Sunday, November 06, 2005

Driving and grocery shopping

Just these everyday things can give you culture shock... since figuring out signs can be tricky if it's only French or Dutch, or even just figuring out how to operate the vegetable weigh station. But it's a great way to "dive in" to the culture and learn how to integrate oneself into the community.


Yesterday, I tried driving into Brussels, by myself, and without a GPS system, only an old fashioned paper map. Amazingly, I made it into the center of the city (near Grand Place)! You really get a sense of scale of how close things are in Europe when driving... although I live in another "city" (Evere), it's really just down the road from Brussels... in fact, when driving in, I didn't even go on a highway.. more like a large boulevard. But along the way, you "pass" through several towns, which really don't feel like separate towns since there's no clear visible border between towns.

At least in Belgium, highways are not marked with North/South directions.. they simply give the name of a city that the road is going towards, which is frustrating if you don't know where these cities are at! So, it was fairly easy to go to Brussels, just follow the signs that say Brussels. Coming back, on the other hand, was much more difficult... since Evere is a small town, it's not often displayed on the signs. (I'll try to take a pic later). So, luckily, I know I'm close to the airport, so I just followed those signs. Also very popular here are roundabouts.. small ones for small streets, and big 3-lane roundabouts in the larger streets in Brussels. Those are kinda scary, and hard to get into since you often have 5-7 streets feeding into one roundabout and a ton of traffic heading all over the place. In fact, it reminds me of Asian traffic patterns in the roundabout... lanes are just a suggestion, people are going all over the place, and you have to make eye contact with all the cars near you, in order to signal your intentions. Streets, as expected, are not straight, so this can add to the confusion!


There are 3 main grocery store chains I've found so far, GB, Delhaize, and Carrefour... GB and Delhaize reminds me of the old-style small American grocery stores that I remember from Wooster... 3-4 aisles, small and cramped. Carrefour is a bit more like a Wal-Mart SuperCenter (note that I didn't call it a SuperTarget... you'll know why) You have all sorts of other goods (clothing, household items) as well as food. On Sat, I went to the local Carrefour for groceries.. the selection of breads, wine/beer, and meats clearly is superior to any grocery store I've seen in the US! The whole back of the store is dedicated to breads and pastries! This is great since I really like pastries, and it enables me to indulge in eating pastries every day for breakfast. As for meats, they have the standard chicken, pork, beef, but also a nice selection of fresh fish and shellfish, veal, lamb, and some other animals I haven't figured out yet. (duck maybe? need to find out). Plus the cuts can be a bit different... I must have looked so confused at the Carrefour... you generally have to weigh and tag your produce by yourself, but I was doing this with the califlower, which you don't need to do, which I only figured out after a lady (initially speaking to me in French) said "per piece". Doh!

I think enviromental conservation is high on the minds of Europeans, as most people bring their own bags to the store, and since I didn't have one, I had to pay 1 euro to buy a big plastic bag. Reminds me of the Aldi's in Wooster, or Buehler's incentive system where they give you .05 for bringing your own bag.

The reason I was going to Brussels Center was actually to buy some Chinese groceries at the "chinatown" area near the Bourseplein. I was looking for rice at the Carrefour, but I couldn't find anything that wasn't instant rice. Amazingly, there is a number of Asian grocery stores available (on par with Cleveland), so I could pick up a few items. This is the one downside of only knowing how to cook pasta or Chinese/Asian dishes. I offerred one of my Dutch co-workers to teach him and his wife how to cook stir-fry if they'll teach me some Dutch dishes. We'll see ....

I want to sign up for language classes so I can figure out instructions on food boxes... I bought a box of fresh pasta, but had to use Babelfish to help me translate how to cook it! I'm leaning towards French now, we'll see if other expats at the office have any suggestions. What do you all think? Wonder if I can setup a poll with this blog?

1 comment:

Monica said...

i think you should learn french. you can use it more places (i think), and if you ever have the urge to learn spanish, you'll be halfway there.