18 August 2013

Differences - Sundays in My City

I had a much better SIMC post planned for today but...well....things didn't go according to plan and I have to pack up my hotel room to move out tomorrow morning.  I'm headed to Edinburgh, Scotland to meet up with my brother and sister.  Remember...my sister and I are doing the Tough Mudder?  Wish us luck!!

I've spent the last almost-three years living in the Netherlands, right on the borders of Germany and Belgium.  Much of the time you wouldn't even know you've crossed a border except for the little sign and perhaps a change of language on the signs (perhaps...the north of Belgium is Dutch-speaking so there's no change there but the signs do change half-way through the country).

This crossing was into Wallonia which is the southern, French-speaking part of Belgium.

Still, there are differences and many of them surprise me considering the open borders and European Union.  You'd think many of these things would be standard across national lines. 

  • Milk -  Buying milk in the Netherlands is pretty simple. It's in the cold section between the butter and the yogurt.  Here in Belgium I cannot find any milk in the dairy case or any other cooler.  I can only find the super-gross shelf-milk.  And since I'm in southern Belgium and I don't speak French, I haven't managed to ask.
  • Driving -
    • Belgian (and German) drivers are much more aggressive than Dutch drivers.  Belgian roads are terrible compared to the wonderfully maintained roads in the Netherlands.
    • Belgium uses the seemingly absurd Yield to the Right rule.  This rule supposedly exists in the Netherlands but I've only seen it in a very few places.  Basically, as you're driving down the road, you have to yield to those approaching from the right. 
      The X in the triangle means you have to yield to traffic approaching from the side street on the right even though it seems to make much more sense for them to stop since you're continuing on straight.  I pretty much come to almost a full stop to look for oncoming cars but the Belgians get very annoyed with me as they may slow down a bit but certainly don't stop.  Approaching traffic, knowing it has the right-of-way, also doesn't slow down.  Frankly, it makes me extremely nervous!
    • Yielding in general.  Belgian drivers do seem to strictly observe who gets to go first at the many one-car-at-a-time road-narrows places.  Belgian drivers will stop if they see you approaching but Dutch drivers pretty much go with whomever gets there first.
      The opposing direction has a red arrow so you have the right-of-way.
      Your direction is red so you have to yield.
  • Language - Dutch students learn Dutch, English, French and German.  Most Dutch people speak very good English. Those who live along the German border speak fluent German.  The Germans whose houses I can walk/jog/bike to because they're as close to the border as I am do not speak a word of Dutch.  Belgium has both French and Dutch (Flemish) as their official language.  The Flemish-speaking Belgians (who live in Flanders)also speak fluent French and usually fluent English as well.  The French-speaking Belgians (in Wallonia) do not/will not speak Flemish (in fact, they don't even study it until high school). They might speak English but that's pretty hit-or-miss. I don't know why I look like someone who speaks French but despite my frequent use of my limited French ("je ne parlez pas Francais" and "je ne sais pas"..."I don't speak French" and "I don't know") people continue speaking to me as if I didn't just tell them that I don't speak French or that I don't know.  There's a lot of "smile and nod" going on.  I went to Flanders this weekend and it was so nice to understand people and to be understood!
  • Cleanliness and Maintenance - You rarely see trash or litter in the Netherlands and in Flemish-Belgium. Roads and sidewalks are very well maintained.  Roads and sidewalks are pretty crappy in Wallonia and there seems to be a lot of trash strewn about.  The road conditions in Wallonia remind me of Pennsylvania.  Lots of pot holes and patches!
  • Eco-Forward - The Dutch are very big on recycling and reusing.  Both plastic and glass bottles get returned to the store for a deposit refund (this is also true in Germany).  Most other plastic along with paper and metal and glass gets recycled.  There are bins in most neighborhoods for the items that are not picked up from your house.   I don't know about Flanders (although I suspect it's similar to the Netherlands) but here in Wallonia there's definitely no bottle return (which means I won't purchase anything in bottles) and very little gets recycled.
  • Short People - The Dutch are statistically the tallest people on the planet.  They tower over me.  Belgium doesn't even rank in the top 10.  There are short people here :)  That makes me happy!!
Unknown Mami


  1. Wishing you luck!!! Love this information that you shared....very interesting. So maybe in Belgium I wouldn't feel so short :) Recycling is very important to me.

  2. a "Tough Mudder" is on my bucket list....I'm thinking about participating in one in Dallas next year. I hope you post photos and your thoughts on it after you complete it. Good luck!

    1. Kathy--there are pictures from last year's Mudder posted here somewhere. I'll certainly post pictures from this one after I recover :D

  3. Thanks for sharing the info and photos! We recycle here in Maine, also!

  4. I can't stop laughing about the Short People paragraph - It's too funny. My 18 year old son is 6'7" - I wonder if he would fit right in with the dutch? - Very good post though - I hope you find milk.

    1. He would fit in perfectly in the Netherlands! He'd probably have an easier time shopping for clothes there as well!

  5. Sorry for the frantic move but I wish you fun in Scotland. Good luck with the Tough Mudder!!!
    Also, send me the new address so I can send you Sonny-Bunny's letter.
    Happy Sunday!

    1. Traci--Same address. This is only a temporary station. I look forward to the letter!

  6. Very interesting post!
    Finland has also two official languages: Finnish and Swedish (or Finland Swedish). About 5% are Swedish speaking (my hubby is one of them, but we speak Finnish but he speaks Swedish with his family and Swedish speaking co-workers and friends).
    We recycle bottles (all kind) almost 100% and paper recycle in Europe we lead with Germany.
    It's very interesting how different it might look and feel 'on the other side'.

  7. What an interesting post. Quite amazing how different each country is. All the best with Tough Mudder.
    Dropping by from SIMC
    Suzy at Photos are fun

  8. This was really interesting, thank-you!
    I hope your race went well!

  9. We're learning a lot visiting each other in other countries...one of the things I love best about blogging! Hugs!

  10. Whoa, that is some crazy road rules. The craziest road rule difference in Australia is the hook turn. Where when Australians (who drive on the left) want to turn right and they move over into the far LEFT lane to make a right hand turn and thus have to cross multiple lanes going BOTH WAYS. It's crazy pants.

  11. I would like to go to a place where the majority of people are tall, just so that I would know what it's like to feel short. I very rarely feel short and when I actually have to look up at someone it is an odd feeling for me.