According to a study released recently by the Brussels Studies think tank, Brussels sees its expats as a ‘separate community’.
Being an expat myself, who came to Brussels, not by choice or to improve my knowledge of Belgian beers, but mainly motivated by professional opportunities; this study comes as no surprise. Indeed, after three years in this ‘separate community’, I fully understand the feeling of the Bruxellois who consider us as a sort of high-salaried and over-graduated ‘caste’ with its own codes, language, rituals, and even district.
If you want to experience “EU-land”, there is no better place than Place du Luxembourg on a Thursday evening around 7pm. This square, located a stone’s throw from the European Parliament in the very heart of the EU district; encapsulates the EU expat community. Young, good looking MEP assistants chatting with handsome and ambitious consultants (absolutely! – Ed.) while enjoying a couple of beers, switching from English to Polish, from French to Spanish; laughing and yelling about the latest rumour on the new Commissioner for Environment.
If you come from outside EU-land, you might not understand a single word of the conversation. I sometimes have the impression that the EU expat community is constantly living a second “Erasmus” exchange, with the difference that more money is involved.
English, or better said “Brussels jargon”, is the common language of expats. The EU-district is its working area, Ixelles, Etterbeek, Uccle, and Bruxelles-Ville are the places where the majority of expats live. You will rarely find an EU expat living in Scharbeek or Jette. EU Expats even have their bars and restaurants which they like to frequent on an almost daily basis, and there is even sports competitions organised between various groups of expats.
Then again, opportunities to meet Belgian people, except your local baker or the cashier in Delhaize, are rare. What a pleasure it is then for me when my Belgian uncle invites me for a Sunday lunch in Ganshoren. I enjoy the conversion with my cousins, about the bars and shops I have never even heard of, and truly realise that I am living in Belgium.