Expats or Immigrants?
Updated: May 27, 2019
It's been a while since I've written, which is in part due to my recent visit to the UK, but also because translation, which is what my work mainly consists of, leaves me pretty tired in the evenings. Ashamedly, I've been neglecting my blog, and my exercise regime (not that it was particularly vigorous to begin with). As a testimony to my level of fatigue, earlier this evening I accidentally napped and nearly missed the Women of Europe Awards. The ceremony was a fun evening by the way - quite apart from the cava and free food.
Visiting England was lovely in many ways. I was beginning to miss my family during my time out here in Brussels, and it felt odd to be away from all the hype and buzz that is associated with Oxford and the student life there. It was wonderful to see all my old friends and spend time at the Oxford Union and the Conservative Association - staples of any politically-minded Oxford socialite. People of course kept asking me why I was in Oxford, rather than on the continent, where I should have been, but it was a laugh. Going to the UK was a good excuse to raid the Sainsbury's FreeFrom section anyhow. For some reason, fake chocolate tastes better when it's also in the shape of fake coins.
I'm also enjoying my job more. Having finished my translation of the English website, which was essentially just a lot of legal advice and therefore not particualrly exhilirating, I've now moved on to doing the odd projects here and there. Early this week, for example, I was asked to prepare a presentation for the older members of the team on "the internet". It was good fun - I got to research the dark web and subsequently get a little more paranoid...
The workplace is pretty unique. Because it's a federal organization they are committed to gender and linguistic parity, and although there aren't many people of ethnic minority, at least they are good on diversity on these two fronts. What is more, they all refer to each other using the informal address of 'tu', which is a little bizarre for someone who is used to the strict social conventions of l'hexagone a.k.a. France. It seems that the new generation, too, is using 'vous' less and less as a form of address. Perhaps tutoiement (referring to people using the informal form of address, 'tu') is the future.
There's also something about the Belgians that feels friendlier than the French, but that may just be the case for where I'm working. Brussels has a very much European feel - the gold starred flag is everywhere - whereas in Paris and London the identity of a nation, rather than a European member state, is much more distinctly felt. Parisians and Londonians also share something else: unrelenting grumpy moods.
I've been going to various 'Meetup' events i.e. events organised using the app "Meetup". It's great, and I've used it for zumba, French speaking events, and now just socializing. There are countless groups with "Expat" in the title, a term that I had not fully encountered until I came to Belgium. I had always associated it with rich white retired Brits living in the Maldives or somewhere similar, but it turns out it can be coined to refer to just about any migrant, only expats don't like the term "migrant", because nowadays the term conjures up the image of a Syrian refugee. I'm not entirely certain about the political correctness of this terminology, but personally I'm happy to refer to myself as a working migrant, whatever connotations that may attract.
A colleague told me about a production of Molière's Les Femmes savantes. Apparently there are lots of little independent theatres in Brussels that put on a variety of productions. I'm going to have to check them out.
Another interesting development is that I went down a mine. It was a work day out near Liège in true Wallonia - I had a hard time getting past the accent of the guides. The experience was very interesting, if a little harrowing. But the yellow hat made up for it. I had been down a mine before as part of a school trip, but doing it with knowledge of the 'real world of work' makes the experience that bit more real. It's hard to imagine that people willingly (well, it's a subjective term) chose it as a profession. But it was interesting to hear about mining in the context of migration. As the guide pointed out, down a dirty mine with very little light, everyone looks the same colour, and there was a strong sense of camaraderie, even among the English and the migrants.
I've decided, from all the office work I've been doing, I need to get out a bit more. It has been a little frustrating reading about migration law and policy, and hearing about the terrible situations migrants from Syria and other non-EU states are in, but feeling unable to help. There's a charity my housemate has recommended to me called Serve the City, which works with migrants, giving them food and providing company to those in need. I shall report back.