 ways coaching will help you to increase your confidence’, email Susan at firstname.lastname@example.org
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