If my second winter here has made anything clear about the relationship that Belgium and I have with each other, it is that she often does little to cheer me up during this time of year. The combination of gray and drizzly skies, permanently statically-charged hair, and an aching brain brimming with language and terminology combined with the stress of approaching exams in multiple languages has made me realize that during this time of year it is more important than ever to see the things I love about this place and to cling to them, allowing them to warm up my thoughts and inspire me to treat Belgium a little kinder until she starts to return the kind thoughts in spring.
Here are five things I can say that I appreciate about Belgium:
1. If you ask someone what they know about Belgium they might respond with any of the following: waffles, beer, chocolate, horses, fries, polyglots. All of these things are positive. Belgium has good and often delicious stereotypes (except for horses; I don’t eat those…or polyglots either for that matter). Although not many people know a lot about Belgium, it’s nice when the things they do know are positive ones.
2. One thing that the world needs to learn about Belgium is that the bakeries deserve to be added to that list of positive stereotypes. I am fascinated by those wonderful places; sometimes so small it’s almost incomprehensible how they can possibly be making such delicious creations; the bread, koffiekoeken, cakes, chocolates. It may be years before I’ve tried all that they have to offer, but I think it’s quite a nice goal to set for myself.
3. Often my main complaint about Belgium is the weather and more specifically the rainy days when everything seems to stay wet. It’s not difficult to remind myself that this negative has a very lush and positive side. I only have to look outside and I am reminded how nice it is to see the vegetation cloaked in a vibrant green hue. In the Midwest of the US where I’m originally from, all the vegetation is dead and brown and will stay that way until springtime. This fresh Belgian take on winter is one that I can easily appreciate, even if we have to endure a lot of rainy days to enjoy it.
4. Belgians are funny sometimes. They are always striving to simplify things but often the simplification turns only to increased complication. One word that I find very funny in the Belgian language is appelblauwzeegroen. I remember specifically when I learned this word. I’d just bought a new sweater and I asked my Belgian boyfriend if he liked it. We then had a discussion in English about whether or not it was blue or green. He said simply, “it’s appelblauwzeegroen,” with his Belgian attitude; zo simpel is het. I imagine this word could have been created because Belgians couldn’t agree what to call that particular color. A compromise was reached in the form of a ridiculously complicated color sandwich of a word. Yes, zo simpel is het. There is no other response than to find humor in these things.
5. Finally, my last positive note about Belgium comes mainly out of my American perspective. One of the things I truly love about living in Belgium and in Ghent specifically is the feeling that overcomes me while being in the city. I am fascinated by history and never in my life has history been so tangible as it is now. I love living among such historical buildings, having the capability to see art with my own eyes that I’ve only ever read about, place my feet on the same stones that someone might have during the Middle Ages. It stirs a feeling in me that I’m unable to experience in any other place, and to me this is the real magic of my city. As I pass years here in this city I hope to never lose this sense of wonderment and magic because it’s truly one of the most beautiful things that Ghent has to offer.
So, there are my five positives to remind me that Belgian winter isn’t as cruel as she seems.