How to be Belgian – Introduction.

If you’ve ever moved to a foreign country, or plan to perhaps you can relate, or learn from what I’m doing and experiencing.
I’m a foreigner in Belgium. Well no, that’s not entirely true. Here, let me explain…
I’m technically half a Belgian (from my mother’s side) but this comes with it’s own set of problems. Being born in South Africa makes me a South African but being born of a Belgian mother makes me Belgian. My grandmother, Méme, used to say that if any of us returned to Belgium we would live out the rest of our lives as foreigners, never really fitting in or accepted by Belgian neighbours as Belgian.
There’s more. I don’t think my Méme realized that we, her family that were in South Africa, really fitted there either. It’s my aunt who finally told me the truth. A truth I at the time really didn’t believe because I didn’t want to.
In reality, we don’t really belong anywhere. We’re too African to be Belgian and too Belgian to be African.” Is what I think she said?
In fact, there’s some gypsy in our blood somewhere down the line which makes it even worse.”
All this came as a bit of a blow when I took cognizance of these thoughts and realized after moving to Belgium that becoming a Belgian was harder than I thought it’d be.

I naively thought it’d be a few months and the people, the government and the royal family would embrace me with open arms and loving smiles!
What I got was a comment from a Moroccan shopkeeper.
“You speak with an accent. Where are you from?”
My mind said “What accent?”
My mouth said rather sullenly “Zuid-Africa.”
So I realized with a rather sudden bump on the butt that I was nowhere near being a Belgian. A half-breed in a country and culture I love which feels so normal and exotic in one. What do I do? Lose my identity and conform? Not change at all and not fit in?
I decided this was it. I’d have to learn, study, be all socio-anthropological and come hell or high water I’d practice and adapt, act like I was up for an Oscar if needs be but I will be seen as Belgian!
Until next week then, here’s a picture from my lovely country – Belgium.

2013-01-05 12.39.30

Ciao for now.

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