Well…life in Belgium

Exploring Grand Place 010

I keep pushing this blog post off into the future hoping that with the passage of time some kind of perspective would give way to a new way of seeing things. I didn’t want to project a bunch of negativity, especially if what is happening is short-lived. It’s been two months now so obviously my feelings and impressions aren’t fleeting. Time for a check in blog and if you were hoping for a sunny, happy go lucky piece- abandon hope here. Once you read this, I won’t be anyone’s envy and you’ll all be glad you have not forsaken your Lazyboy recliner positioned comfortably before your hundreds of TV channels ALL IN ENGLISH!!!! Not that everything is TV. But how many of you can shrug off not having a phone or internet access for a month? My TV options are limited to BBC, CNN Europe, and a few channels that run old American movies. Nothing begins on the hour. We have no idea why. My husband jokes that it’s tied to the bus schedule (and it may be).

Voorkant gedaan

I live in a French quarter on the east side of Brussels that is centered around a Catholic Church built in the 1930s. There’s a quaint town circle that holds a market every Wednesday morning. No joke- that is where I’m supposed to do my grocery shopping if I were living as a Belgian. I think this is a hold over from a bygone era because some of the young families sure seem eager to make use of the handful of VERY NEW supermarkets coming in. I do see a lot of old people at the village markets, but dual income families don’t have time to shop mid-day in the middle of the week. One of the major problems we have here is that stores are not open a lot. Many things close by six or seven on the weekdays and virtually nothing is open on Sunday. Remember the Blue laws (if you’re old enough to remember back to the 70s)? If you’re an American who hasn’t lived like this in forty years, it’s quite an adjustment. From what I understand, Germany and the Netherlands are not like this.

Exploring Grand Place 017

The house we’re in dates from the 1950s. It has many odd features that have been eye opening. Every room has a door, every door has a key- each unique to the door. The basement has three interior keys and a locking mechanism designed by a former security official for the state of Belgium (absolute truth!). The windows have a tilting mechanism that allows “air from the garden.” Since they have no screens, we can’t even try them because the two cats would be out in an instant.There are heavy privacy shades that roll down over the exterior of the front and back windows. These are like those inner city store security systems you see in sketchy neighborhoods. Since I couldn’t bring my weight machine, these provide my upper arms with a daily work out routine. The staircases in the house are narrow, uncarpeted, and treacherous. Probably the most unique feature (?) to the whole house is the WC (water closet) on the main level. Upon entering the house, to the right (after climbing two stairs) is a small closet- like cubicle that houses a toilet. It is the only bathroom on the main living level and it means that all your visitors get to wash their hands in the kitchen sink. Now this would be okay if this house was a 1600s Dutch canal house before modern sanitation, but really?  The house was built in 1951!!!!

Hal boven a gedaan

Anyway, this blog has gone on and could go on rambling over eight weeks of hard earned experience. But I’d better give you all a break.

Here are some  of the things I’d give my eye teeth for (after weeks of searching here’s what we still can’t find):

breakfast sausage (for my husband, any kind)

chicken gravy (any form)

a plastic pitcher (to make iced tea)

ice cube trays

baby oil- gel

81″ length, sheer curtains

a shower curtain

raw hide chews (for the dog, no way am I giving him pig’s ears!!)

loose leaf paper

(all found at your local Walmart)

Future Blog Topics:

Laundry: The Persistent Nightmare

And You Thought You Knew Meat (why something labeled hamburger contains only chicken)

Who is Madam PeePee & Why Do I have to Pay Her?

How to Fry 2 Computers in 8 Weeks: (hey-the IT guy is here and speaks only French)






Filed under living abroad, Uncategorized

56 responses to “Well…life in Belgium

  1. I’m sure you have this kind of info already, but I’ve been thinking of you since reading this (very engaging) blog! Blessings!


    • Thanks, Victoria. Good info there. I’m going to check out Bol.com and CoolBlue. I can get Amazon.com because we have an APO but they won’t ship everything overseas so maybe these are better options. Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I lived on Sardinia for a bit – in a shack!


  3. Absolutely fantastic! Well written and hilarious and honest and….well….I wolfed it down!

    Thoroughly enjoyed!


    • Glad you enjoyed it! Another highlight- my version of All Creatures Great & Small. The vet here comes to your house. Prescriptions are filled at the Pharmacy (not by the Vet). I was a little taken aback to be told my dog is fat (I know that) by a Vet with a BMI twice my dog’s!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Don’t hold back! Just think how much support you could have gotten by posting sooner.


