Katie: 365 Things I Learned in my Kitchen
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Brussels, etc.
Well, my name is Katie, and I moved to Brussels about ten years ago to do a 6-month internship with the EU institutions. And I never left!
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started blogging about how to make Irish and English food in Brussels as I had been trying (unsuccessfully) for years to make brown bread and thought that others could learn from what I had learned. Also, I found that many common in Ireland and the UK foodstuffs like naan bread, steamed apple pudding and proper curries were difficult to find in the shops and restaurants here in Brussels, so I usually ended up making a lot of these foods from scratch. I guessed that if I was missing these, other people were too.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
- I try to tell my readers where they can buy goodies that remind them of home.
- Some of the most popular posts are on the classic Belgian dish stoemp
- Stuffed pancakes
- And when I finally got the brown bread right (after almost 10 years…)
Tell us about the ways your new life in Brussels differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Life is different in Belgium. I think one of the oddest things is shopping and the unmaterialistic culture here. The idea of customer convenience is quite alien – shops open 9-18h and are closed on Sundays. There is very little late night opening, and many shops, especially in the suburbs and outside the cities close for a few weeks in the summer. On the other hand, this means that you have to get all your chores out of the way, leaving Sundays more free for seeing family and friends, or just lazing about. Belgians are very fond of quality and would rather save their money to spend on something expensive and durable rather than a whim or something fashionable.
Clothes shopping is very different. I find the choice is not as good as it is at home. People dress more conservatively and tend to wear more somber colors. In Ireland and the UK, women wear brighter colors and wear clothes with some added sparkle, like sequins or glitter!
The bar scene is also very different. Again, people go for quality over quantity when they are drinking. Meeting Belgians is a bit difficult as they tend to be quite reserved and don’t really make the first move. Table service might have something to answer for here – at home it’s much easier to bump into someone and make conversation on your way to the bar. But, Belgians are lovely, so make the effort.
Finally, food in Belgium is wonderful and you can eat very well in a nondescript café for next to nothing. Belgian cuisine is great, and incredibly satisfying.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Brussels? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
No, I wouldn’t change anything – I was very open to trying everything, from food to cultural activities.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Oh gosh – asking the nice lady in the shop if she had any more toes (orteils) instead of pillows (oreiller) for one! Learning whom to kiss instead of shaking hands when being introduced. Explaining to my in-laws that some people eat potatoes with lasagna in Ireland (and explaining to my family that the Belgians don’t serve potatoes with lasagna). My family’s refusal to believe that no one drives on car free day, and sure of course they’d be able to drive from Stockel to Brussels city centre on car free day no problem (they tried and failed miserably). Discovering that unfurnished apartments really are unfurnished – including no light bulbs.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Brussels?
Try everything and enjoy it.
How is the expat community in Brussels? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
None at all – some of my stage-mates are still here and are still very good friends. Expats are generally very open-minded and open to meeting new people. We’ve all been in this boat. Join a local sporting or social organization and get out there and make the most of your time here.
How would you summarize your expat life in Brussels in a single, catchy sentence?
Try everything and enjoy it.