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.|
- 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.
- 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!!