The Joys of a Low Maintenance Visitor

By alison - July 3, 2007 (Updated: November 28, 2014)

Monday, an old friend arrived at our house. Andrew and I haven’t seen much of this friend in the past two years. We’ve bumped into each other in hotels and had brief visits when we were back in Canada, but our friend hasn’t ever been in our Belgian home. Now our friend is here to stay.

This friend is pretty low maintenance – there won’t be any tours of Belgium to organize, fancy meals to cook or shopping trips to go on. Our friend has a lot to say, but doesn’t require much in the way of conversation. We’re trying not to make our friend the centre of attention, but people are naturally drawn to this glowing personality.

After two years on our own, Andrew and I are, once again, living with a television.

The last time we had a television in our house was in Amsterdam. We were in a ‘furnished’ apartment for three months. Aside from a lumpy bed, a lumpy sofa and a wobbly table, the television was about the only thing that came with our rental. For those first long, lonely, winter months, it was also my best friend.

Arriving in Europe to live, rather than just on holiday, was a rude shock. I had no friends, no job and not a lot of ways to pass the time. Ah, but I had the television and it was hardly ever off. I knew what time it was by what program was on the BBC. I watched five-year-old reruns of soap operas I had watched in my university days (They weren’t any better the second time around). I watched Oprah and Dr. Phil and just about anything else that was in English. In my weakest moments I even watched the weather channel – in Dutch.

When we moved to Belgium, we had no furniture. While items like a bed, a table and something to sit on were priorities, a television was not. As time went on, I made friends, I developed some hobbies that I hadn’t had time for in the past and I started to work again. I never missed the TV.

Besides, it wasn’t like we were in media darkness. Andrew and I rented movies and even some of our favourite television shows and watched them on my computer. The great thing about watching shows this way was the control. We were consciously choosing what we were watching, not just sitting in front of whatever happened to be on.

So we didn’t miss TV, and we didn’t even really want it. But, it seems the TV wanted us…

A few weeks ago, Andrew had to sign up for another internet service for his work. In order to get what he required, it was more cost effective to get a package that included television. Oh sure, we didn’t have to take it, but if we’re paying for it anyway, we convinced each other, we might as well get it.

As the install date drew closer, we realised we had one slight problem – we didn’t own a TV. Luckily, Andrew happened to have a co-worker who had moved to the UK and left his European TV in the office. He said Andrew could borrow it indefinitely unless he moved back.

Of course the ‘free’ television required furniture to put it on and since we had to shift things around in the living room, we might as well pick up some other things at IKEA… well, you know how it goes.

So Monday night, everything was installed and in place. The television system was more high-tech than I’ve ever had before. I can pause shows, fast-forward commercials and record programs while I’m out. Of course, many of the channels are French or Dutch (although there are still a lot of English programs on them) but I’ve found the only three I will ever need anyway: The BBC, Travel and Life, and the Travel Channel. Andrew is already resigned to never seeing the remote control again. (If we had the Food Network as well, I think he’d just move out).

Luckily, and totally coincidentally, as our television was being installed in the living room, I was busy moving my office downstairs – far away from the new TV. While I may have the travel channel giving me ideas for new adventures every evening, at least during the day I can hide in my new office and resist temptation.

It remains to be seen how much our new housemate will impact our lives. I haven’t been tempted to zone out and escape reality during the day yet. But now that I’ve learned some Dutch, at least I’ll have an excuse to watch the weather channel.

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Big Cheese at CheeseWeb
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
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  1. Comment by pugwash pops

    pugwash pops July 4, 2007 at 04:17

    Very interesting … enjoy your new friend … however,it does occur to me that those who travel must eat … the food network should not be seen in a negative light … just some food for thought, eh?

  2. Comment by Kathryn

    Kathryn July 29, 2007 at 10:06

    Even watching shows in English is good for your Dutch because you can read the subtitles (at least that’s what I tell myself) 🙂

  3. Comment by andreea

    andreea October 9, 2007 at 22:26

    alison, i. was not sure where to post this idea (just got back from paris so am doing some late night browsing) – and have just discovered your photo blog. wonderful.
    which made me think: what about an expat photographers club? or something like that? i am sure many would be game and there are not that many in english … sort of exchange of photo tips, and of course some socializing as well …
    just putting the idea out there. if of interest maybe we’ll email (talk) on this?
    have a good night, andreea

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