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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): Things that make Belgium "different"

Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!)

My goal here is to make your life easier, especially those who are in the unique situation of being a military spouse. Yes...I've been around...but in a good way...and hopefully can share those tips, tricks and shortcuts with you too. I've been on this military bus for over 40 years now. My goals in life are to have a well-run home, few money worries, well adjusted children, money socked away and whatever happiness I can scoop out of life.

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After life as an Army brat, being in the Army myself and marrying a soldier, I can honestly say I have a bucket full of life lessons I can share to help you make your everyday life easier and enlightening. Don't waste your time making unnecessary mistakes and benefit from others who have come before you on your journey through life.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Things that make Belgium "different"

I know before you arrive in Belgium, you're probably telling yourself not to compare it to the US or its citizens....your family and how you do for me....I had in my mind that I wasn't going to compare it to Germany.  Now, seven months later....I have to laugh at these differences, because if I don't....I'm just gonna cry!  Read below and tell me what you think and keep in mind that I am talking about the Wallonian region and not Flanders...which might as well be a different country, but we're all not supposed to NOT talk about the elephant in the room....but a bit of trivia, we are now the European country that holds the record for the MOST DAYS without an elected government!

In no particular order or sense of organization:

  • Belgian bureaucrats love the words "possible" and "not possible" and will use them interchangeably!  Customer service Belgian-style is not as customer friendly as American-style.  In fact, I was told by a Belgian that the product or service is supposed to speak for itself, so no customer service is needed (I must say the Germans feel this way too).
  • Belgium truly is the land of great French fries (frites), and I have NEVER in my life seen so many different toppings (at least 10 at the last friterie I went to)...the favorite topping still being mayo:-)
  • Priority from the right while driving...always, unless specially marked...even if the road coming from the right is a little goatpath.  If it's deemed "a road", it has priority.
  • High percentage of windshield dings and other road mishaps.  Lots of turnip trailers and tractors in Wallonia and potholes as big as kingsized beds, especially now that winter has taken hold.  Not sure where all these road taxes are going that everyone must pay (although Shapians are exempt from paying this tax for their first vehicle).
  • The customer is NOT king....although, I must say, Wallonians are some of the friendliest Europeans I have ever met.  Go back to my comment on customer service.
  • Grown men, not just little boys, peeing along the side of the road.  I've also noticed that public toilets aren't so easy to find and many stores just don't have toilets.
  • Some cars so small, they can fit SIDEWAYS into the smallest parking space.
  • McDonald's serving beer (all over Europe actually).
  • Grown men hugging and kissing each other (ditto in many other areas..mostly down South).
  • The hundreds, maybe thousands....of different Belgian beer varieties to choose from.  My DH is continuing his beer label collection here in Belgium.
  • That if you buy a hunk of cheese or bottle of beer or whatever food item that says it comes from a monastery, it'll be at least twice as expensive as the normal brands.
  • People buy baguettes around here like Americans buy donuts.
  • The small serving sizes for anything you'd like to drink....unless you are going to Starbucks, you can forget a big glass or mug of anything (except maybe beer in some cases).  And forget asking for ice.
  • The small serving sizes in restaurants and the resistance I have found in Chinese restaurants to refill the darn plain white rice dish!
  • Bringing your grocery bags with you shopping, or being prepared to buy some.
  • Your vehicle MUST have a fire extinguisher and if it is older than 5 years, you'd better have that rear foglight installed.
  • My surprise at how little people speak English language around SHAPE (in Wallonia)....must be a Wallonian thing as NATO Brussels and Brussels in general is mostly bilingual...must be a Flemish thing.
  • Almost everything shuts down on a Sunday.
  • The slowness of getting anything done.  It took us about seven months to get our day/night electric meter installed...which was part of our home rental's like work is drawn out, because you don't want to finish everything at once.  You'll see this a lot with your landlord too....again, most are supernice, but you gotta give them time and lots of it.
  • Don't mess with a Wallonian's vacation or time off or give him a more efficient way to do his ends promptly at whatever time it is scheduled to end.....vacation time is sacred here....I've heard bureaucrats who have lived and worked in other European countries tell me they had to actually slow down at work or else they'd finish all their work in two days and twiddle their fingers the rest of the week.....pacing yourself apparently is the idea here.
  • Relaxed rules.  I had a Dutch farmer in Wallonia tell me that they moved the whole family, cows and everything down here from their family farm in the Netherlands....not to Flanders where they also speak Dutch....but down here, the land of the French-speaking land was cheap when they came and the rules can be interpreted a dozen different ways...which is why in the same day you can get the "possible" and "not possible" answer referring back to the first item on my list.
  • What Wallonian or Belgian-isms do you have to add?



