A letter to incoming Brussels expats
Dear friends,How are you? I bet you're excited. You're moving to Europe! So. First off. We want to wish you a hearty goooood luck!It's going to be an adjustment and it's going to be hard at times, so go easy on yourself. We've made a couple notes from FAQs along the way for you to keep in mind..Don't come with a strict agenda. Things work differently here. Embrace the culture. At first, it was hard not to say 'that's weird' constantly. It's not weird. It's just different than what you're used to..well, okay, some stuff is weird (from both cultures).When it comes to the bureaucracy (y'all. I wrote that word 3 times in a row as 'bureaucrazy' on accident - ha!), be as patient as you can stand it, but make sure you hold your own. People will not go out of their way to do work for you, so you've gotta stay on top of them. And always bring more paperwork than you think you need. Actually, just bring everything. They'll probably tell you it isn't enough.Staying in touch with friends back home is going to be a biggy. They'll be excited for you and when things don't feel like vacation anymore, they'll still be giddy because, dooood, you live in Europe! Don't expect them to understand. That's what expat friends are for. Same thing goes for when you start traveling the globe every weekend.To keep in touch with them, I'd suggest you choose a texting app and stick with it. I switched between 5 because I just told friends to let me know which app they used. I'd often miss messages trying to keep up with apps and life. It was annoying. Most people have Whatsapp. I think Viber has the most call settings. I think. But, really, email works just fine.One thing to note is how many more people are crammed into Europe. In America, you have your space. You can talk loudly and you have room to move around. When people come close, it's obvious, so we've built a culture around saying, 'excuse me.' Europe doesn't come with so much space. There are way more people in a smaller area, so talking loudly is very obvious (Americans tend to stand out). So, just try to be respectful of the space.Also! When (I say when, not if) people bump into you, don't take it personally. Saying 'excuse me' every time you touch someone gets old quick! It can easily come across as rude when you're not used to it, but it usually isn't. Sometimes you'll get a 'pardon!', sometimes it's just a smile, but most times, just continue with what you're doing and everyone will be fine. Plus, consider the Southern vs. Northern mentalities in the States of how open and welcoming the cultures tend to be and apply that to your new continent as well - you're in the North here in Brussels. Seattle Justin came much more adapted to this culture than his Louisiana wife and we both managed it just fine!Do you ride a bike? We planned on getting a pair to ride leisurely around town. That was until we got here and realized how very unleisurely the situation is. Because there are two types of people: bikers and everyone else. It's serious business and most of the bikers will be of the Dutch variety. There's also a type in between of people who think they're bikers, but aren't as good and as such are probably too aggressive on the roads. You'll recognize them by the high frequency of times they tell you about their bike. The rules here are open (we'll get to that) and some take on the rules of a car and some, the rules of a pedestrian...at their own choosing. The thing that gets me is that they are as speedy and aggressive as the cars, without the protection of a car. Scares a friend, ya know? So, what I'm saying here is beeee careful.Driving too. The rules tend to be lax here in Brussels. As in, if you don't get to it (whatever it is), someone else will. The Belgian priority to the right! Priorité à droite is essentially a passenger's worst nightmare, from experience. Essentially, if you're driving down a road, the perpendicular road on the right has priority unless they have 'sharks teeth' or arrows telling them to yield. So, on a main road, you'll have cars jutting out from these tiny side streets on your right and you have to slam on your breaks. But, ya know..they're on the right, so yayy passengers!Let's move on to the good stuff. The beer. Be aware of the percentage. You're going to want to try as many as you can, but space it out. If it's your first month here, don't watch your favorite sports team thinking you can tailgate like you did in your college days because win or lose, the next day you're head will be screaming 'you're not in Kansas anymore'...or so I've heard.The travel. It's incomparable. Being the center, you can hop in a plane, train or automobile and be anywhere in Europe in under 5 hours. Like, this morning, you could go to Spain. And reasonably priced too. It's our #1 perk. We sincerely hope you take advantage of this. Take some pretty photos of the views and you sipping on your favorite beverages in front of said views. Blow them up for home decorating photos - the artsier, the better. And there you have the icing to this whole European cake!Things you should bring along with you vs. things you can live without. We purged. We purged the heck outta our stuff. Because that's all it is. Make sure you pack your winter clothes - it's cold (we're up in Canada, folks!). Bulky appliances are silly. You're not likely to have room (they're not as big of fans of closets). It's all a fantastic practice of simplicity, take advantage of it. Hopefully you're traveling so much, you don't require much in a home. Toiletries, though. Things are expensive here and they don't have as many choices. So, if you need a particular face wash, check to see if it's sold here or stock up beforehand.Oh, and speaking of - the water. The water here has this calcium situation. You'll notice the funky tap water taste. And then you'll notice how all of your faucets and shower walls have this white build-up. Ick. Just buy bottled water - it's suuuuper cheap in the big bottles and you look fancy offering your guests two types of agua - 'sparkling or still?' And then douse your shower head in vinegar to clean it out every so often so you can keep normal water pressure. You also have to put salt in your dishwasher. This country should come with a handbook. It actually kinda does. The American Women's Club hosts a Hints class twice a year. It's very sorority-like, but you'll walk away with some suburban mom friends, a cookbook, and a binder of useful Belgian tips - like do not park in the 'CD' parking spots! Diplomats, man.One last thing, you can sign up with the US Embassy. And they'll send you emails of protest warnings. If nothing else, its helpful to know when to stay away from Schuman Circle when EU officials' cars are backing up traffic to get through. Adds at least an hour to your commute home.We really hope you enjoy it here! Bisous,The Montgomerys ps. keep in touch, okay?!