Wanted: Canadian Kitchen – Dealing with Realtor Speak in Belgium | Flashback

By - July 24, 2012 (Updated: December 1, 2014)

Is this a Cuisine Américaine or Canadienne?

Is this a Cuisine Américaine or Canadienne? (Photo via gnangarra)

It’s that time of year again – The Brussels Expat Migration. As a fresh crop of newcomers land in Belgium, I’m reminded of my own struggles with looking for a new place to live. I first wrote this post in 2007 when I encountered a whole new language – “Realtor Speak.”

Looking for the perfect rental property has become my latest Belgian challenge. Trolling through the immo websites has the feeling of an elaborate scavenger hunt and like a scavenger hunt, the clues are not always clear.

During the past few years of living in Belgium, my lapsed French has reawakened and I’ve become fairly comfortable functioning in my second language again. However deciphering the French (and sometimes even the English) of real estate listings has been an interesting challenge. The language used in property descriptions is at best colourful and optimistic, at worse a linguist’s night-mare.

Of course there is the typical realtor-speak to decode: charming = tiny; with character = tiny and poorly laid out; luminous = buy heavy curtains if you don’t want to wake up at 5am every day; desirable location = more expensive for a smaller apartment; convenient to transportation = noisy bus stop outside your window; close to nightlife = drunks stumble by nightly; must see = total waste of time.

Besides the universal problem of realtor-speak, there have been some other linguistic challenges. My first issue was deciphering all of the abbreviations and acronyms. It only took me a few listings to figure out that SDB was ‘salle de bain’ but some listings have been a bit more challenging to my English speaking brain – “parquet, sdb, cuis tot équ (l-v,l-l,séch.) db vitr. plac. sys. alarm.”

It seems that most of these quandaries evolve from the kitchen. Ideally, I would like a large, well appointed kitchen – une cuisine équipée (rather than non or semi-équipée). I have learned that a ‘cuisine American’ is what I’m looking for; although why American kitchens are sprouting up all over Belgium I’m not entirely sure. What if I require a Canadian kitchen – One that doesn’t drop the ‘U’ from colour and stocks the fridge with maple syrup rather than Cheese Wiz?

In addition to this Yankee kitchen, there are also listings for those that are hyper-équipée and super-équipée. Which is better; a kitchen that can leap tall buildings in a single bound, or one that does my dishes extra fast but may have attention span problems? A dilemma to be sure.

Problems exist in other rooms as well. While a ‘feu ouvert’ is desirable in a French house, in my English mind, an open fire conjures up images of happy campers sitting around a bonfire. This could be a problem for the parquet…

While I would love to live large, Grand Living sounded rather out of my price range until I figured out that the French have dropped the second half of Living Room… too English sounding I guess.

Grand Living

Is this what I can expect from a “Grand Living”?

Finally, I remain confused about the “hall de jour” and the “hall de nuit.” In Canadian homes we don’t discriminate against certain halls by only using them at night.

Despite the linguistic obstacles, I remain committed to finding us the perfect new place to live. It should be neither too charming, or with too much character; not too desirable or convenient, with a (North) American kitchen and an (enclosed) open fire for living large in our large living room.

This could take some time…

Looking for more resources for living in Belgium? Check out our Expat Resources page.

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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 Amy

    Amy July 24, 2012 at 16:39

    Haha! I love this. Great article, Alison! Reminds me of my first time apartment hunting in France. Some of the descriptions and abbreviations were so confusing. But concerning my own cuisine américaine, I’ll have you know that there has never been Cheese Wiz in my refrigerator! 🙂

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison July 26, 2012 at 14:37

      Cheese Wiz has found its way into my fridge a time or too… Not for the past few years though 🙂

  2. Comment by Janella

    Janella July 25, 2012 at 19:32

    hahah “charming=tiny” sooo very true!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison July 26, 2012 at 14:38

      We looked at a few “charming” places during our search 🙂

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