  5. Hi there – thought I’d try to help out. I’m not entirely sure where in Brussels you live. I’m in Chatelain, so my experience might be quite different from yours.

    But here’s a go at where to look for the things you are looking for. As a whole I would say, the idea that you would go to one place (walmart/target, etc) for everything isn’t going to work here – while it does take some getting used to, it’s just a mentality shift 🙂

    I would suggest popping by a mall – like the one off Rue Haute, or the Shopping Woluwe, so you at least have lots of shop options. Hema, Zara Home, Casa and Ikea are all good options for finding most of what you are looking for.

    As for the markets – they are certainly fun to go to, but there are a ton of grocery stores around – I have 3 all within 5 blocks of my place (two smaller ones and a big Delhaize), where you should be able to find everything. I like to go to markets on weekends because they are fun to go to and often cheaper than the grocery store (there is one in Flagey, or if you are feeling adventurous, at Gare du Midi — I’m sure there are many more, but that’s where I go).

    Breakfast sausage, I’ve never seen outside of the commissary, but I did find some good recipe’s online and plan to take a stab at making some myself. It’s actually really not that complicated.

    In the end, I will say this, Brussels makes you work for it, but she’s worth it if you are patient, and willing to get that it won’t be just like the US. It has it’s own charm though, and whenever I’m back in the US, I miss Brussels.

    I’m also happy to recommend a vet for you, but it might depend on where you live. There are several in the Chatelain neighborhood that my friends with dogs and cats love.

    Cheers and good luck!

    PS – customer service here sucks… the best advice I have for you there is learn to not let it get to you 🙂


    • With my husband retired AF, and our residency cards in hand, we do qualify to use the BX/commissary about an hour south. I was able to find many (not all) the items I listed above. I am finding living here tough. Nothing is done on the first trip and I’m surprised to find how much relies on relationships built over generations. The people have been nice on a personal level but the systems are difficult and not as subject to the idea of money talks or even economic competition. We came for the travel possibilities so that’s where we’ll have to put our efforts. We are in Woluwe St. Pierre- St. Alix. I just found a dog sitter through Pawshake & I’m still looking for a vet. Thanks for all the advice. We did make it to the Woluwe mall & IKEA, will try to get to more of the others as we can.


  6. Holly M

    I feel your pain. It’s easy to be 30 days anywhere but 2 years would be quite an adjustment. I wanted to recommend viewing on YouTube the tv shows from the 60’s. They are free and entire episodes. I was able to see them in Some places in Europe so hopefully you can connect in Brussels. I watched ‘One Step Beyond’, ‘ Outer Limits’, ‘Science Fiction Theater’.
    I spent a bit of time in Brussels and particularly remember good antiquing and good food. I just ordered your book about the Himalayas so I know you must have an adventurous spirit. I look forward to reading it.
    Hope you like mussels.


    • Yes, I watch a lot on YouTube. We can actually get NetFlix so I have some options other than the TV. We are starting to get out and about more and that’s helping. Saturday we went to the BX/Commissary about an hour south of Brussels. I’ve been able to stock up on many of the things we can’t find locally. That’s helping. Now I’m working on getting a vet. I leave messages and no one ever calls back. This is pretty typical of what we’ve run into throughout the whole experience.


  7. I think those European compact laundry machines were designed by children, for children, and I’m almost certain the heating element in the dryers must be a light bulb, they are so slow.


  8. I enjoyed your post with a tinge of regret and sympathy. It sounds like quite the switch from living with daily conveniences and creature comforts. I see you as a strong person who welcomes adventure and (small) challenges. Looking forward to more posts and updates on life in Belgium. Best wishes.


  9. I appreciate your honesty about a challenging situation! I get so tired of people posting “my life is wonderful, everything is perfect” stories! It will get better, and then as someone else already said, being back in the States will seem strange!


  10. I am laughing and groaning simultaneously. We moved to a rural part of California from the bay area, and had much the same Wall of Shock. It’s become, actually, a really good way to practice, er, non-attachment. Avoid clinging altogether and remember the impermanence of everything: like, power, water, tv, internet…..I’m betting the grocery thing will pick up though as soon as you explore more. Our washer died because the well water here is unfiltered and wrecked the insides, and a memorable visit to the laundromat involved a man with no hands taking a bag of my dirty clothes. The first time I went into our local store here I started crying because the aisle markers said things like: JELLO and VELVEETA. It all turned out well though, as we explored more, so I am sure the same will be true for you. AFOG, after all. Best wishes and enjoy as much as you can! Variety, spice, right?