Blogger family of 4 on the move! said...

Ok I have a question for you. We are planning a trip to Brussels in a few weeks and since you said you "have to have a fire extinguisher in your car" is that something I need to get?! I tried looking online for road rules as I did when we went to Paris but nothing came up.
Thanks for any info!

February 4, 2011 at 7:20 AM  
Blogger Luba said...

We are hoping to get either Germany, Italy or Belgium as our next duty station :)

February 4, 2011 at 12:35 PM  
Anonymous Barbara Musch said...

I believe most Belgians take the posted speed limit as a suggestion.

February 4, 2011 at 2:19 PM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

Family of four, I believe it is only if you have Belgian plates...but either way, it is a good thing to have in your vehicle. It has to be accessible by the driver. You can find the little ones at the PX where they sell the car stuff and of course on the economy too...mostly hardware stores.

February 4, 2011 at 6:25 PM  
Blogger MooAtU2 said...

I lol-ed at your comment about cars fitting into spots sideways. I was only a week in Germany, and I was amazed when I saw a smart car parted in a tiny spot sideways.

Also, I've become accustomed to people parking pretty much anywhere they want (unless there are signs) and any which way (no matter which way the other cars are facing) and driving and parking on the sidewalk to make room. I would assume this is most of Europe because of the narrow streets.

February 5, 2011 at 12:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

soon to be in belgium...we are having trouble getting the credit union we are financing our car through to let us bring it over. Is that typical?

February 5, 2011 at 4:15 AM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

Anonymous, I am sorry to say that this is VERY typical. That credit union financing your loan has a vested interest in the well-being of your car. Most people I've seen faced with this either sell the car or have someone temporarily care for it while they are overseas...I know, neither a good solution...this may be something I need to blog about as you don't read much about it.

Those who do get approval have to show a letter from their finance company, approving the overseas shipment, or else the military won't ship the vehicle.

Sorry I don't have better news.

Yes, Tootie, some of these things I've mentioned do seem to be Europe-wide!

February 5, 2011 at 10:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ooh .. where do I start?

The drinks ( at Brussels Charleroi Airport?
The "something-lost-in-translation" ( village names?
The unusual metro art ( in Brussels?

Ah, Belgium ... this is probably why I love you ...

February 5, 2011 at 2:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a Belgian and you are very right. This is all true! Funny. I think you can do an article too on Americans here and how I can recognize they are American. That would be funny too. I send you email.

February 6, 2011 at 9:09 AM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

What an excellent idea! I have two of my Belgian friends working on a list....should be fun! Thanks for your are so right!

February 7, 2011 at 7:44 AM  
Blogger family of 4 on the move! said...

Thanks for the info I will pick one up anyway. Better safe then sorry I say!

To anonymous who was asking about the finance company not wanting to ship their vehicle...if you can not get your finance company to approve the shipment try to go through either USAA and refinance your vehicle to ship it or even Bank of America since they have Community bank over here. Another option would be to use the Service credit union which is also over here to try and refinance. If nothing works then sorry to say you might have to sell your car and buy one over here. Hope that helps!

February 7, 2011 at 5:48 PM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

Yes, better safe than sorry:-) And yes, try to refinance or do what you can (read my later blogpost on the subject).

FYI, a rep at Community Bank in Germany told me they are not affiliated with Bank of America (even though it says so on their sign)....different MIL, even though she was a Bank of America customer (in the US) was treated just like any other US-bank customer with fees, etc at the Community Bank's ATMs as well.

February 7, 2011 at 6:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know what you mean about Germany and other parts of Europe... I just had to come back from Switzerland and Germany to Bulgaria, and the thought almost lead me to tears! Germany isn't perfect, but at least you have the insurance of organization and good food... sounds like Belgium is interesting!

February 12, 2011 at 12:20 AM  

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