The patios in Europe are something that you just can’t mimic in Canada. The weather for one thing allows the patios to be open from about May to the end of October. Most patios are on the sidewalks. They have little square or round tables with chairs as light as a feather. They aren’t made of wood. Usually it feels like you are sitting on material people make baskets from and the metal rods that hold them up aren’t very sturdy. These chairs are another reason why its “architecturally” necessary to stay relatively thin in Europe (as are the narrow staircases and small spaces in general such as the aisles in the grocery stores).
The patios are usually packed on sunny days and after about 9:00pm at night (weeknights included). It’s difficult to find a table for two even, on any night of the week. Most of the time in the afternoons you see people drinking Belgian beer, of course, or wine. They also have appetizer platters, which by Canadian standards couldn’t be classified as a platter, but more of a small plate. They eat salami, cubed mozzarella cheese with pickles and olives and sometimes onion. The plate is served with toothpicks and mustard. Its very cute and it makes a girl feel thinner when she uses a toothpick to eat a bite of cheese and a pickle before dinner (if dinner is ordered for that matter). Instead of in Canada, where the average appetizer is a mountain of cheesy nachos with salsa and sour cream or a plate of messy hot wings.
The chatter on the patios is subdued to the point where you don’t even notice the other people chattering away in French, Flemish, Italian or any other foreign language. What I love about the patios the most is the relaxed atmosphere and the fact that you can go to a patio, order one drink and stay there for over an hour. In Canada, once your done the waiter will continually come by the table asking if he can get you anything else and then he puts the bill on the table indirectly telling you to leave. The service at restaurants in Belgium is less than ok, but at least they “leave you alone.” The problem arises when they completely ignore you (which is the norm) to the point where you have to flag someone down to order.
If there is a non-smoking section on a patio, which I’ve only seen once out of the dozens of patios I’ve been too, it is 1/6 the size of the whole patio, maybe 1/8 and a few people were still smoking in this area. On the same said patio, there was a rooster. Yes, a rooster was just walking around, poking its head under everyone’s chair and pecking at the crumbs.
A rooster on a patio: that was something new. What is much more common is dogs on the patio and even inside the restaurant. Its not surprising to walk into a restaurant at lunchtime with your colleagues and see a Jack Russell Terrier sleeping in his doggy-bed right next to a table where someone is eating. I even saw a lady in a booth with her chiwawa on her lap as she was ordering. The waiters sometimes bring a bowl of water out for the dogs.
Now that patio season is over, all of the umbrellas, tables and chairs are stacked up against the wall of the restaurant waiting to be put away until next year. Until then, I will be sitting on the patio furniture on my balcony because the weather in Brussels doesn’t really get below zero that often. So for this Canadian, its patio season all year round in Brussels. Cheers to that!
Read about other positive trade-offs to living in Europe: