No one tells you how exhausting it is living in a foreign country. Every time I step outside my door it’s an internal struggle: do I try and speak French today, or do I just drop the act and speak English in my obviously American accent to someone who may not speak very much English? If I don’t try today, will they think I’m rude for not speaking the language 80% of people in this country speak?
And I’m lucky, because I’ve been studying French for years and being immersed in it makes me feel like all the little forgotten parts are coming back. But for my friends, there’s not really a choice to try and pass as a French speaker in a simple interaction. Immersion is overwhelming. I understand this feeling any time I’m surrounded by people speaking Dutch or Turkish. Even French is often overwhelming.
For example, I was trying to buy a toaster for our flat last week and the cashier could tell I just really wasn’t getting that the toaster had a two-year warranty. The interaction ended with people in line behind me saying “warranty” over and over and me leaving the store frustrated and a little humiliated. C’est la vie.
Also, I got lost a lot this week. My trip to the grocery store ended with a 30-minute detour in some part of Brussels I’ve never been before, all because I was trying to find my bus stop and took a wrong turn. And then yesterday, on my way to Ghent, another major Belgian city, I took the tram going the wrong way while attempting to get to the city center. This resulted in me circling the correct tram station two or three times in the middle of a construction site across from an IKEA before Google Maps finally decided to end my misery and take me to the right place.
But Ghent rewarded me with its views, and I fell in love.
Now, I’m not saying I’ve completely given up on the U.S. after this past week, but I’d definitely consider living in Ghent. (Unfortunately, it’s located in the mainly Dutch-speaking Northern region of Belgium, which is called Flanders.)
Oh, and not to leave out the coffee portion of this post — in order to fuel my tour of Ghent after getting lost for an hour, I needed my favorite source of caffeine, and lots of it. I visited two wonderful cafés that were very different from one another but served equally delicious coffee. The first was Mokabon, otherwise known as a test in patience. Already weary from my long trek from the train station, I had to wait another 20 minutes until the overworked waitress came to take my coffee order. But it was worth it.
(Side note: Mokabon is located directly around the corner from a Starbucks. Go to Mokabon.)
My second cup of the day came later in the afternoon. I’d eaten some ahhh-mazing frites with sauce andalouse, maybe my favorite sauce so far, and was looking for somewhere to charge my phone when I happened upon the Sphinx, which is right next to a cinema of the same name.
I needed more than one day with this city. But, alas, Brussels will have to do.