Brussels is the capital city of Europe, home to the European Commission, the European Parliament, NATO and many many more worldly organizations and agencies. Its seen more as a city of transit than a permanent home. I feel bad for the people who were/are born in Brussels because they always get: “you’re actually from Brussels” or even: “wow you’re actually Belgian”. Yes, its true, its a phenomenon to meet a Belgian in Brussels and I feel for them, being a Anglophone Canadian in Brussels is also quite shocking.
There are so many short-term contract jobs in Brussels, so many “trainees” and other non-permanent positions that its well known that pretty much everyone in Brussels is an immigrant/expat/permanent resident. In addition to this, it rains a lot in Brussels and who would want to live in a perpetual state of grey for the majority of the year for the rest of their life?
On the way to work today, it was pouring rain. I had my umbrella which was already in rough shape and the narrow sidewalks weren’t that crowded as it was still pretty early in the morning (most people start between 9-10am in Brussels…..not at 8am as is usually in Canada). It was difficult to see as I gripped my umbrella and it came down in front of my eyes. So every now and then I would lift the umbrella ever so slightly to not let the wind whip it backwards and leave me drenched. I tried to look at the ground in front of me to see if any feet were coming my way.
I saw a girl who also had an umbrella oncoming. We both saw each from a distance but we still had a MAJOR full on umbrella collision! Both umbrellas flew in the opposite direction of each other. We both kept walking due to the momentum and looked back at each other simultaneously. She said something in french which I assumed was sorry and I replied in English and kept going.
Only in Brussels will you have an umbrella collision rather than a car accident before work. Of course there is less damage and its no big deal. But it just goes to show that Brussels is mixed with so many different people that there is no understood system of walking on the sidewalks with umbrellas. I can bet that in Paris or London that people with umbrellas can walk smoothly past each other with just a centimeter of space preventing a crash.
The same goes for the metro stations. In Brussels you have a stairway that is completely clogged with people taking one step at a time at their own leisurely pace. There is no lane to pass and this clogging effect is even worse on the highways. Have you ever heard of a country where you can come to a complete standstill on a highway three lanes across for no reason? No car crash, no construction, nothing broken down. Just slow. In ALL lanes. I know that in London there are even instructions in the underground stations that say “slow traffic keep left” (because they drive on other side of the road….yeah took me a minute to clue in too).
And when you get into the metro its not unusual to hear five different languages like French, Flemish, English, Spanish and another one you can’t identify. In many European cities its not out of the ordinary to hear two languages on the metro but to hear five, now thats diverse.
Brussels will always be a mixed bag, but maybe one day the people will eventually figure out an unwritten system of commuting without traffic jams or pedestrian collisions. Here’s hoping.