I have been wondering for a long time if I should start mixing in some shorter, less complex posts that perhaps aren’t necessarily always on-topic but fill out my blog with a bit more regular and easily digestable material. One of those off-topic topics that has been rattling around in my skull since I began this blog back in 2016 is to rant about the things that really annoy me about living in Belgium. People who read my posts know how I lovingly gush on and on about the beer and all the travel perks of living in Belgium. But it is not all rosy. Believe me. So while in this coronavirus social distancing phase, perhaps now is a good time for a light-hearted poke at a beautiful but often frustrating country while it is outlawed for anybody to get within 1.5 meters of me. (Note to Belgians: I love Belgium.)
- Customer Service SUCKS
Need to take something back to the store? Something about your meal is not quite right? If you come from the USA, you are used to people in the service industries or at the customer service desk of your supermarket or electronics store bending over backward to make things right (usually). In Belgium, forget about it. If your food is late from the kitchen, at best you will get is an apology laced with attitude rather than contrition; whereas, in the States your bill will be greatly reduced and you are almost guaranteed at least one free drink. Oh, and if your new electronics purchase isn’t working, good luck going thru the hassle of explaining every step you took from the moment you left the store.
- RESTAURANT HYGIENE
Nothing disgusts me more than two restaurant hygiene facets that Belgium is notorious for violating. (1) Waiters/Food Preparers/Managers standing out front of the restaurant smoking cigarettes and (2) Preparing food with bare hands, particularly sandwiches, wraps, and kebabs. Sometimes both (1) and (2) are broken in consecutive order. Oh yes, I have a had a food preparer go and make a kebab right after smoking a cigarette without washing his hands, rolling that pita real nice and tight.
- FOOD VARIETY AND QUALITY
Unless you are in one of the major cities like Brussels, Antwerp, or Gent, you are really stuck with a pretty unexciting variety of food options. Stoofvlees, Vol au Vent, Spaghetti Bolognese, Croque Monsieur, tasteless Belgian steak,… and even food that tries to be ethnic is ruined by something I call Belgian Spice. I don’t know what it is, but it is a particular taste that seems to pervade the cooking here. I swear.
- BURGERS SUCK BIG TIME
All of my friends and colleagues know my passionate feelings about burgers made in Belgium. Even ones claiming to be 100% Rundvlees (i.e. Beef) have a mysterious compactness and flavor that is more akin to sausage and pork, then a juicy, melts-in-your-mouth, flavorful all-beef burger that you can get anywhere in the USA. Belgium has no idea what a good burger is.
- EMOTIONLESS WAITSTAFF & TOO FEW OF THEM
You notice already that restaurants make up a good portion of my dislikes. Forget about having a brief conversation with your waiter or waitress. Guys, don’t even bother trying to flirt with your waitress. Waitstaff in Belgium are about as cold and emotionless as an empty Sodastream canister, making the dining experience way too formal feeling. Not to mention Belgian restaurants never hire enough waitstaff. Belgium likes to pride itself in meals lasting for hours. It is not because of tradition or that dinner is an event, it is because it takes an hour before the short-handed waitress can make it back to your table.
- STINGY ON THE SODA & WATER
If you want to drink a soda or sparkling water with your meal, you will severely overpay for a wee 25cl bottle which is so small, it practically has evaporated before your eyes before your brain registers that you are fractionally less thirsty than you were a few seconds ago. Your only choice is to waste more of your hard earned money on another 25cl. If there is a such thing as Belgian gangsters, for sure they run the supply of 25cl Coca-Cola and sparkling water sold at restaurants.
- NO FREE PUBLIC RESTROOMS
One of the most frustrating experiences a foreigner will have while driving thru Belgium is finding himself at a rest stop without any pocket change. Not just a rest stop, but movie theaters, train stations, restaurants, public places, etc. One trick I have learned is to walk into a hotel acting like I am staying there and head right to the restroom without looking at the front desk and arousing suspicion. Belgian guys are well practiced and proficient at pissing outside in public, along a fence or bushes or highway. Why not? Otherwise you always have to have 50 cents on you.
- NO SOFT BREAD
Wanna have a sandwich in Belgium? Hopefully you have a good dental plan or don’t mind nursing sore gums for a few days afterwards. In Belgium, only hard baguettes seem to exist. Soft bread can be purchased at the supermarkets and is appropriately labelled “American sandwich” style. But if you go looking for soft hamburger-sized hamburger rolls for your weekend BBQ in the supermarket, don’t waste your time. There are so-called hamburger rolls, but they typically have a hard shell and are twice the diameter of a normal hamburger.
- THEY PUT ONION BITS IN EVERYTHING
Excited to dig into some steamed carrots or peas or green beans or whatever from a restaurant or cafeteria? I hope you don’t mind onions because Belgians put onions in everything. I freaking hate onions. I have spent way too much of my life in Belgium picking them out of my vegetables.
- SHOPPING HOURS
Belgium is a place that is a severe disadvantage to a single person. Normally as a couple, the chances of achieving your errands is exponentially higher than for a single person. The main reason is that stores (not including some supermarkets) close at 6pm. They say they close at 6pm, but the store employees will give you a look of death at 5:45pm. Post offices and banks can even be worse, some days closing at 4 or 5pm. There is no such thing as a 24-hour Walmart or CVS. About the only time a single working person with a little bit of a commute can get anything done is on Saturdays because stores are also closed on Sundays. But Saturdays are for fun, so some things just never seem to get done. A single guy has to have priorities.
I love Belgium and I have loved my time living here and hope to continue for the foreseeable future. I hope Belgians reading this don’t mind me poking fun at some of their customs. I have a feeling that most Belgians know these things already and just tolerate them, because that is what Belgians do. Tolerate. (More poking fun at Belgians).
I would love anybody who has some things they can’t stand about Belgium to add them in the Comments.