Welcome to Brussels Mr. Obama
Dear Mr. President,
My name is Olivia Davis. I am an American from Atlanta who has been interning in Brussels for the past 7 months. You are coming to Belgium on Wednesday!
You are American, I am American, so I can be pretty sure that you will have some similar, let’s say, cultural misunderstandings as I had. I thought I would share my biggest and weirdest shocks with you. That way you can make the very most of your short time in this great, very particular city.
I don’t need to explain to the President of the United States that greetings generally consist of cheek kissing in Europe. But perhaps it would be useful to know that it is one kiss - and only one - in this little country, most of the time with your right cheek. Just in case hand shaking gets boring.
Once I had a Belgian friend tell me that the first thing he bought for his house after he moved was a friteuse. Not a fridge, not a table, but a fry maker. Yes, Belgian fries are famous, but at home fry making is also the norm here! Weird huh? Can you imagine having your own mini fryer sitting on the counter in the White House? I wonder if Di Rupo has one.
While I am at it, talking about culinary delights, I would also recommend a sweet addition to your fries: the waffle. For your own pastry culture, there are actually two (main) recipes: the Brussels and the Liege waffles... So while you're here, why not try both.
Hawaii and Belgium are about the same size. Imagine having 3 official languages in Hawaii. Ok, most of us in Brussels speak French, with a good helping of local expressions. For example to say “yes, of course”, you would say “non peut-être”, which translated literally means “no maybe”. Logical right?
And if you want to have a beer with my boss, order a mix of coke and beer, a Belgian drink called mazout.
Last but not least: Manneken-Pis. Mr. President, people are obsessed with this urinating statue. I’ve got to mention that he is indeed little, only 55 centimeters tall, so don’t be disappointed. This symbol of Brussels folklore gets costumes for special events. On the last 4th of July, he was wearing an outfit of American colors with one of your campaign slogans on the hat, because Yes Manneken Can. He is an integral part of their national pride. Belgians have a goofy sense of humor.
There you have a little preview of Brussels through a fellow American’s eyes. If this letter makes it through to you, I sincerely wish you a good and productive trip through Belgium, the Netherlands, and Italy. I apologize for not handwriting this note, I know you would prefer that (bad excuse: not writing it early enough to send by post!)
Enjoy your time in Belgium, and don’t forget to lock eye contact when you toast.
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