The 5 biggest culture shocks of living in Belgium


It’s always the little things, isn’t? In this hyperconnected world, there are very few truly shocking cultural features when moving to new country. But there’s always some mundane task you do differently back home that makes you go in your host country “wait, what?”

Reminiscing about my own experience, here are 5 of those totally trivial things that shocked me enough to leave a lasting impression:

Your birthday at the office? You bring the cake, then

Back home, people celebrated you on your birthday. Sometimes co-workers would get you a nice little present; cake was certain. Here, they celebrate you, too…as long as you provide the cake / sweets / pastries. I’ve been lucky to have worked with nice teams where I’ve at least gotten a signed birthday card. Catering is still on me, though.

Hey, it’s that an elephant? Oh, it’s just you blowing your nose

The way in which Belgian humans let go of their mucus load in public is magnificent. Sure, for some of you from countries where this is frowned upon, magnificently disgusting. I personally LOVE it. As an allergy sufferer most of my life, my nose is stuffed 60% of the times. It’s sooo nice to not have to hide it. Not so nice? The crumpled up in the pants pocket handkerchief some Belgians use to dump their snot. Gross (use a kleenex, people!!!)

Don’t eat your Nutella with a spoon! That’s not a dessert!

Ah Nutella, a staple of every Belgian’s breakfast. Before you say, my dear Belgian, that you’ve never had Nutella for breakfast, fine, let’s use the word “choco paste”. As a kid, I remember my being more on the savory side and Nutella being this magical jar of happiness you’d be lucky to get on a dessert. The idea of putting a chocolate spread on your bread (even though it’s in the freaking label) and having that as a meal? It’d be more like “Nutella on your bread? That’s not a proper meal, that’s candy!”

Want to get your hair/closets/heating system fixed soon? Have a seat. It’ll be a while

To put the wait time in context, for certain services in Belgium, you could read the first 2 volumes of A Song of Ice and Fire before your actual appointment. This is a specially distressing situation (totally first world problem, of course) when you come from a country with widely available services. Back home I could book a hairdresser for the day after. My parents could get a handyman to paint the walls of the living room in a few days. Here? You’ll be lucky if you can get any of these in 3 weeks.

That outfit of your looks familiar…

“That’s because it’s the same one from yesterday, my friend!” When you live in “the tropics” like I did most of my life, it is unfathomable to wear the same outfit 2 days in a row. Here, why not? At the beginning, what shocked me the most, was how most people who do this don’t even try to conceal it. They’ll get the exact same thing from head to toe. Hopefully, the inner layers change frequently!

How about you? What were your biggest Belgian culture shocks? Leave your comments below and share this post with your fellow non-Belgians! I’m sure they’ll have something to say, too!


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