Bitching about Brussels?

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).

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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! 😉

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London Diaries #3

Mornings in London

This post was actually long overdue. Picture this: I’m a people watcher. Not the creepy kind, though. I just like observing people around me. Hey, maybe I should have studied anthropology!

To be honest, I don’t get to do this quite comfortably in Brussels, where people seem to have radars screaming “SOS, a stranger’s looking at you!”. I don’t mean to criticise, it’s just my opinion. I think people in Brussels tend to be more self-conscious somehow, which is perfectly fine and I respect that. But let me tell you guys: this does not make public transport a very friendly environment. How many times have I genuinely smiled at a stranger, out of sheer kindness and got shot with an angry or awkward look? You might say that everyone’s got problems and a stranger smiling at you isn’t necessarily called for. But hey, nothing wrong with that. It’s just a smile, for goodness’ sake. To be fair, there are also lovely people on the bus or the metro… but those seem to get pretty extinct.

Where am I going with this? No panic, this isn’t a post to criticise Brussels, nor to brag too much about London. After all, I realise London is not perfect. No city is, let’s be honest. Plus, Brussels is my second home and so far, I have lived beautiful and memorable moments there. However, if there is something I can easily do in London is people watching, without feeling oppressed or being frowned at. And what better place to observe people that on the tube?

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The tube is a true phenomenon, especially in the morning. True, it’s crowded, narrow, invaded by newspapers (an ecologist’s nightmare) and with this heat it makes a sauna look anything but luxurious. I remember my first morning as a commuter. A real commute, meaning a one-hour commute, not 20 minutes by tram when I go to uni in Brussels.

The first day of work, I had absolutely no idea how fast everything was going to be. Everything and everyone in London is fast. You have no choice, actually, you have to be fast in order to seize everything. Or seize the day, basically. Every morning, I get this adrenaline rush before diving into this city’s fever. But this is what makes it so exciting! Not to mention my work which gets me out of bed every single day with a smile on my face.

Now I actually realise how a routine makes you discover a city in a different way. I’m not just a tourist now, I actually live here and get involved in everyday things. You get a different feeling and perspective about the city, its vibe and its people. For example, the tube used to be an intimidating labyrinth that made absolutely no sense. I figured a good way to make this easier: wandering aimlessly and take a random tube makes you develop a remarkable sense of orientation. The more you experience the underground, the more fun it gets.

A funny thing about my “routine” is that I still get to see different things. I may take the same bus and tube but there is always something new to see. The most fascinating thing about the London tube is diversity. You get to see all sorts of people, all sorts of styles, all sorts of attitudes, all walks of life. You may see a corporate grey suit next to a colourful hipster listening to loud hip hop. You may see a shy girl reading an old edition of “Wuthering Heights” next to a hi-tech guy holding a Kindle. Or even a Sainsbury’s bag next to a classy Mulberry bag. Diversity is amazing.

What makes people-watching so easy is that everyone minds their own business. Everyone is either absorbed in a newspaper, their phone or their Kindle. Tourists are usually absorbed in their maps, trying to sort it all out. I know the feeling… However, at the same time, people are very considerate towards each other. Even the slightest accidental nudge and people apologise. I have heard many stories about British people hating chit-chatting with strangers. Honestly? All the people I’ve met here are into random chatting, which makes waiting for the tube less long and less stressful. But hey, maybe I’m just lucky! 🙂

I feel blessed for everything I get to do and for every adventurous minute I get to live here. If my future job will get me out of bed every morning like this internship, I will be forever grateful! I think everyone deserves to feel like this. Sometimes, I still think all of this is just a dream. I’m still starry-eyed and inspired by this city’s energy. Maybe it’s because I haven’t been affected by the routine… maybe it’s too early for that, who knows? You know what I say: better make the most of it! 😉

P.S. To compensate the lack of pictures, here’s a song that matches my mood: “Take Back The City” by Snow Patrol. “I love this city tonight. I love this city always!”

Enjoy and have a great week! 🙂