Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Things that make you go WTF (in Brussels)

Bilingual Hell
Brussels is a fascinating place. Even though it claims to be the 'capital of Europe', it's not exactly a visitor friendly place unless you speak French and Dutch. One of my biggest pet peeves is the way streets names are displayed. Brussels is officially bilingual, which means street names are displayed in French and Flemish (Dutch), but sometimes only the Flemish name is displayed and so you can imagine a scenario where you're looking for a street with a French name like "Rue de la Loi" but the sign displayed is "Weestraat" (which is the Flemish name for the same street). How the hell are you supposed to connect the two?

Customer Service???
qu'est-ce que c'est? (what is that?) is the rude response (if you're lucky to get one) you are likely to get from most customer service staff around here. Initially I thought it was just me, but almost everyone complains about the same thing. From the airline check in staff to the supermarket check out staff, they all have one thing in common, they are not there to serve you - the customer, so don't bother them.

Brussels Estate Agents
The devil is truly a Brussels estate agent, if you can help it, avoid dealing with this particular specie while staying in Brussels. They are rude and unprofessional and they think they are doing you a big favour if they respond to your emails or return your calls. Since Brussels is the "capital of Europe", and accommodation is in short supply, the estate agent is truly king around here.

Zebra Crossings
"A zebra crossing typically gives extra rights of way to pedestrians". A shocking surprise awaits anyone gullible enough to believe that statement in Brussels. I have learnt that you cross the road at your own peril, if you assume the driver will stop. The only way to cross is when the approaching vehicle has come to a complete stop and the driver beckons to you to step on the zebra crossing.

The best thing about the Brussels Metro is that you can ride it for free most of the time (unless your station has ticket barriers installed LOL). It runs well most of the time but be prepared for unexpected or unannounced closures (due to strikes or when the metro drivers are having a really bad day). This has happened to me twice, luckily Brussels is a fairly small and compact city and I had my GPS to guide me to my destination.

d'enregistrement, Registreren
Meaning Registration, now this is a big deal in Brussels (actually in Belgium too). How can you be a proper police state if you don't know everything about everyone living in your country?
This is serious business and failure to notify the local authority (communale) of your presence could lead to serious consequences (or so I heard).

Health and Safety Nightmare
I have a new found respect for the health and safety authorities in the UK. Here in Brussels some of the things wey my eye don see while flat it loose and exposed electrical wiring or the sixth floor flat with French doors which opened into a balcony with only a low flimsy barrier stopping you from plunging to the street below....I have definitely seen scary things in this town.

Loose Uneven pavements
I was walking down a side street in Porte de Namur the other day and I swear for one second I thought I was in Lagos driving down a road peppered with potholes, which was strange because I was walking not driving. I ended up doing a very strange walk which could easily pass for break dancing and MJ's moonwalk combined. There are some parts of this city where you need to have shock absorbers just to walk on the pavements.

The Tax rate
In November 2009, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development confirmed once again that Belgium has one of the highest tax burdens in Europe. It amounts to – including social security – 57.3% for a single earner. This compares to an average 44.5% in Europe.
I think this statement speaks for itself....

Shop Closing Times
Most of the shops close by 6pm every day. It is very strange indeed...I haven't spent the weekend here yet, but I heard shops do not open on Sunday WTF?