In Bill Bryson's book, "Neither Here Nor There" he describes Europe in a way that I cannot begin to improve upon. His sentiments are mine exactly. He writes "One of the small marvels of my first trip to Europe was the discovery that the world could be so full of variety, that there were so many different ways of doing essentially identical things, like eating and drinking and buying cinema tickets. It fascinated me that Europeans could at once be so alike- that they could be so universally bookish and cerebral, and drive small cars, and live in little houses in ancient towns, and love soccer, and be relatively unmaterialistic and law-abiding, and have chilly hotel rooms and cosy inviting places to eat and drink- and yet be do endlessly, unpredictably different from each other as well. I loved the idea that you could never be sure of anything in Europe."
We arrived in Europe 4 years ago, after 34 hours in transit from Guam, unsure of what to expect. We will leave Europe feeling incredibly lucky to have lived here. We're leaving. That's right, as sad as it feels, there's not stopping our next move.
Over the last months, knowing a move back to the US was imminent, I began to note the things I'd miss most, and least, about living in Belgium.
The list feels unfinished, so perhaps I'll continue to add. For now, here they are....
MISS THE MOST- (these apply to Aunt Julie's phrase "You can't get that in America!")
1) quality of life
4) wet cobblestones on foggy rainy days
5) endless bike trails, bike lanes, and time on our bikes
6) the amazing Alps
7) Belgian beer, waffles, speculous, and samauri sauce
8) unique travel within a day's reach by car/Proximity
9) bakeries- just walking past them makes me giddy
10) really great wine at really great prices
12) pharmacies and the plethora of OTC medications
(Sadly, we've regulated ourselves out of great OTC meds in the US - unless you talk to a meth addict)
13) pace of life
15) the long school year, predictable holidays, and 1/2 school day Wednesdays
16) warm crepes in the Christmas market
17) the vast array of nearby parks and forests
18) simple perspective on most things, to include nudity. In Europe, a boob is a body part. Just a boob. In the US a boob seems to imply pornography, Hooters wings, La Leche women, or eventually perhaps, breast cancer.
19) All of our great friends that we'll leave behind - too many to count
20) croissants and baguettes
21) beaucoup holidays and vacation time
22) architecture and ancient villages
23) incredible carousels
24) 2 hour drive to Paris, 7 hours to Milan
25) Madame Francine, our violin teacher
26) hearing the kids play and sing in French
27) the peal of the nearby church bells in the morning
28) European camping trips
29) flowers- how much people value flowers everywhere
30) international friends, communities
31) moules and frittes
32) closed on Sunday
33) tulip fields in Netherlands
34) espresso served with chocolate or speculous
35) the Belgian countryside
36) our school, La Fermette and all the teachers who painstakingly gave the gift of a second & third language
37) the comedy of watching Matt try to order in French at fast food drive through windows
38) taking the kids to see movies in French
39) week long school class trips each year
40) Skiing in Bavaria
41) incredible feeling of safety, freedom (from a lack of guns, mace, etc.)
42) Belgian chocolate
43) Tuesdays with Madame Christine. She has taught me so much without ever offering a lesson.
44) affordable, decent, health care- we're still gawking at the ER bike accident bill of only 200 euro.
45) watching our small children grow into young adults here
46) trains & trams
47) sending the kids by themselves to the market
48) fromage (blanc, bleu, Gruyere, Swiss, Gouda - young and old, Camembert...)
49) watching choclatiers in their shop window
50) French galettes with cider
51) living next to a chateau
52) kids debating over macaroon selections
53) Neuhaus chocolate outlet
55) cornfields unharvested in October
56) reading food labels and still guessing what's inside the can
57) a society with incredible self control, patience, and awareness of others
58) Christmastime focus on family instead of commercialism
59) freedom to have kids home at lunch on school days, any day or every day
60) seeing the postman roll up to our mailbox on his bike
61) the waffle truck after school and the smell wafting over the school yard
63) 1000 year old cathedrals
64) CD plates
MISS THE LEAST- (rather, what I won't miss)
1) blank stares as I try to communicate in French, or worse yet, Flemish
2) priority to the right traffic
3) cost of gas
4) parking meter guy in Stockel and his ticket dispensing machine
5) my tiny kitchen (it's smaller than your walk-in-closet)
6) other Americans making idiots out of themselves- such poor representation for dear ol' USA
7) dealing with companies who refuse to ship APO
8) my cheap cell phone
9) dubbed or subtitled movies
10) searching for reading material in English
11) 1 hour drive to the commissary -
(Won't miss the time it takes to get there, but will miss the lovely countryside along the way)
12) foot baths at swimming pools
13) on that note, won't miss men in speedos
14) 2nd hand smoke
15) pick pocketers
16) having to skype to see family on holidays
17) mailing Christmas gifts
18) menopausal weather
19) packing and unpacking multiple international moves
20) translating school papers and homework
21) living in someone else's house/ being a renter
22) dependency on a GPS due to street listings in 2 languages
23) European washers and dryers
24) currency exchange and rate fluctuations
25) translating the menu
26) establishing a language to use prior to commencing conversation
In the end, it seems there is a lot more that we'll miss than not. We've have lived fantastic life in Belgium and will look forward, to adventures in the US now.
The kids see the US as "a new country" and are excited to immerse themselves in America.
Arleigh recently asked "mom, will the beds in our new country have blankets?"
The girls asked "What does it mean when our English books talk about 'the popular kids at school'?"
And Emory referred to the US as "the country where Aunt Julie and Aunt Betsy live...".
So we have some catching up to do. We'll look forward to our list of favorites in the 'new country' to grow endlessly. Meanwhile Belgium will remain a very special place in our hearts, without a doubt. After all, we are truly "Neither Here Nor There".