Yesterday, I came back from a weekend in Brussels where I spent my birthday with my loved ones. I don’t know how to explain this but it was slightly awkward being back, even if it was for two days. I guess I got used to living in a huge city, where you have to move fast to keep up with the city’s pace. Size-wise, Brussels seems insignificant compared to London. I was actually surprised to go through four tube stations in only 5 minutes (which doesn’t happen very often in London). I almost forgot how small Brussels really is. But home will always be home… even though some things made me not get homesick. Like the public transport, for example, usually called “la STIB”. Fancy name, isn’t it? Short, simple, effective. The abbreviation, not the service which is often not that effective. Unless you’re not in a hurry. I won’t go on bitching about Brussels’ public transport because many blogs do that already. And to be fair, I think after 13 years you get used to your bus being late, rude people and bumpy rides due to Brussels’ well-known pavé (causing many ankle sprains when wearing heels).
Speaking of public transport, today, I have stumbled upon this article which was written by Marco Ricorda and had a great laugh at a Twitter trend he mentioned, #STIBsongs (http://checkthis.com/stibsongs). A personal favourite of mine is “Can’t Buyl Me Love” – The Beatles. A few days ago, Marco also wrote about Belgium’s awful public service. As it was to be expected, he got both positive and negative reactions. What I found interesting is that he mentions two relevant examples of two people who got bashed by a service provider and a business. You can read more about it in his article (linked above). These two examples show how customers have the power to destroy a business through social media. Joanne’s post on Facebook and Pablo’s YouTube video show how social media can give a voice to unhappy customers. Afterwards, it’s up to the businesses to make it up for them or not. In both cases, the reactions were actually appalling and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if both businesses ended up ruined one day.
Where am I going with this? Yes, Belgian public service. In all fairness, I think you can be lucky and actually come across polite people working in the Belgian public service. Aside from the STIB, I personally have had quite a few unpleasant experiences in the HORECA sector, even though it’s not the only country I’ve experienced it. I’ve never been to any fancy restaurants (like Comme Chez Soi, for example) but in some of the middle-range ones, I have met quite a few rude waiters who act like they’re doing you a favour, so please don’t waste their time with your capricious requests, such as having a second glass of tap water. I won’t mention fast food restaurants and I won’t even go into detail as to why. Again, to be fair, this didn’t happen every single time. True, restaurant or cafés staff may deal with unpleasant customers and it might be that they’re taking it out on you (they’re human after all) but that’s no reason for them to act like that. I have also worked as a shop assistant in a chocolate shop and could have bashed thousands of clients if I counted every single time where a client was rude to me. But I didn’t because there is this thing called “etiquette”. Many people seem to have forgotten that. I guess it’s easier to offend a client back if he offends you.
I have also heard many stories about tourists being treated unkindly or immigrants feeling unwelcomed by people working at the Town Hall. Speaking out of personal experience, I can guarantee that politeness at the Town Hall is almost extinct. I am not talking about people coming to the Town Hall for enquiries but people who are supposed to help and respect you. Not only is respect a golden rule but for crying out loud, when someone comes to your country and shows interest in your culture, you can at least act like a human being.
All in all, I don’t mean to criticise Belgium in any way, because no country is perfect. Taking Marco’s article as an inspiration, I thought I could also point out that Belgium’s public service can feel free to improve. This doesn’t make Belgians unkind or inhuman. I have met many lovely people and I’m sure I will still meet plenty of them! Though I still have to come across a supermarket or shop assistant who will be able to help me without saying “Boh, j’sais pas vous aider moi, Madame, demandez à mon collègue”, hoping that the colleague isn’t clueless.
Anyway, one of my friends from Germany will be visiting Brussels in October so I will make sure to ask her for any feedback about Belgium and its hospitality! Ullie, you will be the future star on my blog! 😉