Belgen mensen zijn vriendelijk – Belgians are friendly.

Belgen mensen zijn vriendelijk  – Yes, Belgians are generally friendly as most people on this planet are but I’ve found foreigners to Belgium to be particularly inclined to find Belgian people friendly. I think they mistake this “over-friendliness” with two other qualities that, when mixed, could be construed as “friendly”.

I’ve already explored the “organizedtrait of Belgians. If you mix this trait with another trait (not yet written about) they have – the trait of punctuality. There’s another trait, civility, which is also often mistaken for friendliness.

As a newcomer to Belgium, I found that Belgian people were immensely curious about where I came from as I definitely had an accent. My initial reaction was always “what accent?” although I never voiced this. They would always guess, mistakenly that I was Australian. The second reaction was always, without fail, a look of amazement and to ask why I’d leave such a beautiful, sunny, hot country for this grey, rainy cold place. Belgians are immensely fascinated (although they’re very quiet about it) by other cultures but they have a failsafe when all that “other culture” gets too much. They enjoy the security and safety of knowing they can go home and everything will be normal and oké. That’s a good thing and something I like here too.

As a newcomer to Belgium, I would marvel at the etiquette used for public transport. When travelling by De Lijn bus, tram or train there’s certain civilities that are adhered to. Those not adhering are either badly mannered youngsters or uncivil foreigners and are most often found in the big cities. Most people even in the cities still abide by this fundamental public transport etiquette and the people in the smaller areas abide by it completely. Here’s how it goes:

People disembarking have right of way.

Beautiful to watch and appears friendly – once everyone’s off, everyone waiting to get on floods on.

The elderly, pregnant or parents with children get seating preference.

If any one of these category of people board the bus, real Belgians will lift their bottoms and stand so that they can sit.

As a newcomer to Belgian there was something that really amazed me and that’s how anyone and everyone would help a mother with a child in a stroller, the infirm or wheelchair-bound off and onto public transport. Once a whole group of guys helped an elderly lady get her wheelchair bound middle-aged child on and off a bus with a narrow door. They hoisted this person out of the wheelchair, got her, her wheelchair and mother into the bus and helped disembark them again! I found it quite touching until I got into the swing of the Belgian lifestyle.

These things I was mistaking as imminently friendly (shock – horror) were merely functional!

Here’s the trick. No-one, especially Belgians, can afford or want to be late! This friendly help with strollers and other people needing assistance is more about getting the bus to move (because the bus driver won’t go until it’s done) than anything else!

The elderly, pregnant and parents with children getting seating preference is simply civilized isn’t it?

Having an order for embarking and disembarking merely helps it get done faster and has nothing to do with friendliness.

Does this shock you? Did you think these actions friendly? Well, strangely enough they inherently are! This may sound like I’m making an about turn and perhaps I am but think on this. Even if the action doesn’t come from deep blubbering pink fluffiness with rainbow unicorns of friendliness, it certainly makes for a pleasant, friendly environment!

Footnote: I’m editing this post because I have been reminded by a Belgian that “er zitten ook vriendelijke belgen hoor” which means “hey dumb-dumb, you know me and I’m friendly”. Yes, there are indeed friendly Belgians here. One of them at the Biodome in Linkerover gave my little girl a whole bowl of fresh strawberries still warm from the sun. I assume from her little garden project simply out of pure pink friendly niceness. However I maintain my view that the general “friendliness” perceived by foreigners as encountered in general daily activity is merely a symptom of a functional society.

The Application:

So how do I become more Belgian? Well, by watching the actions of born-and-bred Belgians and falling in with their social behavior and etiquette even after understanding that it isn’t purposefully friendly but simply more practical. Even the social graces I don’t understand fully I shall abide by until I do even if that means making the odd faux pas like asking an Afghanistan refugee why he left his beautiful, hot, sunny land to come to a cold, grey, rainy land like this!

I will try not to smile so much and “just get on with it” when on public transport.

Ciao for now.

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Belgians are hard workers – Belgen mensen zijn harde werkers.

Belgen mensen zijn harde werkers – well, yes. They are indeed hard workers. They prize hard work both on a personal level in a self-satisfaction way and of course an employer prefers a hard worker.

My earliest memories are of working. I thought it was fun, but I was being taught to work. My great grandparents looked after me during the day from a very early age as both my parents worked full time. Méme Maria and Péter Jerome had a sizable back yard in my land of birth. In that back yard was a chicken battery, pig sty, storage, rabbit runs and a vegetable field, which was probably more a vegetable patch but because I was so small it felt like a field.

Méme Maria and Péter Jerome had immigrated to my land of birth not in their teens or even twenties, but when they were in their fifties. Quite a feat considering there was no Google Maps, no cellphones, barely any telephones and everything was done with mailed letters and postage stamps and an awful lot of trust.

Anyway, back to that vegetable field. One of my earliest memories was being taught what green bits to pull out of the ground by Méme Maria and Péter Jerome. It was called weeding. Thinking back, these old folks didn’t stop working until they dropped dead. They were indeed true Belgians with no thought of retirement. Retirement simply wasn’t something one did.

The work ethic in Belgium is very different to my land of birth. Here one does his allotted employment with everything he can and all the gusto that can be mustered. Belgians do their work impeccably well with no thought of how the next fellow does his. In this respect I find it a little short sighted but it’s one of those things I need to accept if I’m to be Belgian.

Being a hard worker is expected of you and, unlike my land of birth, is seen as something to be proud of. There are numerous after hours courses that may be taken at CVO’s (Centum Volwassenonderwijs – Adult Learning Centres). Vrijwilligers Werk (Volunteer work) is also big here and can be incorporated with hobbies or leisure activities.

There’s even a sculpture piece that caught my eye at Antwerp’s town hall that illustrates this point. To most I’m sure this sculpture looks almost communist to most but to me it’s a matter of being Belgian. Learn the language at CVO’s, go to the Inburgerings Course and be as Belgian as possible in Belgium especially if I want to be known as one! The sculpture sports the motto “ARBEID VRIJHEID” which are the words ” WORK FREEDOM”.

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ARBEID VRIJHEID statue at Antwerp Town Hall.

The Application:

To be more Belgian, I need to stop questioning further than my realm of expertise or what I’m expected to do in my work. Perhaps I shall enquire, but with more discretion. I cannot help it – I need to know!

I look forward to learning the extra skills I need to be able to work effectively as a Belgian. That means I must become familiar and learn the mathematic skills I need. A tall order for someone who hates mathematics but there’s no other way!

When there’s work to do, I need to jump right in and do it. Procrastination is a thing for a non-Belgian. This is another tall order as procrastination is a bad habit of mine.

Ciao for now.