Monday, December 15, 2014

Guests In A Foreign Land

Today is another day of national strikes here in Belgium and more than ever I reminded that while I live here, I am not from here. Rather, I am a guest in a foreign land and because of that it is not my place to call into question, criticize or be disrespectful of the way Belgians live their lives. Facebook has once again been abuzz over the past few days about the strikes, what is open or closed, how inconvenient it all is and even how unfair it is to us foreigners since it isn't our problem. Statements like these make me shudder and frankly, I find them embarrassing. Because like I said, we are merely guests here and as guests, we need to respect our hosts whether we agree with them or not. And this attitude serves me (and other guests) well not only today but on every day that we call Belgium (or any other city or country) our temporary home.

For me the best thing about living abroad is experiencing living abroad. This includes the good and bad, familiar (if it exists) and the foreign. I mean, as Americans (or insert whatever nationality is applicable here), what is the purpose of moving overseas if we try to recreate a little American community for ourselves in our new home. All too often I hear people complaining about how bad things are where they are living yet the "bad" is more like different than what they are used to. This criticism is hardly fair since the American way isn't necessarily the "right" way of doing things. (Hardly). I know that some people move under duress with no real desire to experience a foreign community. They may come because of their job, their spouse's job or other circumstances that they feel they have no control over. This may or may not be the reality but it is their reality and regardless of one's circumstances, that does not excuse them from being respectful of and observing the customs of their new, albeit temporary, homes.

Perhaps I'm just feeling a bit peevish today but I am tired of hearing people complain about our host country. There is a strange sense of self righteousness amongst some people who feel as though they deserve special treatment because.....well...I'm not sure. Some feel as though they should be exempt from following the rules and laws of the country, that they shouldn't be temporarily inconvenienced by events (such as today's strikes) or even have to deal with circumstances they are unfamiliar with. There are complaints that houses are too old or small, the roads too narrow and parking is difficult. I hear that everything from food to electricity to fuel is too expensive here.

Maybe all of this true or maybe it isn't. What we need to remember is that we are living here temporarily while this is a permanent home to people who are from here. While unemployment rates in Belgium are soaring, we are here because someone in our family has a job. Many of us are lucky enough to be able to buy food and fuel on a tax free basis while Belgians must pay even more than we do. So rather than expecting the locals to adjust to my expectations, I feel as though I should adjust to theirs. It is the least I can do. I shouldn't expect them to speak English because that is my language, rather I should (and am) attempting to learn theirs. My not being able to find a favorite food item in the grocery store doesn't mean the store is inadequate, rather I need to seek out a local equivalent (if it exists), tap into my other resources to find it or do without. If shop hours aren't convenient for me or the customer service isn't at the same levels of what I am accustomed to, that is my problem and not a deficiency with the country. If I think the roads are too narrow maybe I need to be driving a smaller car.  But just think; if so many people have all of these complaints about living here, imagine what the locals think of us.

Like I said, perhaps I am feeling a bit peevish today. But if others can freely complain about what they don't like about living overseas, then I can talk about what I think is wrong with their behavior. Call it my own small counter protest on a day of national protest.

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