For my first post I'm going to write about some of the differences I've noticed between Belgium and the US.
Stores close a lot earlier here than they do back home. Most of the stores close by 7 pm and are closed on Sundays too. I was at the mall near the AU Center before class Tuesday and was surprised when everything started closing up just before 7. I guess I just assumed the stores would stay open as late as they do in the US! While this can be a little annoying, it must be nice for the people who work there. I know I would have loved to have gotten out of work that early when I worked in retail!
At least in Belgium, many many places don't take credit or debit cards, or you need to have a Belgian card with an electronic chip in it. This was definitely hard to get used to for me as at home I never have cash on me. Now I have to go to the ATM (known here as a Bank Contact or Mister Cash) a lot more often. This is good and bad. It's good because it makes you more aware of how much money you're spending. However for me paying with cash makes me feel like I'm spending more because I mentally deduct it when I take out money then I feel like I'm paying again when I buy something!
Anyone who's been to Europe knows that bathrooms here are different from back home. At my homestay we don't have a bidet or anything but they are still common. Our shower is fairly normal, except for the fact that you have to hold the shower head instead of it being up on the wall. It's obviously not a big problem, but it was nice when we were in the hotels on our trip around Belgium and had regular showers!
4) Washing machines
Dr. Sheridan warned us that the washing machines here would be complicated. Luckily the one at my homestay isn't complicated, but it is different from at home. First of all its in the kitchen. This seems strange since in most apartment buildings in the US there would be a room for machines downstairs. Its also a lot smaller than ones in the US and the cycles are much different. The regular one takes two hours! We also don't have a dryer. I know some people here do, but there isn't really any space for one in the apartment.
At restaurants in Belgium they won't give you tap water for free, you have to buy it. This is one thing I don't like because having to pay for bottled water at a restaurant seems like a waste of money. You can also buy beer in a restaurant for about the same amount of money, 1.50-2 euros.
Belgium is like much of Europe in that they typically drink espresso or cappuccino in the morning. While I do like those types of coffee, most of the time, I just want a nice big cup of coffee that I can carry with me and drink for a while. I haven't seen any Starbucks yet (supposedly there are some around) so for now I'm drinking Senseo coffee, which is somewhere in between regular coffee and espresso.
7) Beer and Chocolate
These are two of the things Belgium is best known for and for good reason. In general they are both much better than in the US! Of course back home you can get good beer and chocolate, but they tend to be expensive. Here even the cheaper options for the two are really good. It makes it hard to resist (especially chocolate) when there is so much of it around and its so delicious, but I'm trying.
8) Street Food
My last difference is Belgian street food. In the US we have hot dogs and pretzels. Here they have waffles and french fries and they are both delicious! While they have the typical Belgian waffles (here called Brussels waffles), but the better option are the Liege waffles. These are more doughy, and sweeter, studded with little bits of crunchy pearled sugar. If you ever get the chance to try them do not pass it up! The french fries are pretty similar to the US, but they have a ton of different sauces for them, including curry ketchup and the ever popular mayonnaise. My favorite so far has been the Andaluse sauce, which is a kind of tomato mayonnaise.
That's all for now! This weekend I'm going to a town in the south called Namur where my host family is from. I'm excited to go and see the differences between Wallonia (southern Belgium) and Flanders (northern Belgium) where we went on our trip to Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges.