Expat Life

I missed you! Being away and learning so much about myself in vibrant Brussels…

Reverse Culture Shock – my feelings in London and Paris. Comparing mentalities in each capital.

I was away for a week, fully happy strolling in another European capital I had never visited, Brussels, and this reminded me of my passion for fully international cities. I did miss writing and interacting with you all though and couldn’t wait to share my short-term experiences in Brussels with you!

The move from London to Paris

As you may have understood by now, I lived in London for over 10 years — clearly a vibrant multicultural capital — and for personal reasons I did share in one of my stories, I had to move back to Paris about three years ago. This was a painful move, leaving friends, a great city, and much-loved habits I had there.

However, I was very hopeful thinking I would rekindle some long-lasting friendships I had in Paris and renew past habits I used to share with my parents — my father passed away about twenty years ago and it meant a lot to me to live in the Paris we experienced together then. But that was ‘then’! I was wrong, unfortunately, awfully wrong. The Paris I once knew and loved does not exist anymore, my father is dead and I cannot resurrect him in any forms I had dreamt of, my formerly friends and I do not share the same vision of life anymore neither the same pace of life, I have become an alien in my home country and I have even personal reasons I should go back home, i.e. England… And I must add that these narrow-minded people are actually right — I do not fit in in this gorgeous monocultural French capital anymore.

Such a tough time I have been going through since I ‘came back’, constant reminders I am not at home anymore, that I should either blend in or leave, that I am ‘too international’ if there is such a thing, ‘too multicultural’, and I should criticize/complain way more. All things I clearly do not want to do or lessen. Job-wise, my mindset is ‘too entrepreneurial’ for the French and again I should blend in and bend as well, s’il vous plaît ! Mais il ne me plaît point.

Don’t get me wrong, paradoxically, I still love Paris in many ways: the architecture, museums, cafés, terraces, food and of course the well-thought French health system. But having lived for so long in a multicultural capital where different cultures do mix happily and offering such an open-minded mentality on an everyday basis, it makes it really tough for me to live in another capital where you are required to homogenize to be accepted. My fluency in English seems to bother most French managers and clearly, my work experiences abroad are of no interest here. I am in love with the Paris I experienced as a kid, not the Paris I live in now as an adult.

Grand Place or Grote Markt, Brussels

My stay in Brussels

I started to feel depressed in Paris, chastising myself severely for having left London and dreaming of an old Paris I had once known and loved. But then, miracles do happen! I have been thinking of moving out of France for a while and was wondering whether London could a be wise move due to appalling Brexit -please don’t get me started! I was hesitating, the cost of living also represents a huge pressure there. I had been told that Brussels was an extraordinary international city to live in by friends and family members who did live there and go back there quite often. I must admit I was not totally convinced, London running through my veins…

What a great pleasure Brussels was the whole time I was there and I cannot wait to go back! Yes, Brussels is indeed a truly international and multicultural city — not only European as it is said so many times -, full of positive vibes, essentially bilingual thanks to the French and Dutch languages but English is widely spoken there, simply and naturally. People mix ‘naturally’, speak easily, interact ‘naturally’, are very welcoming and dynamic in a surprisingly relaxing way. Another vibrant capital for all cultures, backgrounds, and cultural interests. Museums are stunning and very impressive, Belgian sense of humour is absolutely charming and full of lovely exuberant nonsense. In a nutshell, that was love at first sight.

Brugge, Belgium

It cannot be compared to London based on its size and population but it does have the same positive stimulation and kindness, probably less polite though since Belgians are very straightforward but this does not mean they are rude, quite the opposite actually. Each district offers a different approach to architecture, residents, green spaces, history — and so on -, similar to London. Parks are spectacular too. Like England, Belgium is a small country; commuting to the surrounding towns and cities is very easy and pleasant. My partner and I visited Bruges, which I highly recommend too, an hour-train from Brussels: so romantic and a breathtaking architecture!

So what are the cons then? Opening hours are quite an issue. It is a real challenge to get a grasp on them. Some restaurants close on Mondays, others on Wednesdays or Thursdays, shops close early, many at 6/7 pm, and restaurants usually around 10 pm. This may be quite hard when you are used to cities that barely sleep… Most probably a tiny inconvenience to get used to as part of a laid-back but efficient mentality though. But have you ever heard of the traffic jam there? A nightmare. Trucks seem to go back and forth with no definite direction and we still bump into them in the old town right in the middle of the day. Drivers seem to be glued to their car horn and in the midst of this nonsensical adversity, cycles, scooters and pedestrians try to find their way. Sure, roadworks do not help either! So many in large sections of the city, it feels like they are engraved in the landscape permanently.

Still, I felt at home in a country and city I had never been to, whilst I am a foreigner in my supposed-to-be home country. I have missed my adoptive country, England, tremendously and I do think Belgium and Brussels could be a country and capital I will be happy to live and work in.

Manneken-Pis, Brussels
Manneken-Pis, Brussels

London is unique and I will most probably move back there at some point if I cannot do so now, unless I feel as good elsewhere. Brussels has its own uniqueness, and many aspects I loved in my everyday life in London that I can have back in the Belgian capital. Besides, I am hungry for learning, getting to know other cultures and ways of life abroad. Multiculturalism, international vibes, English language, large green spaces, open-mindedness, diversity are clearly crucial to me and I feel lucky I have visited a capital that offers me ‘just’ that…

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