If you’ve read yesterday’s post with attention, you are aware that I sometimes daydream about living in an “ideal country”, which you may call “Paulineland” or “BruMiDon”. (Or even “Pauline’s stupidly improbable fantasy country”, if you so wish).
These are the typically Belgian “things” and ideas/values/customs that would definitely be part of it.
Some days, usually on Sunday afternoons, I wish I could easily pop in to my parents’, my grandma’s or my sister’s. I do bless the fact that they can call me for free (thank you Belgacom) on my landline and that there is no huge time difference between us though.
With regard to “big issues”, I like to say that Belgium usually looks at what its neighbours The Netherlands do, and follows their policies in case of success. Abortion, gay marriage, gay adoption, euthanasia: all of these have been legal and accepted as “normal” in Belgium for many years. Moving to Italy proved a bit of a shock, as I naively thought these values were shared everywhere in Europe: this is actually not really the case. Belgium’s Prime Minister is the gay son of immigrants, and no one cares a bit.
The healthcare system
Italy and the UK have a fairly similar system, which is “nearly free healthcare available to everyone”. While I like that very much as a concept, in real life I prefer the Belgian healthcare system, where you tend to pay a little, but have very good service and no awfully long waiting lists. If I want to see my dermatologist, I book an appointment at my dermatologist. This might seem straightforward to you, but this is absolutely not the case in the UK for instance, where GPs are omnipotent.
In Italy and the UK, people will regularly go to A&E because they have a problem that, while being minor, necessitates swift treatment. It took me some time not to be alarmed when colleagues, upon being asked how they were doing in the morning, greeted me with a nonchalant “Yes, I’m great, I went to A&E last night”. I would then wonder if they had cut their hands off, or suffered cardiac arrest. No, they usually only had a really bad case of sore throat.
The cheap rents in Brussels.
I have now made peace with the fact that all my friends in Belgium live in far nicer houses/flats than I do (although they do like to complain about the increased rent prices). The only way for me to beat them at this game would probably be to move to Berlin… Which I might actually do, one day.
The “class unconsciousness” and the opportunities to grow
Belgium of course has rich and poor people, people from aristocratic and “plain” families, snobs and “chavs”. But for some reason, it doesn’t seem to matter that much: the school you’ve been to, your family, all of this is of relatively little importance, unlike in the UK.
In addition, the state is there to support you if you want to progress and develop. Education is good but cheap. University fees are currently capped at 835€ per year, and if you have low income, it’s practically free of charge. Grants for further education and for internships abroad are easily available.
A word about food:
These are the Belgian specialities I would like to see on my plate/in my glass: chocolate (if you’ve been reading this blog, you already know the special relationship I have with dark, Belgian chocolate), perfectly cooked chips, an array of beers (from the fruity ones to the 11° strong Trappist ones), a few homemade dishes (chicons au gratin, carbonnades, pêches au thon) which I am actually able to replicate easily. Some more random stuff: maatjes (they’re not even Belgian, they’re Dutch), tarte au riz, my grandma’s galettes, etc.
(As you can tell, I was really struggling with the pictures. How do you picture “tolerance” and “cheap rents”? I’m putting photos of Brussels then…)