FussyVeggie Heads to Brussels

2009 has been a tough year career-wise. In July, I made a conscious choice to go after my dreams. I lead a dual work-life as a teacher and a risk professional; but deep down I am and will remain a bureaucrat at heart - I enjoy policy work. Like many other Londoners though, I haven't really earned my money doing a job I like. Instead I have spent several years of my life working in supposedly high-powered but soul-destroying jobs, aspiring to be someone I didn't really want to be. Often times I've worked for people I have neither liked nor respected just in order to pay the bills that I run up mainly on account of having to stay in this kind of unrewarding job in London.

So this year, when the opportunity presented itself to work in Brussels while continuing my teaching career alongside, in England, I grasped the nettle firmly and soon began packing my bags. It was a nerve-racking time but I'm awfully lucky - both the boyfriend and the two best friends were egging me on to take up the challenge. A new place where I don't speak the language, a small firm (when I'm used to working for monstrous giants), the boyfriend at university in England and only able to visit on some weekends - it all seemed scary at first, but bearable because of their support.

I joined a French language class; it made me feel better to see others struggling with the nuances of this beautiful but difficult language. I found the perfect flat, after visiting 38 and I even managed to get through to Belgacom (the phone provider who's notoriously hard to contact and make arrangements with).

I like Brussels ; its not a grand city like Paris or London with superbly stunning monuments. There are nice museums and venues and of course the touristy attractions but the best thing about Brussels is what you discover when you wander around the City. A friend told me about a local corner shop where the owner provides sit-down meals in the evenings on days when he fancies being a Thai chef again. I found superbly quaint and rustic pubs down cobbled alleyways. I began to fall in love with the city.

But it was not long before I realised how hard it really is to organise the simplest of things in a new setting (especially given that my French might as well be Martian-speak).

Food was the hardest of all. The Brusselois don't always 'get' vegetarians. I should have realised this on the day I went for my interviews (having pre-informed my prospective employer that I needed a veggie meal at the planned lunchtime meet-up). And yes, when they called me to double check my meal preference I even explained the parmesan-rennet-issue to the really nice lady making the arrangements. And guess what I got for lunch ??? A parmesan and tomato sandwich or a salad with seafood on top, which of course they thought I could always eat by sweeping the seafood to one side if I didn't fancy it.....

My heart sank and I hoped that eating out and day-to-day life wouldn't be quite as hard. After all, Brussels has some of the nicest little independent restaurants and the waiting staff often speak fairly fluent English.

Here is a new chapter to the fussyveggie blog, charting my adventures in this new terrain. I've tried to include the new phrases I've learned and the names of little shops where one can buy ingredients and so on. I hope that these listings help you when you next visit Brussels and that you enjoy (virtually) traipsing around the continent with me in 2010.

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