Howard in Chastre: "Courtesy is an art here"

Expat interviews
  • Howard in Chastre
Published on 2014-11-20 at 00:00 by team
American expat, Howard moved to Belgium to live with his wife. They settled in Chastre, a country commune in central Belgium...

Why did you decide to move to Chastre?

I decided to move here to Belgium from Dallas, Texas for personal reasons ie my spouse. We live in Chastre, a small country commune in central Belgium. We decided that it would be better for me to move here than for her to move there with her kids... not to mention A LOT less expensive.

How was the moving process?

The moving process was relatively easy as I just sold everything in the States and flew over.

What were the formalities you had to go through in order to be able to live in Belgium?

This was a little more complicated as we had been committed for less than 6 months but initially I flew over on a tourist visa and we applied for cohabitation once I was here.

How did you proceed to find a job in Chastre? Any advice to share with the other members?

I found a job here after searching for 3 years... Initially I was going to try to establish a small business and cater to the English speaking communities here. That turned out to be unrealistic in so much as the regulations and such to start up were very complicated seeing as I was a foreign national and so learned French and finally got a job at a Commune.

Did you face some difficulties to adapt to your host country (language, culture, do's and don'ts)?

The only thing I've noticed is that public and common courtesy is an art here and is a little eye opening to the newcomer. I thought I was polite but learned that I had a long way to go to improve my manners to get to the level that people here consider normal.

What surprised you the most in Chastre?

How quiet and peaceful it is. There is rarely any siren and the sounds of city life are far away...

Is it easy to meet new people in Chastre?

I really haven't tried to meet people in Chastre so to speak but I suppose it is like any other community/country. I am more of a stay at home type of guy and really don't get out much. The few times I have gone out though it is relatively easy to strike up a conversation in any given situation if you have the skills.

Could you please share with us something you like about Chastre and something you don't like?

I am going to answer to this in Belgium in general sense. I love the people, food and everything in general. But I've got to say hands down the best thing is the healthcare system. Good affordable general healthcare is in my mind something that should be mandated worldwide but unfortunately will probably never happen.
The one thing that I don't like is the lack of low cost well made goods in general and tools in particular and the availability. Every tool I've tried to find is expensive and sorry to say and not ungratefully but not as well manufactured... I am a plumber by trade and the availability of the tools is shameful and the ones available are in my opinion light years behind cutting edge.

A common belief about Belgium which wasn't right:

The one that stands out in my mind is that they only make chocolate. They have some rocking beers available that will absolutely put you on your seat if tasted on an empty or nearly empty stomach.

What do you miss the most from the US, your home country?

Good cheap well-made tools and like everyone else I'm sure the comfort food only found at home... Other than that everything else has its counterpart here.

What does your typical day as an expat in Belgium look like?

I'm an early bird so up at 5:45 or 6:00 a quick light breakfast kiss the better half goodbye then off to work... Park the car 10-15 kilometers from work and bike the rest. Work the day and bike back to the car and return home. Kiss the better half hello, shower, dinner then relax with her watching a little TV then to bed at 20:00.

Have you adopted any local habit since living there?

Yes, recently I've started to exercise more and as stated above have taken to riding my bike more and more. My goal is to ride to and from work (64KM) daily to do my part to be green and also to maintain as healthy a lifestyle as I can.

How would you describe the Belgian lifestyle?

I would say relaxed and down to earth... But I'm basing that only on the fact that I live in a country commune. I work for one of the bigger more prosperous communes but except for the faster pace it is pretty much the same.

What's your favorite Belgian food?

Chicon gratin and ratatouille.

Which advice would you give to people wishing to live in Belgium?

Learn one of the principal languages Dutch/French BEFORE you arrive... Once here use it and don't try to get by with English. The people will respect you more if you are at least trying to speak their language even if you do massacre it. The other thing is once you have the one it isn't a bad idea to learn the other... There are two distinct cultures here and they don't mix well... The Flemish and the French speaking communities have disputes going way back.

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