The Euro Canuck

By - August 4, 2005 (Updated: November 30, 2014)

I’ve been thinking today about differences in my own behavior since we’ve moved here; little habits I have that I didn’t while living in Canada. Conversely, I think there are some things I will always do that will be intrinsically Canadian. This is not to say that no Europeans do my ‘Canadian things’ and no Canadians do my ‘Belgian things.’ They are just little quirks that I’ve noticed recently.

New European Quirks

Buying fresh bread from the bakery: Granted I did this at home as well, but only after the three month stint in Amsterdam. It really freaked me out when I thought about why my white Butternut would stay edible for a couple of weeks, when my bakery bread only lasted two or three days. This phenomenon has extended to most of my food buying but the noticeable starting point was bread.

Drinking a cup or two of really good coffee a day: Ok, I’ve been a coffee junkie for as long as I can remember and I had a two large Timmy’s a day habit. My coffee now is a lot stronger and a lot better. I also make a little ritual of coffee time. I sit and sip and munch a coffee cookie, instead of guzzling down my whole cup at one go. I kicked the sugar habit too. I always had double sugar at home and now I drink it straight. The only time is miss Tim’s is when we’re on the road. Take away coffee is hard to find here and if you can find it, it’s a tiny cup of coffee machine coffee at the gas station. Even this is better than instant, which some people still actually serve as coffee in Canada … I don’t think you can even buy instant coffee here. *shudder*

Lingering over meals: I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I just love how you can take your sweet ole time in restaurants here. If you want to sit and chat for three hours over one cup of coffee after your meal, you can … and nobody gives you dirty looks or brings the bill in order to hustle you out … even if there are other people waiting for tables. I love that.

Going to more than one place to get groceries: You can definitely get your stuff all in one go here. There are huge supermarkets and Walmart-esq stores. However, I like poking around the smaller specialty shops and finding more helpful service and better quality products. I don’t have time to do this every week, but it’s enjoyable when I can.

Old Canadian Habits

Long distance driving: Places are so close together here… It still amazes me. We’ll hop in the car and just drive all day for the sake of sight-seeing. We drive back and forth to Amsterdam a lot and we’ve driven to Paris, Germany, Luxemburg, etc. People here think we are nuts. When we try to explain distances from a Canadian perspective, they look at us like we’re from outer space. I’ve told people about weekend drives to visit my parents, five hours away (ok, three now, but it used to be five) and they look at me like I have two heads. Then I tell them about driving from Halifax to Toronto and back … in a weekend … for a concert … That doesn’t even compute.

Feeling guilty for not speaking the local language: I don’t know if I’ll ever get over this one, in fact, I’m learning the local language so I don’t have to feel guilty any more. Because there are so many languages in Europe, people just switch from one to another without thinking about it. It amazes me. I had always thought I was doing well with two. But if they don’t speak the local one, they just talk away in their language and expect the service person to understand. I just can’t do this without feeling bad.

Thinking Ikea is cool: If you live here, you shop at Ikea when you can’t afford anything else. Sure, I’d love to be able to shop at some of the pricier furniture stores here too, but I actually LOVE Ikea’s stuff. Maybe it will wear off but for now, it’s still a novelty I enjoy.

Eating supper before 7:00 PM: People dine a lot later here. I’m starting to but I’m still starving for super by the time 6:00 rolls around.

For that matter, saying AM and PM: People use the 24hr clock here (or army time as my old roommate used to call it). I’m very bad with the 24hr clock … it involves mental math.

I’m sure more things will come to me, or maybe those of you who know me can think of some others. These were just things that were bouncing around in my head lately.

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Alison Cornford-Matheson
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+
Alison Cornford-Matheson
- 16 hours ago

1 comment

  1. Comment by Shannon

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Shannon August 11, 2005 at 23:44

    Reading your blog is like reading my own journal. I arrived here in Brussels a month ago. In these few short weeks, I feel as if I have discovered a new way of experiencing life…
    The bread, so true! I have sworn off pre packaged bread forever. In fact, I feel ashamed at how little people in the US think about preservatives. I have found the food here to be fresh, and full of little critters. At first it was disturbing. Always clean your broccoli… then clean it a second time!
    The language barrier has been the most difficult for me. I find myself avoiding people, as I always forget the little phrases in French that I practiced before I left the house. Maybe this adjustment comes with time.
    I’m from the NYC Metropolitan area. We’re always rushing around. At dinner, we’re looking for service right away, if you want to take your time, your server is the one who rushes you.
    Here, it just feels so good to relax, and not worry about a thing. I’ll admit that service does seem to be a little on the poor side, but, some how, it doesn’t really matter.
    Anyway, I really appreciate reading your stories, and viewing your photos and I will continue to do so. Thank you.

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