In my most recent blog post, titled “Bruxelles”, I realized I did not discuss the namesake itself.
As I mentioned then, I am currently working as a trainee in Brussels, the capital of Belgium, as well as the de-facto capital of the European Union and the headquarters of NATO.
Brussels, also known as Bruxelles in French and Brussel in Dutch, is located within the Brussels-Capital Region of Belgium, one of Belgium’s three regions.
For those who are not aware, Belgium is a complicated country, split between French-speaking Wallonia, which includes a small German-speaking community, Dutch-speaking Flanders, and the bilingual Brussels.
While geographically located within Flanders, Brussels became French speaking during the 19th century due to immigration and the prominence of French. Today the city is bilingual, although most locals tend to speak French.
Perhaps the most striking example of these divisions is a train ride from Brussels to Liege, about an hour away. Within the boundaries of the Brussels Capital Region all train notices are broadcast in both French and Dutch. As soon as you exit the region and enter Flanders, and the notices are thereafter only broadcast in Dutch. The train ride continues through the university town of Leuven, still Dutch-speaking, before eventually entering Wallonia. When you enter Liege, the notices are only in French.
While this divide is fascinating, it is also highly unfortunate. Especially concerning is the high level of support among many young Flemish citizens for the nationalist NVA party, which advocate for an independent Flanders.
While knowing French is beneficial if you visit or live in Brussels, with its international composition (with over 70% of Brussels residents being immigrants from within and outside the EU, you will hear a lot of Italian, Spanish, English, and German) only a handful of words are truly necessary to get by. Generally speaking, English is widely understood, especially among young people.
Beyond the well-known courtesy expressions, “Á emporter (To go)”, “Sur place (for here)”, “Un sac (a bag)” and “Le prochain arret/De volgende halte (the next stop)” are especially useful.
Brussels itself is split into many communities and neighbourhoods. Notable ones include Etterbeek, where I live, Ixelles, Schaerbeek, Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, Anderlecht, and Saint-Gilles. Most residents of Brussels live in these types of neighbourhoods, with below 200,000 people living in the actual city of Brussels (over one million people live in the Capital Region).
The most famous areas of Brussels are Ancienne Belgique, home to the Grand Place, Manneken Pis, the Royal Palace, and more chocolate shops than one can taste, and the European Quarter, home to the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, the European Parliament, and the Committee of the Regions, among many other institutions.
I live about 15 minutes from the Commission and Council, giving me a nice walk to work as I walk past the European institutions on my way to Rue du Commerce where I work.
As a city I have been very pleasantly surprised by how nice Brussels is to live in. There are food stores around most corners (although most are closed on Sundays), and there is plenty of cafes, kebab restaurants, and sandwich shops to keep you fed.
Finally, Brussels is home to many food trucks, and I recommend two weekly events held during lunch time (at least during the summer). Every Tuesday in Place du Luxembourg (by the European Parliament) there are food trucks selling a diverse selection of food. Today I ate a Moroccan crepe there which was filled with chicken and vegetables. But I especially recommend Frunch, an event held beside the Royal Palace every Friday. Highly recommended are the bagel hamburgers.
Brussels is, like the country it is situated within, a complicated city. But with its vast cultural, political, and gastronomical offerings I highly recommend everyone to visit the city.