I love those occasional moments when you read a book or an article and you start nodding your head gently and end up shouting “yes, yes” as the author sums up so much of what you feel.
The link below is to an article published this week in the Brussels Times (English language news website) by Gareth Harding, a Welshman who has lived in Brussels for 26 years and has recently taken Belgian citizenship. He says “But this was never meant to happen. I arrived in Brussels almost 26 years ago to do a 5-month internship. I’ve been trying to leave ever since. Unsuccessfully.”
I can look back to the years before I ended up in Belgium – say 2010 or 2011. I was happy to visit Belgium’s modest capital for meetings as a European Cyclists’ Federation board member. But never in any scenario could I imagine moving here. Just about everything else I knew about Belgium was the helicopter shots of classic bike races and a trip to Bruges. At least I had the bike connection, so many other ex-pats here knew even less than me before they rolled up.
But Gareth’s article does just what Belgium does – it sneaks up on you. In a stealthy way he starts by telling us that he has little attachment to Belgium or its culture. But then little by little he expresses many signs of frustration, even alienation from Britain and his increasing fondness for Belgium.
“Belgium is a chaotic, frustrating country that’s easy to moan about but difficult to beat. Unlike its neighbours to the south and west it’s neither arrogant nor haughty. It’s one of the best places in the world to eat, drink and read comic strips. Its cities – in particular Antwerp, Gent and pockets of Brussels – are gems. And its people don’t take themselves or their country too seriously – its most famous monument is of a small boy peeing.”
The article prompted an outpouring of connections on Facebook from people who totally related to Gareth’s story. Many of them could tell the tale of twenty plus years, so I feel quite the newbie.
What unites many of us now is the damned Brexit. I could have sat tight until I retire in a few years’ time without stressing about where my nationality lies. But I need to live, I need to work, I need to travel and I am in the process of establishing a Belgian based international association for cycling companies. Now I am taking Belgian nationality to make that possible. An easy process – five years in and I am considered welcome. Over the channel, seemingly in another dimension, is a country led by a woman whose major legacy from her time in charge of immigration policy was a “climate of intolerance” that has broken lives and families.
Click on the image to enjoy the article – I did. Enjoy Belgium – living here I can say “I do not despair”
* For the sake of completeness I will support one of Gareth’s points.
His shopping list for a trip home is “Scotch eggs, shortbread, pork pies, scones and clotted cream, prawn cocktail crisps, Liquorice Allsorts”. Mine is Adnams beer, pork roast joints with the fast left on, mega-sized boxes of PG tips, extra strong cheddar cheese, but I totally agree about the pork pies.