8 Things They Don’t Tell You Before Moving to a New Country

Grand Place Since there are so many versions of these (what I wish someone had told me before having a baby/letter to myself before I went to med school/blah blah blah), I’ve decided to add my own. As of today, we have been living in Brussels for 6 months. We’ve learned a lot in that time but I think we still have a lot more to go. Here’s where I’m at so far:

  1. It will be awkward. No matter how hard you try to avoid faux pas, you will inevitably commit them. You will sound like an idiot trying your new language and people will look at you like you are a freak sometimes. But most people we have encountered have been very gracious and willing to help. You will learn there is no rhyme or reason to where people walk on the sidewalk or stairs. Just try not to walk into other people since they are not trying not to bump into you. Not to mention, I already knew I was a bumbling idiot before moving, so this small detail is not a newsworthy breakthrough for me.
  2. You can never really be sure who knows English and who doesn’t. It is tricky determining with what language to carry out a transaction. Many times you ask if someone speaks English and they respond “only a little” (‘un petit peu’) and then it turns out they are basically fluent. The girl at the post office did this and then was making cowboy jokes when she saw our box was going to Texas. Yep, you know English. Other people say “no” and then after you have suffered and slopped your way through in French, they say, “Okay, thanks. Have a nice day!” in English. WHAT WAS THAT? Did they know English the whole time and were in need of some good entertainment or “Have a nice day” is the only phrase they know in English? Who knows? No one knows… The best advice is to have a laugh and just roll with it.
  3. You will walk. A LOT. We didn’t bring or buy a car. Even with public transportation, I easily walk between 10,000 and 15,000 steps a day…on a slow day… Which is good because we drink a lot of beer and eat a lot of waffles. Good shoes are now my most coveted material item. The downside? Most European shoe stores only carry up to size 8 (women’s). If you feel an urge to send a care package, send cute but high-quality, comfortable shoes, size 11. Merci.
  4. You will miss the weirdest things. Canned black beans. Medicine labels you can read. Craisins that don’t cost $8 for a 3 oz tub. Stores and restaurants being open on Sundays. The sun. Hearing English. 14 options of shredded cheese. 300 cereal choices. Running errands in a t-shirt, running shorts, and flip-flops. Not having to always clarify between football and American football. We may or may not move right back to the US after Alex graduates and we’d obviously love to stay, but you really just do not realize how good you have it until you move to another counry. You learn to appreciate your new surroundings and the differences. My friend Shannon feels the same way, too.
  5. Your new country may do things better than your home country. It might surprise you. I have been flabbergasted by the lack of “extra” ingredients in foods that aren’t even necessarily marked as organic (AKA ‘bio’ here) or all-natural. If you buy apple juice, it is usually “jus de pomme” and maybe “eau” (apple juice with maybe water). Even potato chips are shockingly short on ingredients compared to the United States. We don’t eat a lot of processed foods in general but I have been pleased with the missing chemical ingredients the US injects in everything. Healthcare is also totally different here. My doctor’s office is basically a small townhouse off the EU Commission circle. There really isn’t a formal waiting room with a barricaded receptionist’s desk. I pay the doctor in cash if there is a fee and she makes change from her wallet. I can walk into any pharmacy with my prescription (that my doctor emailed as a PDF! What?) and my Belgian residency card and get what I need. Or even sometimes without a prescription! And no worries on the lack of shredded cheese… we now have mounds and mounds of artisanal cheeses to choose from.
  6. Life in general is still life in general. Most things feel about the same. It really is not all that exotic or glamorous. Yes, we go to work. Yes, we pay bills. Yes, we take out the trash (albeit in 4 differently colored bags). Yes, we binge watch Netflix. The backdrop may look different and the language(s) may sound different but in general, our day-to-day life is about the same. I’ve talked to lots of family and friends that seem to be under the impression we are just eating croissants in Paris every day. We’ve only done that once and obviously that is what is more exciting to post pictures of… not our lesson plans, grading, reading assignments, and essays…
  7. You will turn into a total jerk once you’ve got a few countries under your belt. The other day I was just reading one of those “15 Places You HAVE to Visit in 2015” and caught myself thinking, “been there, been there, seen that, already done it, ugh who came up with this list?” Shame on me! I always rolled my eyes at people who made comments at parties or social gatherings like, “Oh Rome is absolutely fantastic. You must go and eat gelato by the Trevi Fountain!” or worse, “I’m sooo over the Eiffel Tower. Not to mention how dirty the city is… And Parisians are sooo rude. Don’t even waste your time going.” but now I catch myself saying things like that (more positive than negative though) about Amsterdam or Budapest and it makes me want to rake my eyes out with a spoon! I think it is all part of this blessed experience but I don’t want to turn into one of those stuffy “well-traveled” people. I guess a little bit is inevitable, right?
  8. People back at home might have a difficult time understanding your new life. When you talk to your family and friends, it can be difficult to articulate the experience. Some people don’t really ask any questions at all about our move/grad school/new job; some people aren’t really sure what questions to ask; and some friends ask great questions and then tune out after about 2 sentences. Lots of people seem to think this is “just a phase” or that we “will grow out of it” and move back when Alex is done with grad school. For now, it is too early to say where we might end up next. Conversations where friends see this is a life choice are much appreciated. In general, it is a really interesting, frustrating place to be in so you mostly just move on and keep living your life in your new location. This guy says it better than I can (#2-3 and obviously #17). (see what I mean about a tough time articulating it?)

Honestly, we are having the time of our lives here and we are so, so glad we made the move. It has been an adventure, to say the very least, and we couldn’t be more thankful. I am definitely thankful for the opportunity and even for the little nuances that make me crazy. Some things were exactly what I expected and other things have surprised the seat of my pants off. It is a wonderful, crazy, beautiful balance. Anything anyone else can add? I’m sure I’m forgetting something! Stay tuned for Volume 2!