  11. Veta Lynne Murray

    The first couple of months are always the hardest. Try to look at this like it’s an adventure. When I moved to the States for awhile from Canada, I was so depressed. I missed all the modern things I had in Canada that the US didn’t have. I missed the English language as I knew it. Lol. Yes, Americans speak American not English. I was super bummed out and as a result, I missed seeing so much that was good. What you have described is a challenge yes, but by no means backward. I have been to Europe and unfortunately the Americans I met wanted America to be in Europe, and that’s just not how it is. You are in an amazing experience. It’s time to grow and learn and experience new things and new people. Go online and find Fodor’s guide to Brussels and get a copy of it at a travel agency or a library or just order it online. You will find in it everything you need to know about Brussels. That’s how I travelled Portugal and it was so helpful. I agree with Peace Corps that an English teacher at a school could help.
    Let the pre-conceived notions go. I had to when I went to your country, which you perceive as advanced and way ahead of the world, but to me, it wasn’t. So it isn’t so much about modernisms etc. as it is just about what we grow up with and are used to. Get your friends back home to send you baby oil. Buy screening and do it yourself. Get creative. The laundry thing, well, check and see if there is a laundress. There were in Portugal. Things are different.
    To me, it sounds amazing. In two years, you will be used to it. We are all rooting for you. But to enjoy something different, my darling, you must stop comparing. You can do this! You are just missing home. 💞

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I guess your best friend is a sense of humor.


  13. Bill and I both read your blog and looked at your photos. He thought your blog was cool. I wish your first few weeks would have gone better, but think of the benefits of travel/being so close to different countries. I’m still going to envy you, Ellis!

    The first comment I left was lost. It was better than this.


  14. It’s hard to change cultures–the first 3 months are truly demanding. But not having English language tv is not a hardship, or is a tv schedule done the way the rest of the world does one, it can be blessing. Read, create,talk to your husband, explore! Invite people over–knock on the neighbors door, hold out a bottle of wine and ask them over.

    Your depression over the little things is normal at this stage. I was in Peace Corps in Malawi and these are trivial compared to no clean water, no sanitation, poor food security (access to ANY food), no infrastructure and medieval-level health care. Ask the neighbors what they do–use Google translate even.

    As another comment said–wheelchair access IS a problem. Not easy to live or work in a wheelchair i most of the rest of the world
    Terrorist threats and actions are a problem. The refugee crisis is a problem.

    Co-workers or neighbors will explain grocery shopping–likely they shop at lunch; that isn’t a problem. that’s normal many places (it was in Ukraine where I visited for several months).
    Ask, watch, learn. Take language lessons and be bold–take your dictionary in your purse and fumble along.

    It will get easier and better. It will be ok.–I’m not being mean, I’m trying to show you the “other” way to look at this.

    From your want list–Peace Corps solutions!!!!!
    Ask for sausage meat or ground/minced pork for sausage. Google it and see how to season it–usually it’s just salt, pepper and sage.
    P.S. Chicken gravy is just chicken fat, flour and chicken broth–not hard. Google it–it’s easy. Probably Pioneer Woman has pictures
    Ice is pretty American–save plastic water bottles, cut the narrow top off and freeze in that.
    But a glass or pottery pitcher.
    See what local dogs chew on.
    European paper is a different size–A4. Buy a whole punch.
    Baby oil–ask a Mom pushing a stroller. She’s probably desperate to talk to an adult.
    Screens aren’t normal in Europe–even Buckingham Palace doesn’t have them Try netting or plastic trellis stuff from a Garden shop to use when you air the house out so your kitties don’t get out.

    You have to be BOLD, but solutions are there waiting for you. You can do this!! It can even be fun!! Why not stop at the English teacher? He/she can probably figure out such basic terms for you, even show you local culture. Ask at the Visitor’s centers. A wife at the Embassy.

    I know it’s really hard right now–I cried a lot a few months in on my move to Malawi, but it WILL get easier. HUGS.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I realize these aren’t catastrophic issues. But you have to realize, I didn’t sign up for the Peace Corps and I didn’t pack for the Congo. I do think Belgium is an outlier country for Western Europe. We can’t go back so I have to suck it up, so to speak. Two years and back to the States where everything will seem miraculous and I will be more grateful.


