New Year in Brussels

As another year begins I find myself settling back into Brussels life. After a frenetic Christmas back in the UK catching up with family and friends I’m happy to reclaim the quieter pace of life that I discovered in the weeks before the festive season. Given the Belgians’ unbridled enthusiasm for putting up Christmas decorations all over the city (I’m really going to miss the Christmas markets and spectacular light shows in the Grand Place and St.Catherine), they take a somewhat more lackadaisical attitude to taking them down again (clearly not as superstitious as we Brits are with our strict fifth day of January rule). On my walk to work this morning I counted numerous festive lights and fully decked out trees in shop windows, though I also witnessed the rather tragic sight of the lopped-off top of a thrown out Christmas tree lying in the middle of the road.

We returned from the UK to find a letter from the police in our mail box, dated the twenty third of December. This was annoying, as we had missed all of the allocated slots in which we were expected to ‘present’ ourselves, along with our passports and accommodation lease, at the local station for processing of our application to become residents. Fortunately our fantastic relocation agent – provided courtesy of my partner’s company – was able to speak to the police and arrange for a new set of dates to be dropped into the mail box that very day. So at seven the following morning we went along with all our documents and within ten minutes all was done – much easier than I’d anticipated (although we have yet to do the hard bit – the next stage being a wait of several hours at the town hall to finalise the process).

In a bid to rediscover the somewhat alien concept of fitness, we have joined a local gym (when I say local, it’s about a minute’s walk from our apartment, which is ideal). It’s the same price as our gym in London (cheap) and is pretty well kitted out. I’m doing my best to learn French from the subtitles on the television screens whilst working out. However, my frustration at not being able to speak the language means this, alone, is not going to be sufficient. I’m therefore trying to find a free/cheap way of learning French that will fit into my daily routine – ideally a series of podcasts with French/English translations and conversation that I can listen to on the walk to work. If anyone knows of anything that would fit the bill I’d be grateful!

Also upon my return from the UK I received several letters from my new mutualité, or health/dental insurance company. Despite the man who came to the initial meeting assuring me he would get documents sent to me in English, thus far everything has been in French, which, given my less than satisfactory level of comprehension, has proved quite a struggle. After checking with my office manager it seems that, despite my having given the man my bank details with which to set up a direct debit several weeks before Christmas, this has not yet been done. As a result I have been asked to arrange payment of the most recent bills whilst the process is set up. I must admit I’m flabbergasted by the slow speed of setting up payments such as this compared to in the UK, where all it takes is a telephone call and it’s done. But I suppose you can’t live in a country whose relaxed vibe you cherish without also accepting that relaxation you so value will inevitably spill over into the companies that serve you too…

I’ll miss the spectacular light shows and giant Christmas tree in the Grand Place – oh well, there’s always next year!