Sunday, 28 February 2010

Are Belgians shy?

I haven't actually had the pleasure of meeting all that many Belgians, now you come to mention it. I've chatted to several at parties, I've met a few in various choirs, but I really haven't actually got to know all that many.

This could be my fault. I am - when not outright shy - at least reserved, in a bordering-on-the-reclusive old-fashioned British way.

But I don't think so. I mean, in Kraków I certainly met plenty of Polish people...

And, now I come to think of it, I probably know more Polish people here than Belgians. Even the slightly scary lady who sells the newspapers on the ground floor at work is Polish (sort of makes sense, doesn't it?). It's rather comforting actually, but that's beside the point. I've been here for almost six months and I only have two Real Belgians in my telephone directory.

I mentioned this to my friend in Antwerp, who has been here a bit longer than me.

- oh yeah, she said, Belgians are really shy.

I have to admit that the Belgians of my acquaintance have not struck me as particularly shy.
Especially the new Belgian friend with whom I hitched a ride back to the UK, across snow-covered Belgium and ice-bound northern France, after I missed my train home for Christmas. Note that she was just popping over to the UK to do a spot of shopping. And made it back - through fresh snowfall - within forty-eight hours. I have a lot of respect for Belgian women now.

However, my Antwerp-dwelling ex-pat friend described the awkward silences in the lift at work, the lack of eye-contact reminiscent of Monday morning on the Tube. One day, she said, two Dutch members of the management decided to play a joke on their shyer netherlandophone colleagues, by putting up posters encouraging employees to greet each other and make conversation in the lift.

The awkwardness must have been excruciating.

At least in Britain there's always the weather to fall back on.

Are Belgians really shy? What do you think?


Korie said...

Imo, "shy" isn't what Belgians are. Belgians are introverted. I am "shy". I can spend a 4 hour dinner party only speaking when spoken to. That's shy.
Belgians aren't a warm, social people until you've met them 3 or so times and then suddenly they open up and become quite friendly.
Also I think Belgians often see "cultural friendliness" as false. In America, for example, a complete stranger passing by may tell you how cute your child is. A Belgian would most likely see this as unnecessary over politeness, or even rudeness because you don't know that person well enough to comment on their child.

Anonymous said...

I disagree. My brother dated a Belgian lass for a while and we were all invited to Antwerp for the biggest annual gay festival in Europe - Studio 54. That was fun. I'm not and I took my soon-to-be wife with me, but it was still a blast. Appropriately, Boney M and Grace Jones were playing.

Here's somebody else's photos of the event - do you still think Belgians are shy??? :)

(By the way - this is a big secret, so I would appreciate if you didn't tell anyone...)

pinolona said...

Korie - so maybe 'reserved' is a better word after all.
About cultural friendliness: I think there are several European countries where this is considered sort of fake. Certainly in Poland you don't get people smiling in shops and saying 'have a nice day'. People comment on babies though...

Yellerbelly - thanks for the input! Not sure how long it's going to stay a secret if you've posted it all over my comments box, but I won't tell a soul :)

malfleur said...

I love your blog! I lived in Belgium for several years and the experience scarred me for life ;)...
I think the Belgians are a very private bunch in general. I met English people who had lived for 20+ years in the country and had not once been invited to a native abode. My husband was Belgian so I was lucky enough to meet lots of Wallons. I met a few great people but the majority was so boring... Women in late 20s and 30s behaving like their mothers. The BCBG bourgeois mentality. When the hubby got a job in London we couldn't escape quickly enough!
I think in a lot of ways the Belgians are like Poles as far as the unpleasant qualities are concerned (only 5 times worse :/) without many redeeming qualities.
There are stories which will haunt me till I die (slight exaggeration only ;/ , like the way I was treated in hospital while giving birth.
But, mind you, I was Polish, not English...
On the plus side - people always chatted to my little daughter and smiled at her and erm...well, there must have been something else..
Let me just say that every time I came back from visiting my in-laws in Brussels I would say a silent prayer of thanks on arrival in London (and that had nothing to do with my in-laws, they were really sweet!).
Ba! My own daughter,although half-Belgian and French-speaking, is not overly fond of the country.
But let me also say that I am now faced with a decision of moving back to Poland after 20 years abroad and I panic.
I think of the churlishness, narrow-mindedness, xenophobia and so on... and on... Poles can be horrible!
And I realize, yet again, that each and everyone of us is first and foremost an individual, idiosyncratic and unique,irrespective of nationality and that nationality does not mark us for life - it is something we have to (or at least try to) overcome.
Warm hugs & bon courage!

pinolona said...

Hi Malfleur, thanks for the comment! A Pole in Belgium, interesting perspective!
It's true that everyone is different and you will always get more or less introverted or extroverted people in any social circle you move in. However, there is usually a pervading sense of how to behave and I get the impression that Belgium is slightly more reserved than Poland. Having said that, I went to a Belgian wedding party last weekend and had no problem chatting to people at all, so I can't complain about Belgians being shy on that basis!