I somehow feel like I should write something about my new home country. After all I have lived here already half a year; does not make me an expert, but still. And before we get any further, keep in mind, that this is written from the Finnish point of view. They say, that the first culture shock comes around 6 months after the move. Maybe this post comes from that. Not that I feel too shocked.
The decision to move here was done with rather little consideration. I did not know too much about Belgium at that point. The basics; beer, waffles, Manneken Pis, Brussels as the center of all things EU and the fact that the whole country was about as big – or small – as the province where my Finnish home was. I think there are more of you out there, who know about as much, so this post might actually serve a purpose.
Divided. Small or not, Belgium manages to be rather divided. The most obvious border runs between the Flemish North, Flanders, and the French South, Wallonia. There is a long history behind it, with which I wont bother you now. But the dispute between those two is still live and well. Then there is the small part of the country being happily German, nobody seems to notice them too much. And then there is Brussels.
A small group of Belgians in Flanders love the piece of land so much, they would love it to be completely separated from the Wallonia. Since the small harbor in Antwerp provides them a nice living. And who wants the southerners anyways? So far the Brussels question is keeping them put.
Other than divided by language and culture, there is a clear difference also in the landscape. Flanders is mainly flat. Really, seriously flat. It was seabed back in the day, and hills seldom survive drowning. There is not too much wild nature either in Flanders. Every single corner is a highway, city or a cornfield. Every inch of the place is taken into use, and the process of keeping the sea away is visible at many places.
When you move south of Brussels, the landscape changes immediately. Suddenly there are hills, valleys, gorges, forests and Walloons. The south is less populated and more natural. I like the south. People there live in small towns with ill-maintained churches and cows on their backyards. You find places from there, that could be a part of a silly old English TV-series. It is lovely and sympathetic region.
People. There are some similarities between the Belgians, and the Finns. They are both shy and like beer. Maybe that is the reason there actually is quite a lot of Belgian-Finn -mixed couples and families around. Though I am afraid, neither I or my Waffle are too good examples of an average Finn or a Belgian. We are loud, talkative and often times impossible to be around with. Thank god we like to disappear into the wild quite often.
On the road the Belgians transfer into two things. Either complete morons or fire breathing dragons you do not want to mess with. I guess that is necessary in a small country with something like 11 000 000 people. All of whom want to jump on to the roads at 7 am sharp on a Monday morning. The adrenaline shock I receive after the drive to work, listening to the rage of the Waffle beats a few espressos. Easily.
Festivals, beer and rainfall. In other words: the summer. Hm, festivals is something that really keeps Belgium alive. During summer time, every single place that even remotely resembles a village, even our Rupelmonde, arranges a festival. There is live music everywhere, people get drunk and meet friends. Lovely. And many of those events are still for free! You can also find a few bigger festivals from here. Like Tomorrowland or Graspop. Never mind them.
Beer. Beer is essential in many ways over here. You can’t invite anyone over if you do not have beer. Cold beer to be exact. Also, every single village seems to have their own brewery. Big or small, but brewery there has to be. From that, there are born quite a nice number of fine beers. Of course there are a few bad ones in the mix, but probably everyone can find something drinkable. Now the beer and the culture related are even Unesco World Heritage.
Rainfall. Belgium is not famous for the long, hot and lovely summers. Oh no. It rains, sometimes a lot. When it does not rain, it is either too hot or too cold. On the hot days, people hop again onto their cars and rush towards the strip of beach they have in the northern part of the country. They pack them selves into the holiday villages and spend the weekend happily side by side on the beach. Not all of course, but many. I guess they feel safe there. All together.
History. One thing I definitely like about Belgium is the history. Compared to Finland the history is much much more visible. In old medieval cities where you are able to walk the routes people walked a thousand years ago, the villages and cities breathe history, just turn down to a side path and you are surrounded by it.
You find small castles everywhere and right next to them are bunkers from the war times. The marks and events of both of the World Wars are here. We even have a concentration camp close by telling it’s own grim story.
For a small country Belgium has surprisingly lot to offer. It is divided, but in the division there is versatility. It is a crossing point for many things, people, cultures and life. And what is most important for us, you can get out of there easily.