Friday, November 7, 2014

Germany, This Is Not

Everyone says that Belgium has three distinct personalities. There is the bureaucratic driven Brussels, the sophisticated, Flemish speaking Flanders, then the French speaking Wallonia. I live in Wallonia which is the poorest of the three regions. By all accounts life in this part of Belgium is slower and much more rural than the northern part of the country. The area is filled with historic hamlets and even the cities are small but most standards. Here you are more apt to encounter tractors than you are cars on some roads and I swear that cows outnumber people. French is the language of the region and it is quite possible to spend an entire day without meeting anyone who speaks English. It is also the poorest part of the country and this is evident when you drive on many of the roads. (Of course we spent close to three years living in Albania so it really is all relative). But do you know what? I really like it here.

For us, one of the best parts about being stationed in Europe is our ability to travel. When we lived in Albania we left the country whenever we could. There, travel outside of Albania's borders was a life line. It kept us sane, reminded us about everything Europe had to offer and provided a much needed respite from the day to day hassles. Since we've been in Belgium we've still been on the go but our travels are more apt to be inside of the country rather than out. We've been exploring every nook and cranny of our new home and loving it. But sometimes, it is still good to get farther away.

We spent last week in Germany which is so close, yet in many respects so far, from our home in Belgium. As we drove across the country to Berlin and back again I took in their perfectly paved Autobahn (or the portions that were less than perfect but actively being surfaced). Belgian roads are good in some parts of the country (Flanders) and a slow work in progress in others (Wallonia). Everything seemed so neat and orderly in the cities themselves and there was clearly a buzz that you just can't find in my little corner of the world. There was an efficiency about everything; streets and attractions were labeled, while not overly warm customer service was efficient instead of the typical pursing of the lips and "raspberrying" which is common in Belgium. And when we stood on a U-Bahn platform contemplating which direction we needed to go we were approached asking if we needed assistance. And most of all, everyone we met spoke English (not that this is an important criteria for us but it certainly does make things easier). Menus, signage and conversations were all bi-lingual (if not more). It was all really nice.

And now we are back in Belgium. Things are different here and I'm noticing it more than ever before. When fellow military members find out they are being stationed in Belgium they assume they are prepared because "they were in Germany before". This really isn't the case. It is hard to quantify the differences but things are slower, less organized and simply different here. Everything takes twice as long as it should. But the best advice I was given, and what I tell people who ask, is to accept it for what it is and enjoy it. I know we are. We really do like it here; if fact we just might love it. But then again it is all relative and we are just so glad that we aren't in Albania any more.

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