January 11, 2011


The city of Leuven (including many other Belgian cities) welcomes the new year with a reception, called Nieuwjaarsdrink, at the historic city hall.  The city hosted an open house by serving refreshments in the form of delicious iced cakes, warm and cold beverages, and an endless supply of ice cold and fresh Stella Artois pintjes (small pints).  It always makes me appreciate the opportunity of living here, and it also strikes me that anywhere else (probably in the world) this kind of free alcohol consumption would be met with a mass storm of people trying to consume as much as possible.  But not Belgians, they will get everyone around them a pintje, and then drink as quickly (and calmly) as possible to queue up for the next round.

I am still surprised and amazed at how beer is a vital part of any public celebration (I am 100% positive that free beer consumption at a public event would not be allowed in the US, so this still surprises me).  While it is usually not free, festivals always have beer and cava bars.  Many of the festivals are aimed at families, not just younger people.  As a beer lover, this never gets old to me.

Because AB-InBev is headquartered in Leuven, it often sponsors many festivals or city events (like this one, where the beer is free; I also wrote about another time where beer was included in the reception here).  I haven’t toured InBev yet, but it is on the list of things to do and see before leaving.  I think it should also be mentioned that their were almost a dozen sponsors of this event, but of course, the product placement isn’t as obvious.

Now that we’ve welcomed the new year, and have completed a year here, we look forward to enjoying the city where we can look forward to the events, and also look forward to warmer days.  Below is a list of things missed, hated or loved from the perspective of an optimistic transplant (obviously, we like living here a lot).  It’s always a topic of conversation among fellow ex-pats or among new friends, but what is it that we really love, miss or can’t stand.
  1. I love the biking. I have noticed two types of biking culture, the first is using biking as a method to get around all the time, the second are hard-core cyclists (mostly men).  Helmets are rarely seen, even on young children, and students are the most egregious and rebellious (careless) bikers.  Yes, I miss having a car, and I think cars makes life much easier, but our experience here has taught us how to make-do with bikes for daily life.  You may hear Belgians complain about the bike lanes, and probably the student bikers, but most Americans are always surprised to see how well the biking works.
  2. I miss the ubiquitous use of credit cards.  If you are a responsible credit card user the perks of some reward programs are amazing.
  3. What is the deal with expensive tap water?! I am not a fan of restaurants that charge you for tap water.  Even if you are ordering other drinks, very few restaurants will actually bring you table water.  If you ask for it, you are usually charged.  I ask, and I’ve never gotten a satisfactory answer from any local (Taxes? Social norms? Belgians don’t drink water? What is it?).  Now we drink up before leaving the house, and always carry a bottle with us (that is how most Europeans spot the Americans, well that, and wearing running shoes with jeans).  However, we’re used to it, we’ve adapted, and now we just drink beer!
  4. I miss burritos, tacos, and dosas! While I love trying the food here, I still miss Mexican food.  Finding ingredients isn’t hard, but sometimes you just need a burrito, or you need Indian food, and you want them now, and without a kitchen mess.  Belgian fries are a perfectly fine substitute.
  5. Travel.  A huge reason why moving here was high on the list.  To this list, I might add train infrastructure as well as in-city metro planning.
  6. There is no equivalent of Netflix. Sure, there are plenty of video rental places, but nothing that compares to Netflix.  Netflix has to be one of the best business ideas of the past decade.
  7. I miss Amazon and other online shopping sites. Surely, there is interest in having a European Amazon site?! Routine: find item I want on US Amazon site, then search on German, French, and UK Amazon sites, then eventually give up.  So much for one-click checkout.
  8. I do not miss seeing people of all ages donning their allegiance to various university sports or other sports teams.  Wearing university or team clothes is rarely seen here in Belgium, unless you work for the university or you have some sort of official affiliation.  Wearing team or university gear is a standout just like bulky athletic shoes, water bottles, and jeans.  


  1. I love this post! It's always interesting to compare what other expats think of living here, and Netflix would be VERY high on my list of things I miss, too. What the hell, Netflix and Belgium? Can't get along? REALLY??

    And I write this sitting in my hoodie with my alma mater loudly splashed across the front. I hang my head in shame...

  2. Sara, don't lie, you're also wearing comfy, practical, and athletic running shoes. =)

  3. Wait, I'm confused by the hidden message in this post: are you planning on moving soon, or are you not?

  4. Hidden message?! I thought my hidden message was talking about more beer drinking opportunities. Nico, we should be here for another year.

  5. I think I misread " things missed, hated or loved from the perspective of an optimistic transplant " as " things missed, hated or loved in the foresight of an optimistic move "... or something like that. Or I could have been drinking. Who knows.

    Glad to hear that you're still enjoying the country, and looking forward to (at least) another year in my home country :)

    Oh, and on a side note: most of the things on your US-miss-list, I would definitely miss too if we ever move back to Belgium.

  6. guh. europe has football, we have college athletics. it's the only thing that even remotely approximates the rivalry. i think it's wonderful.


    GO HEELS. we suck this year. good time to be abroad.

  7. That is weird about being charged for the tap water. It's not like that in England.

    Public celebrations are always more fun in Europe. It's something about the lively atmosphere and relaxed feeling. American crowds always feel tense to me.

    I'm so happy to know that you guys are truly enjoying living out there. But tell me this: Have you been to a proper Belgian chocolate market? I'm not sure if you've mentioned it since I'm been gone for a few weeks on blog break. Girl, you've got to tell us about the chocolate!


  8. I love all your feedback! I should clarify that my list is really about Belgium and not about the rest of Europe. Jai, I think the chocolate shops are wonderful, but really they are made for tourists. I have made an effort to start buying the good stuff and so far my fave is Leonidas. It's delicious chocolate, but not as overpriced as Neuhaus, or others. Honestly, I think buying chocolates in grocery stores is perfectly acceptable.

  9. OMG, I too, am reading this post right now and donning a UVA hoodie! But I do take care to leave it behind when heading to Belgium :)