Belg mensen zijn geslote – roughly translated this means Belgians are “closed” people. It’s a strange mixture of shyness and simply being ‘unfriendly’. They keep their emotions and feelings to themselves and expect others to do so to the extent that wearing a bright orange T-shirt could be considered bad manners. Even overly spiced food (any spice at all) is a little too extrovert!
It manifests on public transport like the bus, tram or train where the Belgians prefer to sit by themselves. Sometimes they’d rather stand than sit next to someone occupying a double berth seat. Eventually though, they do give in and begrudgingly sit with the occupant of the seat who in turn puts on their “begrudgingly allowing you to sit” face on.
For me, being a regular on a bus means I’ve caught it consecutively for a week and this, I feel, entitles me to nod politely and smile at the other regulars. This didn’t work.
I guess in Belgium you have to travel on the same bus for a lot longer before you’re a regular and entitled to the same nod and smile. It took four months before I got a slight head squirm and a corner of the mouth spasm attempt at a smile from a regular traveler. I also understand that this was a major feat as the usual time (a measure based on my aunt’s experience as she’s been here years longer than I) is approximately a year for this kind of reciprocal response!
Don’t get me wrong though. Belgians on public transport are the most helpful people I’ve come across. They will help a mother get her stroller and baby on board or on disembarking and I’ve even seen men help a lady lift her daughter out of a wheelchair to get them on and off the bus with no prompting or pleading – they simply jump in and do! Where I come from this is unheard of. People don’t help like that without expecting a gratuity.
Personally I think this “geslote” attitude comes from the big World War II. My Méme used to tell me that you couldn’t trust anyone, even your own neighbor. Anyone could be friendly with the occupying Germans so it was survival to mind your own business and keep your head down. So you help where it’s evident that help’s needed but that’s all. It may sound strange but even now, there are still throwbacks from the 2nd World War. There’s a poster at the station that outlines that there could be delays during the Mechelen Station refurbishment if during the excavations they come across any unexploded World War II munitions!
Right, so how do I incorporate this to become Belgian? Well, I’ve always been shy and introvert in person – not so much on blogs and other social media. Okay, so one thing covered then.
When it comes to clothing, I’ll have to review what I wear before I step out the door. Having moved here with my “foreign wardrobe” means I own lots of vibrant and colourful clothing. Instead of that bright orange shirt with the green Hulk cartoon coming at you picture, I need to choose something in grey or black perhaps. If I’m really feeling sassy I can maybe go with white!
I must behave myself on public transport and not smile at fellow Belgian travelers that I may recognize from the day before or (god forbid) sit next to them!
Hmmm. I’m not entirely sure I can do this…urm…entirely. I’m usually quite pleased to see a fellow traveler waiting at the bus stop because that usually means I haven’t missed the bus and the knee-jerk reaction is, well, to smile!
I shall have to practice this Belgian trait and become more “geslote” – just out in public though to ensure the natives aren’t made to feel uncomfortable – I will try my utmost NOT to bring this trait into my home!