      • You know what? You’ll go thru the same disorientation when you come home. It will get easier–it really will. It IS hard. But reach out and ask. There are answers and your life can become livable and enjoyable again in your new reality. A foreign service wife or a veteran corporate expat can probably get you to what all you are looking for quickly. I’m here pulling for you to have a great time after these little things get sorted out. 🙂


    • You couldn’t have expressed better the things I thought when I read this post. I was so eager to read it and then I felt funny.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Susan Bernhardt

    Bill and I both read your interesting blog and looked at the photos! Wow!!! Bill said it was a cool blog. I hope things get better for you. You still have the benefit of being so close to travel/access to different countries. I’m still going to envy you, Ellis…lol.


  16. Theresa Crater

    My sympathies. Perhaps you’ll be able to travel on the weekends to wonderful places?


  17. This sounds a lot like my first home in Germany in 1966, but you’ll learn to like it. For me the hardest part was heating the hot water tank with coal briquettes, very expensive. So we only heated it for baths. Dish wash water we heated on the stove. Baking was fun because we had to convert centigrade to Fahrenheit to know what temperature we needed. Beautiful hyacinths. You’ll get used to it and when you return to the US you won’t be able to read street or store signs for a couple days. sd

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, we’re doing the cooking conversions. One of the easiest parts of this whole thing. Luckily, no coal to deal with but we do have the old coal shoot downstairs in the basement so you definitely had it tougher!!


  18. It would be so hard to adjust to a completely different way of living! I do have to say that it looks gorgeous there though! But those stairs and all the doors and keys is beyond weird lol


    • And imagine doing your laundry in a machine with about 1/3 the capacity of a modern US one. Laundry is an all-day enterprise. Life is tough here. Some other Americans tell me that when they go home everything seems like a miracle.

      Liked by 1 person

      • oh no – I couldn’t imagine that! Laundry is an all day event here (4 people – one of them being a messy working husband and two being messy children) and that’s with a regular sized machine!! My heart goes out to you! I will never take my washing machine for granted again!! LOL


      • That’s probably going to be my biggest lesson. Just being grateful!

        Liked by 2 people

  19. reanolanmartin

    wow! time travel back to the ’40’s!


  20. I know it wasn’t your intention, but you did give me a couple of chuckles. It sounds challenging for sure, but just think of all the ways you can use these challenges in your books. Hugs, and hang in there.


  21. Sorry to hear the first couple months aren’t going as well as planned!!! Hang in there, its so overwhelming at first…but I promise it gets better! If you haven’t been yet check out HEMA. There are several around Brussels and its like a smaller (not as cool) version of Target. Should be able to check a few things off that list! I’m working on perfecting a recipe for breakfast sausage…so far I haven’t found the right mix of spices but if I sort it out I will let you know. 😉 Also Marks & Spencer on Toison d’Or has a lot of foods that you can’t find in the Belgian supermarkets. No breakfast sausage unfortunately but stuff like chili powder, skim milk, etc… Feel free to message me if you have any questions!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. I lived in England in the mid-fifties. The world was essentially bombed out. Indoor plumbing was a gift if one had it. Building materials, and men, were in short supply, s0 builders, and women, made do. Europe was essentially leveled and living was, fir most people, challenging. Now when I visit, there are few signs of just how painful those years after the war were. Sadly, as a Polio, I could not even get into mist of the houses built in the fifties.


    • Interesting perspective, Michael. Thanks for sharing that. Another interesting thing we’re noting here is that there are not handicap access to metro or bathrooms like what would be mandated in the US. Life is very tough here (and it’s not the 50s) & Brussels is trying to play host as the capitol of the EU.

      Liked by 1 person

      • As I read in someone’s comment here, you will feel grateful for all of the luxuries everyone here takes for granted (other than the political disasters going on now in the U.S.) when you return.


      • Yes! Be grateful! For the first time in my life, I’ve been walking to and back from the store carrying the barest essentials. Deciding to buy the 3 in 1 laundry tablets because I can’t carry the bottles of detergent and the other things we need. I have to remember to bring bags. I have to pack the bags myself. I’ve watched so many old people struggle with their groceries while the checkers just watch, it makes me sick (not that this couldn’t happen in the US). Another gripe.Be grateful! Life is physically tough.


      • Ellis, that is true in much of the world. I now try to avoid places that will be too unfriendly towards my disability. That said, I still love India and will go as I am able, even though it is a disability access nightmare. (I have been aided by many there, in difficult moments, events that have left joy in my heart.) Hong Kong, on the other hand, is uneven in access but accessible enough most of the time, and people there are marvelous. Once I fell in the metro when my crutch slipped. I went sprawling in the midst of a large crowd, only to have the crowd part and several arms grab me and pick me up.


      • Wonderful stories can come from our vulnerabilities.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s