Some thoughts on Brussels Expats’ depression

I’ve recently read on The Economist’s blog that Brussels makes people grumpy and that during autumn/winter Brussels can look like a grey desolated communist neighbourhood. In my view Brussels cannot be compared to Bucharest, anyway, not from the grey communist architecture point of view. I believe David Rennie, the author of that post did not really experienced the impact of Bucharest’s grey view, nor realised the tremendous architectural difference between the two capitals. However, I agree that Brussels can make people grumpy and feeling depressed. Let’s see why and what we can do about it.

  • It is about 8.00 in the morning and I am about to get on the tram. As most of the times, at this time of the day the trams are packed, especially in the doorway. Somehow tram/bus commuters in Brussels can’t process the fact that they would have more room and feel more comfortable in that crowded tram if they would simply move towards the sides of the tram. However they just prefer to block the doorway, to be packed as sardines and shout to express their anger for being stepped and pushed every time the tram breaks abruptly. The result? Grumpiness or depression! The solution? Just simply move towards the sides of the tram/bus/metro and make some room for yourself and the others. Smile, speak politely and be respectful. If it does not help try to remember your favourite song so you focus on something pleasant. I did it. It worked.
  • It is a rainy day, the sky is grey, the wind is loud and cold, you’re waiting for the bus (21 or 12 maybe?) for about 20 minutes, you’re late and you wish you were on a sunny beach but not there. Nice thought, I wish I were too. Meanwhile you have to find a way to keep yourself away from getting grumpy or depressed. My solution? The multiculturalism. In every tram, metro or bus from Brussels you will find at least 4-5 different nationalities. You may not be able to teleport yourself to a sunny beach, but you will surely have next to you somebody that comes from a sunny place and could bring the sun into your heart. (It’s a bit childish, but true.) Brussels is the place with such a great concentration of nationalities. It is said that you can find anything but Belgians in Brussels. Not always true, but still true. For example, two days ago while I was travelling by train from Tongeren to Brussels, I had a nice conversation with an… Ethiopian girl. Behind me there was a group of international students speaking Italian and English. A few days ago, while waiting for the metro at Montgomery stop, I heard not only French and Dutch, as you may expect in Belgium, but also Polish, Russian, Spanish, English and Japanese! At lunch I met a friend and spoke Romanian and during the evening I heard again Italian and Spanish. Focus on the variety around you, the so many possibilities to learn, to experience and to evolve.
  • I was talking to some Spanish and Italian expats who confessed that ever since they got to Belgium, they started to become more depressed. It is normal. When one of my friends got a job at the EU Commission, the first thing she learned there was how to cope with the depression. When you become an expat, you have to change a lot in your life: environment, culture, language, house, friends, food, shops, clothes, water, mattress, flat and so on. Moreover the lack of sun, high humidity and atmosphere pressure can affect dramatically your mood and make you more likely to feel sad, grumpy and not in the mood. For wheather related depression try light therapy, get magnesium especially if you feel stressed, Omega 3 food suplements, eat a lot of fat fish and try to do some sports. And if it gets too difficult,  consult a coach, a psychologist.
  • Last week I went to a debate about Brussels’ sustainable development as European capital. According to the speakers (Charles White, EU Commission, Bertrand Terlinded, Architect and Bernard Clerfayt, Mayor of the Schaerbeek commune), Brussels gets 10.000 new foreigners every year which are adding up to a population of already 1.000.000 inhabitants. The lack of proper and affordable accommodation can easily give you a headache. The rents are not welcoming, especially if you are a young expat, searching for job experience which is paid very badly in most of the cases or unpaid at all. What can you expect for a monthly rent? 500-600 euros/month for a studio, 650-750 euros/month for one-room flat and 800-1200 euros/month for a 2-room flat. In this case, try collocation. It is not always peaceful, but it is practical. Besides, there is the chance to meet wonderful people that may become your friends.
  • If 10.000 new foreigners come yearly to Brussels, there will be certainly other foreigners that will have to leave. Brussels is not only the capital of Europe, the place for mussels and chips, Maneken Piss and chocolate, but also the place where people come and go frequently. When you have just started to get to know somebody and share good moments, than it is also the time to get ready to say “good bye”. The average of staying in Brussels is 6 – 9 months. But there are people who live here up to 3 years. These ones will think twice before they go and are more likely to stay for even longer. It is said that once you lived abroad for more than 3-4 years, then you are less likely to go back to your country. Anyway, coming back to the ones that you have to say “good bye”, my advice is to accept the fact, be flexible and move on. Use the “Carpe Diem” concept, keep in touch with the ones who left but also be open to the new ones to come.

… to be continued… by you or me

Author: Gabriela D. Spencer

I support you to Balance your overall Well-being, be it physical, emotional, relational or social through Life Coaching and Laughter Yoga. My aim is to ‘support you to help yourself’ as you are the only expert of your life. My interests include positive psychology, body-mind balancing techniques, stress management, well-being and connecting with one’s inner child. I am a Multi-potential and an ISFP (according to the latest tests, but who knows). I write and express myself whenever my mind is bursting with thoughts and emotions. Read me mostly in Romanian and sometimes in English.

One thought

  1. >My 2 biggest sources of depression at the moment are busses and the bus-drivers in Brussels! I simply cannot understand why public transportation is so lousy in our dearest city. After waiting the 20 minutes you’ve mentioned about you get on your bus, whose driver doesn’t reply to your “hi” btw, and then you have to struggle to grab a rod before he starts accelerating like a wacko. Multiculturalism after a hard day of work doesn’t really work for me in this case…Then, Brussels’ architecture might not compare to the communist one in Bucharest – I agree – but a windy, rainy day will get you in the same grey mood as Bucharest does. Did I forget to mention the wobbly pavements and the water that bounce into your shoes when you step on them???


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