Article published on April 10th, 2014 in the Flemish newspaper Het Nieuwsblad by Koen Baumers
Photo by Guy Meurs
Article of Colombian madly popular among expats
Strange guys, these Belgians. That’s the approach of the madly popular article on a website for and by foreigners that live and work in our country. “It’s so difficult to become friends with Belgians” says the Colombian Paola Campo, who wrote the article. “They never have time to meet and don’t easily come out of their comfort zone. Hopefully expats can use my tips to understand you better”.
Why I have few Belgian friends
1. You’re always so busy
2. You love your comfort zone
3. You are a closed book, rarely show enthusiasm
Between the tips about movies, restaurants and events for and by foreigners in Belgium there was a small article on cheesweb.eu. It’s called “Three reasons why you have few Belgian friends”. And it became an overwhelming success: It rained reactions on the website itself and the article also quickly conquered Facebook and Twitter.
“It’s as if I could have written it myself” is the tenor of the readers. “Apparently many readers find it hard to make friends with Belgians” says Paola Campo (33), who lives in Wezemaal in Flemish-Brabant.
One of the biggest frustrations of the foreigners is that the agenda of Belgians is always so full. “I don’t think I’ve ever met people who love their agenda more than Belgians” says Campo. “I come from a country where I could just call someone and plan dinner that same evening. You can’t do that here. Also for the hairdresser you need to make an appointment and even for medical tests sometimes you have to wait for months.”
And even when we Belgians don’t have anything to do, it’s still difficult to get us into action. “Belgians love their comfort zone. They prefer being in traffic jams for 2 hours every day than leave the village where their friends and family live. Most adult Belgians still have the same group of friends from when they were young. And you’re a closed book. When you work with Belgians, you never know whether you like something or not: you will rarely show your enthusiasm.”
Paola Campo lives in Belgium for 10 years. She even married a Belgian and has a 3-year old son. “Many readers though I had just arrived a month ago and was drinking away my sorrows every night at place Luxembourg (in the European quarters in Brussels). So, not really. I was lucky to end up in a company with nearly only Belgians, which made me learn right away how things worked. I don’t work there anymore, but we still see each other. The Belgian style: once or twice a year (laughs).”
But she understands it. “When in Colombia a foreigner would arrive, it was quite the event. But there are so many expats here that Belgians aren’t that accommodating anymore. I still advice expats to try and become friends with Belgians. It might take a bit more effort, but you’ll get there.”
And Paola Campo herself? “I still refuse to fill up my agenda for more than 2 weeks in advance. That’s my own little form of rebellion. I still try it: do you have any plans tonight? But then they’ll say: sorry, I’m busy. Again. There are moments I’d love to leave here, but actually I love this country.”
Paola Campo has some comments about the Belgians, but she emphasizes that she still loves our country.