My first Belgian beer in Belgium was a Blanche de Bruxelles. Sissy, I know. But it was hot, and I was exhausted and jetlagged, and I didn’t want a beer that’d nurse me to sleep too early.
Alas, that one beer became two — with the easy potential to become three or four — when my roommate and I were quickly recognized as Americans. Americans giggling over their first Belgian beers in Belgium. Another round was sent over, and we became obligated to sit with two much older men with nicotine-stained teeth. One was Serbian, spoke some English and was obviously infatuated with my roommate. The other was born and raised in Brussels, spoke English arguably worse than I spoke French, and kept saying, “Belgium beer good, no?”
And perhaps even quicker, the whole outdoor cafe patio became friends, chatting about America, Belgian beer, and how the present Belgians really needed to learn more English and how the present Americans really needed to learn more French.
Alas, two Belgian beers later, we didn’t mind the barriers. It allowed for smiling and nodding while paying more attention to the passing rain showers, and the charm of Brussels’ Schaerbeek commune: The gorgeous brick town houses cover the skyline at four stories each, and nearby, a haven of a park is filled with older couples sharing ice cream cones. Across the way, lines of small shops, boulangeries and ethnic eateries beckon, with no hawkers necessary.
And yet, a Belgian man across the cafe patio says to me, “You are from America? Why do you come to bull-shit Belgium?”
I smile. I had done a lot of reading on Belgian culture, and sure enough, this Belgian was pissed at his nation’s lack of government, and the divisiveness between the Flemish-speaking north and the French-speaking south. He muttered some more things about the “bull-shit,” and how he wished he lived in Philadelphia.
Well, I have been in Belgium for less than one day, but I can confidently say that I’d rather be here than in Philadelphia. I haven’t even seen the “Brussels” that everyone sees — The Grand Place, the Atomium, and yes, the peeing boy — but only the airport, my beautiful new home and the adorable neighborhood that surrounds it. Tomorrow, the ISA program orientation begins and I’ll see the Brussels that everyone photographs with my own eyes. But after today’s traveling mayhem — delayed flight, almost missed connection due to delayed flight, lost luggage — I am just happy to have made it.