I recently passed the three-year mark of living here in Brussels, and this summer will be my fourth summer away from home. As an Australian the situation is probably a bit more extreme than for most expats, who return home at least once or twice a year: I’ve been back for one two-week period in the three years, and my parents came to visit for a week recently.* But an advantage of this is that I am well and truly integrated into Brussels life now – and not just the Brussels bubble, either, because I actually don’t just spend my time with other expats (quite a rare thing for many young expats living here).
So: a non-exhaustive list of when a city starts to feel like home.
When you bump into acquaintances on the street, in the metro or in a bar
This recently started happening to me, especially with acquaintances from the basketball world. Unfortunately, they often don’t recognise me when I’m wearing normal clothes and glasses and my hair is down (i.e. when I look female), but at least I get the warm feeling of feeling that I have acquaintances.
When strangers ask you for directions and you can tell them how to get where they want to go
This is a big one for me because I have actually the worst sense of direction in the world, so for me to be able to actually point someone in the right direction means that I really have a grasp on the area. Even if every so often I will walk away and realise that I’ve pointed them in the wrong direction. Whoops.
When arriving back in the airport feels like ‘coming home’
Fact: last time I was returning from Australia, I was waiting for the second leg from Abu Dhabi-Brussels and the sound of someone speaking Flemish gave me a rush of affection and comfort (now there’s a sentence you don’t hear often). Every time we come back from a trip, arriving in Zaventem feels like I’m back on known territory: I know how the trains work, the ads are familiar, and I can take the metro without having to buy a ticket.
When you’ve closed your bank accounts in other countries
I recently did this (with the help of my mother), partly to avoid pointless fees and taxes. (Being a resident for tax purposes in two places is complicated, guys.) This would make me much happier if the interest rate for my savings account here wasn’t literally 280 times less than in Australia (0.01% compared to 2.80%).
When friends visit and find things strange, but you either haven’t noticed them or stand up for them because you find them normal now
Sorting all the recycling into paper, PMD and glass. Leaving bin bags directly on the street on bin day. Mayonnaise on hot chips. Rushing out to sunbathe the moment the sun comes out in May.** These are all things which I knew they did in Belgium but which seemed kind of weird to me. Now I find it strange that in Sydney we used to just put all our recyclables in the same bag, I think it’s pretty much blasphemous to put tomato sauce on chips, and I’m the first one out the door on a sunny Spring day.
So prepare yourselves: maybe next year I’ll be that person who starts wearing sandals when the weather gets above 15 degrees…although I don’t think the Australian in me will leave that easily!
*I say recently, but it was already 4 months ago. Whoops.
**You could also add ‘Streets that smell like cat’s piss’ onto this list, couldn’t you, Daddy?