“The only good thing about Brussels is that it’s cheap to leave it again”, I used to say quite often during my semester there. And it’s true. Well, at least the part with the cheap travelling. You can basically fly to everywhere in Europe for almost no money from there. As for the other part: Enough with the Brussels bashing already! There’s plenty of good things in Brussels. Like waffles. And fries. And lovely people from all over the world.
I’ve honestly never experienced such a large variety of nationalities in a city. If I had to describe a typical person from Brussels, I wouldn’t be able to. Due to the fact that the metro is usually just packed, I got to see hundreds of people every day. People in all kinds of colors and shapes, people speaking all kinds of languages, some of which I couldn’t even identify. And you know what? That’s lovely. It makes you feel welcome, even though your home country is hundreds of kilometers away. During the 18 weeks I spent there, I’ve never even once had the feeling that I didn’t belong here.
Brussels may not make a whole lot of sense, but that’s exactly why it’s the perfect city for expats. There’s no average citizen you’re going to be compared to, no pattern you’d be expected to follow, no dominating culture you’re supposed to adapt to. There’s just pure randomness, which doesn’t make it easy, but simply unnecessary to fit in. It truly doesn’t matter where you come from or why on earth you ended up here, Brussels just welcomes you without asking questions.
Brussels is a city where children read a French newspaper in the metro, while speaking to their mother in Dutch and their father in English. Witnessing something like that always left me amazed and somehow happy. It’s a city where it’s completely normal to speak three languages – fluently of course. And I firmly believe that speaking several languages challenges and opens one’s mind like nothing else.
Brussels is a city of encounters. It’s where Dutch coziness meets French chic, where European politics meet countless NGOs, where international business meets local hospitality. And all of this somehow seems to work in peace and harmony. (Except for some terror threats and attacks every now and then, but that all happened after I first wrote this and I really do want to focus on the benefits for once here.)
Brussels is a city where the metro is so full at rush hours that sometimes it’s simply impossible to get in. Why would I mention that if I’m really trying to see the upsides? Because nobody complains about it. People are not pissed at you if you step on their toes (and believe me, that happened a lot). They just smile at you. Just like that. Strangers. In a metro that you’re not sure you’ll be able to get off from alive (But then again, you never are these days. Sorry, fucked up the happy vibe again…). So where was I? Yes, people smile. They live in a city where it rains 200 days a year (fun fact: in London it’s “only” 145), but for some reason they smile. That truly amazes me. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Belgian complain about anything. Being Austrian and particularly grumpy, that is a quality I honestly admire.
Brussels is a city where there’s music on the metro. Well, at least occasionally. But if randomly hearing “Good Vibrations” from the Beach Boys on your way home after a long day doesn’t put a smile on your face, I don’t know what else will.
Brussels is a city where it’s okay to be confused. Because everybody is. Because it’s basically impossible not to be. And it’s okay to be late, because everybody knows the metro (and basically everything else) is a mess. But that’s fine. It somehow creates a relaxing atmosphere. It allows you to forget about your schedule and simply chill the fuck out for once.
No really, there’s plenty of nice things in Brussels. You just very desperately have to look for them.