Join our newsletter to receive updates.

D.I. Why?

By - November 23, 2005 (Updated: November 30, 2014)


It’s 7 am. I open my eyes and try to clear my groggy head.

I haven’t awoken to an alarm clock radio as I used to in Canada.

Instead, there is a ‘symphony’ of noises — the whir of a cement mixer, the hum of a crane, the pounding of hammers. The sound of construction is my morning serenade.

Belgians always seem to be building something.

The Brussels skyline is punctuated by cranes and scaffolding. The rumble of heavy trucks intermingles with the wiz of traffic through the smallest of streets.

Even in my tiny town, construction workers bustle from sunup to sundown.

And it’s not just construction workers who are toiling away. It seems that the Belgian male is more prone to the do-it-yourself gene than others.

On a sunny weekend in my town, there are at least three people out re-paving their driveways, four or five people landscaping and at least one who is building himself a garage.

It is madness to attempt a trip to the Brico on a Saturday, unless you want to stand in line for half an hour.

However, just because they have a passion for DIY, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all Belgians are innately good at it.

My own house is an architect’s nightmare which includes a ladder to nowhere and a room you can only reach by going outside.

One of the theories I’ve heard to explain the passion for DIY in this country is the lack of reliability of professional trades people.

Apparently, the good ones are always busy and waiting times can be absurd. Then there are the not-so-good ones …

Friends of ours have to wash their dishes in the bathtub and shower sitting down thanks to a disreputable plumber.

This has been ongoing for months because no one can track down the plumber and no reputable plumber wants to be responsible for his mistakes.

Faced with these problems, I too might get the urge to pick up a wrench and try my hand at a little DIY.

Before we moved to Belgium, I thought living in the country would be a haven of quiet.

But when we first viewed our house with the rental agent, I eyed the empty lots across the street with skepticism.

“Won’t the building noises be loud,” I asked, noting that the bedroom windows faced onto the street.

“Oh, no,” replied the earnest-looking Belgian. “You won’t notice a thing.”

Eventually, I got so used to it I could sleep through the hammering.

Even so, I was delighted several weeks ago when I noticed that the roof was finished and the windows were in.

“By the time I’m back from holiday in Canada, all of the noisy outside work will be done,” I thought to myself.

I returned two weeks later and looked across the street. I saw one finished house and one gaping hole waiting for a new foundation.

I guess I won’t be needing that alarm clock for a while.

Go top