I lived here for a month last year and have been coming to the office here about once a month over the past year. Still, it should be a very different experience living here than it was just working here.
Given that I moved my whole life in five suitcases via train (with the help of my saint of a boyfriend), it was almost eery how much this seemed like a non-event. I never felt very stressed about it, didn’t spend much time packing and generally didn’t think about the whole thing very much at all. I guess I really do have this moving thing down to a science now.
Out of all my moves, this was definitely one of the most simple. I was moving to a place I had already lived, that was only 90 minutes away by train, to do the exact same job in an office I’ve already been working in occasionally for a year. I’ve also already moved house via the Eurostar twice, back in August of 2008 when I moved from London to Paris and in March 2009 when I moved from Brussels back to London. I also moved house via TGV train from Paris to Zurich and from Zurich to Brussels. Actually my moves by train over the past two years have made a bizarre little diamond haven’t they?
Yesterday I was getting my permanent press accreditation at the European Commission around noon, so I decided to drop by the midday press briefing even though there was nothing specifically environment-related on the agenda. The representative of the commission was busy exasperatingly trying to give a non-answer to questions over whether the Commission supports calls by German chancellor Angela Merkel for a ‘European Monetary Fund’ in response to the Greek crisis. It reminded me that these are volatile times for the EU, particularly as concerns the Euro. It will be an interesting time to be in Brussels.
I’m also quickly coming to realise that it may be hard to replicate my normal London habits here in Brussels. For one thing there appear to be absolutely no fast food outlets in the EU Quarter to eat lunch in. I’m going to starve! All I’ve got are little fancy shops with very expensive food. I’ve been amused so far to see people using their little meal tickets at the lunch places. What’s a Belgian meal ticket you ask? Well, this may be my favourite example of absurd Belgian bureaucracy so far. Apparently everyone who works here is issued five daily meal tickets by the government per week. The meal tickets can only be spent on food, and are designed for people to use to buy their lunch. So essentially, the Belgian government doesn’t trust people to buy their own food. It’s not “free food” of course, because your tax money is paying for that meal ticket you’re issued. Of course, with a staggered tax system higher income workers are subsidizing the meals of lower income workers, which is good and all, but can the benefit really justify the enormous level of bureaucracy that must be necessary to process all of these things?
I don’t want to turn this blog into yet another litany of rantings by a frustrated Anglo-Saxon on the continent, but surely there will be more of these kinds of anecdotes to come! Of course I will be sure to point out the aspects of Belgian living that I admire as well. As soon as that comes up, I’ll let you know!
I’m not sure what I’ll do with my first weekend here, I may head up to Antwerp to visit a friend who lives there. Or I may stick around Brussels and try to acclimate myself to the fact that I’m really living here now. We shall see. But all in all, not a bad start to my little Belgium adventure.