You may be surprised at the number of Belgians you encounter in the U.S.
Peter, a Belgian expat from Antwerp, said:
“I met more Belgians from the other side of the linguistic border in the U.S. than in Belgium itself!”
Flemish and Walonians alike in the U.S. will encounter many cultural similarities, from a diligent work ethic to love of fries.
Yet there are differences that may bewilder Belgians at first, from “How are you?” being used as a greeting rather than question to the lack of bike lanes. Here are some tips to adapting to life in the U.S.
Soup du Jour
The use of French is common practice in U.S. restaurant menus in order to sound fancier -- or as justification to charge for pain avec du beurre.
Just don’t be confused that the “Entrée” list actually refers to the main meal, and not the appetizer.
You may be surprised upon how, when arriving in the U.S., even the woman at the grocery counter asks, “How are you doing today?”
Elsie, a Belgian expat in Boston, explains:
“I just got a strange look when I detailed how my morning wasn’t going well. I learned to always answer ‘Good. And you?’”
We should [not] get lunch
It's true that Americans are open, welcoming and friendly people. Yet when they proclaim that “We should get lunch sometime!” they don't necessarily mean it as more than a friendly cordiality.
Don't be offended if you don't hear from the person again. But “once you do have an American friend, you tend to keep ‘em” said Joke, a Belgian who worked and studied in the U.S. for two years.
The 24/7 economy
In Belgium, you may be used to rushing to the supermarket by 8 pm to fill up your grocery bags.
Or stocking up before a holiday weekend. Yet unless you’re stationed in the smallest of towns in the States or the Apocalypse is underway, there will always be a supermarket, store or restaurant at your convenience.
Public transit varies widely
From the the "circulator" in Washington, D.C. that stops operating after 9pm to great public transport in the Bay Area (if you’re lucky to live close to a BART station), transit in the US varies widely.
Stranded in your area by the lack of bikes and busses? Either obtain an ‘international driver’s permit’ or make an appointment for a license at your nearest Department of Motor Vehicles.
Differing education styles
Studying or taking taking classes in the States? In addition to being assigned more “homework” or busywork than in Belgium, expect some structural differences.
Joke, an expat, observed:
“People go to class to talk and discuss and already seem to know about the subject. I would pick classes based on wanting to learn something new and needed time to be able to ‘participate.’”
Put Your knives away
Unless a piece of food is difficult to cut, such as a Buffalo steak, Americans will rely purely on their forks to eat a meal.
A butter knife is usually just used to spread butter, not break apart your salads or pasta. And thinking of exercising a knife on that giant burrito? Calmly put it down, and eat it with your hands like your fellow compatriots.
Go take a bike
Unlike in Belgium, many Americans see biking as just a fun children’s activity, or put their bikes on their cars to get somewhere “bikeable” rather than from point A to B.
While you may not be used to wearing a clunky helmet, be sure to don one in the States. Drivers aren't as accustomed to share the lanes with their two-wheeled friends.
Opening a bank account
The U.S. is strict about many aspects of life for foreigners, but generally opening a basic bank account is not one of them. Many banks will allow you to open an account, even remotely, without a social security number, or just with a U.S. tax ID number.
Sending money home
Sending or receiving money from abroad? TransferWise is faster, easier and way cheaper than your bank or a broker.
Just look at the comparison with some of the biggest U.S. banks (the bits in red are the costs they hide in the bad exchange rates they give you when they convert your dollars to euros):
How do we calculate this? Find out here.
Luckily TransferWise has no hidden fees in the exchange rate, costs just 1% and even less than that on larger sums. Try it - and for every three friends you invite, you also get $60 reward. No need to thank us.