Lessons In Culture Shock

I’ve been in Belgium now for just under a week. Some days have been spent at home watching tv in bed and others have been spend adventuring. I’ve been trying to acclimate myself little by little, so this is a perfect pace for me.


First things first. It turns out that I’ve been living under a bit of a rock. I’ve never needed more knowledge than I already possessed to get by in Canada. I felt cultured for having lived in more than one province and knowing bits and pieces about other cultures around the world. I never took learning a second language seriously because unless I was moving to Quebec there wasn’t really a need for it. These are all great examples of things that didn’t help me at all once I left the country. Maybe that’s why the first few days hit me so hard.


The first couple of days were sunny and warm, full of small walks, barbecues and getting settled in. On Monday we went into the nearby city of Gent, which was a very mixed experience. The city is beautiful and seems to stretch on forever. There are no shortages of beautiful buildings, new places to eat or things to try. The trams and buses run through the streets as bicyclers weave through the pedestrians. I had never seen anything quite like it.


The less pleasant part of the day came from the simplest task in the world. I wanted to buy something. I had made it the entire weekend without having to interact with a stranger but I knew that it wasn’t going to last. The cashier seemed to be off in space, so I thought I could pass her a large bill, take my stuff and say thanks. No big deal. When I got up there, the cashier asked me a question and I froze like a deer in headlights. All she wanted was to know if I have four cents to even out the change, but I had NO IDEA what she wanted. I couldn’t function, I just stood there. Luckily my boyfriend stepped in and handled it. I was mortified.

As we were walking away it occurred to me that while I was spending time with Rosetta Stone learning colours and numbers, I had completely ignored things that would have actually been useful. I didn’t know how to ask “Do you speak English” in Flemish. Forget the fact that I could have just asked in English and she probably would have at least understood that I couldn’t speak in Flemish. So naturally I got really upset and was inconsolable about not being fluent in the language. We did travel into Gent again today and I managed to buy a couple things without turning into a giant idiot, although I still mumble like a shy child. I figure a few more interactions and I might stop stress sweating while waiting in line.

The disclaimer is this: I’m having an awesome time and I realize that some of this post makes me seem like I’m not. I totally am. However some of that awesome time involves relearning how to use a washing machine, finding where to cross the road and how to pay for a can of pop. I consider myself highly independent, and it’s been very strange to lose a lot of that in the shuffle.

This weekend we head to Antwerp to a store called FNAC. My boyfriend is helping with a little event at the store and I get to roam around the store during that time. We found a FNAC store in Gent today and went inside to take a look. I am SO EXCITED to spend hours in this store, I can’t even describe it. The place is full of books, board games, electronics and comics. There’s an English book section, and at first glance the prices are way better than in Canada. I cannot WAIT to be let lose in this store. They have no idea what they’re in for.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Safe travels friends!

Categories: Long Distance Relationship, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Lessons In Culture Shock

  1. Dear Cath, When we went to Canada last year i had the same lost feeling. Everything came so quick , our landing going to eat in the all you can eat restaurant, realising that in Canada eating is very different, oh my god, all those fast ( fat ) food. In the morning Dina picked us up to go shopping, i never met her before. And she runned around to have everything for the wedding. We had this stupid jetlag, what is not easy. And seeing the really fool house where everybody lived together and al those friends camping in the house made me feel strange too. Back in the B&B i cryed, and I even didn’t knew why. It was also because of too many experience at the same time. Some days later i felt a lot better. And fortunately i speak a little english, so this part went very good. Finally i lost my heart in Canada. And maybe you will lose your heart here. And in Belgium we have to know two languages, you Always can speak French. And in town likes gent, the have a lot of tourist, so it is not strange for them to speak English! Goof luck , have a good time!

    • catrector

      Thank you for sharing your story! I didn’t think how strange Canada would have been for you. I wish I knew French, it would make things much easier here. I am feeling better though, I guess it just takes time!

  2. i metn full house, in my comment, not fool house! You see, my english is not perfect at all!

  3. zachandclem

    Hi! I’m Belgian, and it’s been really fun for me to read your impressions. The FNAC really is an awesome store, they have it all 🙂 I’m actually doing the same thing as you very soon; on the 6th of August, I’m moving to the USA (Tennessee) to be with my fiance and to get married. I’ve already visited a few times, so maybe I’m a bit less nervous or plunging into the deep, but still. The differences are also pretty big! Good luck in Belgium, if you ever have an empty day before the 6th, you’re superbored and want to hang out, don’t hesitate!

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