Studying abroad in Europe, I wasn’t expecting life to be much different than in the States. After all, Western Europe and America are like cousins, right? Things really haven’t been shockingly different or hard to deal with so far. Of course, I’ve only been here a few weeks. Most aspects of living in Brussels that have confused me or made me slightly uncomfortable have more to do with my novice status in the world of cities and public transportation than anything else.
However, in my short time here, as I settle into my house and stop eating out everyday (much to my back account’s pleasure), I have reflected on a few norms in Belgium that make life a little more inconvenient. These inconveniences do not in any way take away from the experience of living on a different continent (I mean, how awful would things have to be for that to get ruined?) These inconveniences also have a very good purpose, typically being eco-friendly, and as someone who prides herself as being pro-environment (I recycle, okay), I absolutely do not mind these norms and will hopefully bring some back to the States.
So here’s a list of the Top Ten Hassels in Europe that I Love.
10.) Separating Recycling
The typical home in Brussels contains three garbage tins; one white, one yellow, and one blue. Each tin corresponds with the color of the trash can liner that goes in it. The color of the bag designates the content of the bag. Green is for paper and cardboard, Yellow is for plastics, and White is for trash. Each color has a specific day it’s allowed to be placed on the curb. Glass must be walked to appropriate disposal next to the bus stop. Noncompliance with any of these rules can result in a fine of up to two hundred euros.
The process is a little more complex to the ‘toss it in the bin’ non discriminate recycling I have back home. Belgium has the capabilities of recycling more complex plastics than North Carolina and for that reason I will happily go through the extra step of separating my recycling.
9.) Shower Time
I am admittedly guilty of taking wasteful showers. Typically I use a shower as a break from school work and therefore I tend to linger. I am nothing if not a creative procrastinator. Here, our shower is attached to a tank. The tank, which is refilled daily, must be enough for all five inhabitants. Since no one wants to be that roommate that causes your friend to shiver in her morning shower, it is important to keep your showers short and to the point.
It took me a while to grow accustomed to the windows here in Brussels but now that I have, I can honestly say I’m in love. If the handle on the large window is pointing straight up, then the window cracks open vertically from the top. This is perfect for the bathroom during steamy (but short) showers.
If the handle is pointed horizontally, then the windows open up like a door, letting in more air and construction noises than any window I’ve run into in the States.
7.) No A/C
Where there air conditioning units, they are typically turned off or give a meager wisp of air roughly the same temperature as the room it is meant to cool down. While this has lead to some insufferable three hour classes, it has been interesting living without constant a/c. It has forced me to be more conscientious when I dress in the morning and to consume four times as much water as I would back home.
6.) All the Freakin’ Stairs
My home for the semester is very cozy, very nice, and very tall. The house is split up into half stories, meaning that at each half flight of stairs, I’m at a different room or cluster of rooms on the other side of the house than before. And guess whose room is almost the very top of the house. This gal.
I do not wish for the curse of the stairs to follow my back home. I’ve been lucky my two years at Wofford to live in ground story dorms. But if third times the anti-charm and I end up on a higher level for my junior year, I will be okay and well trained. Because there is not a building at Wofford as tall as my house in Brussels.
5.) Bus Times
Living for the first time in a big city, I expected and was excited to take the metro here and there. The metro does not go by my suburban home (though it has much less of a yard than the suburban homes I am used to). So I have been taking the bus everywhere: to school, to home, to the city, to metro stations. I love it. I like being able to sit mindlessly while someone else drives. I like the cosmopolitan (not in a classy sense, admittedly) feeling of taking public transportation. I like that in order to get home I must take the bus with the word Wiener shinning on it.
It does get frustrating not knowing exactly when to be at the bus stop to get picked up. I’ve waited nineteen minutes for my regular bus, much longer for a smaller one. I’ve j-walked and awkwardly waddled hastily with a backpack on to make the bus that pulled up just a hair too soon. I’ve had buses leave the second my foot touched the curb. The bus has been my enemy as well as my friend.
4.) No supermarkets
Well, there are supermarkets. They are just not as super and do not exist in such large numbers. A supermarket here sells school supplies, towels, clothes, and maybe a few snack items. As a college student trying to save her money for things like traveling, this doesn’t bother me. Having to move through a city to buy multiple items keeps me in check. It’s also a great way to productively see the city. What does get frustrating is the hours in which these stores are open. If I wait until five or six o’clock to go buy my dinner or my binder, then chances are that I will not get them. The hours are even trickier on the weekend because some stores will close for one day or two half days or simply close whenever they feel they won’t get any more customers.
3.) You can’t buy drugs just anywhere
You have to get everything at the pharmacy here. Even over the counter items like ibuprofen. And pharmacies close early. The shops rotate which one in the entire city will be open all night. Odds are, it’s not the corner of happy and my house. While this is cute and quaint, it is actually more annoying than anything. This quirk might not make it back to the State.
2.) Paying for a bag
If you go shopping for groceries or at a handy dandy super market, it is customary to bring your own bag. I’ve even seen some people with a rolling cart like bag, like one you might buy from Thirty-one. If you don’t have a bag or forgot one but cannot carry things in your hands, you can buy a bag. Whether you purchase a reusable bag for the next visit or a flimsy plastic bag, you have to pay a small charge. I absolutely love this idea. Though a bag may be only thirty cents, it is still an incentive for most Belgians to use reusable bags.
Bringing my own bag has also made me more conscientious of my purchases. What I’m buying must fit in this one bag. I have to carry this bag all the way home. It has really cut down on my miscellaneous snack purchasing.
1.) Limited Wi-Fi
For four months, my phone will be switched to Airplane Mode and at the mercy of wi-fi. But don’t give that stuff away for free. Often, a casual dinning place in which you purchase your food and then eat will have the access code on the bottom of your receipt. That code may only be viable for an hour. Most places do not allow public access to their wi-fi at all.
This has been frustrating at times when I am lost or am trying to contact someone. However, it has also made me more attentive while I’m out. I can’t hide from strangers in the world of Facebook. I can’t ignore my friend by skimming through Instagram. Without wi-fi, I’m stuck wherever I am. But where I am is in Europe so I think I’ll be okay.