Survey Says: Belgium versus United States.
Not in a heavy-weight battle type bout sense, but just a few things from my views, as an American Expat living in Belgium.
When I met my husband Davy in 2010 I had been laid-off, for the first time in my life, for eighteen months at that point. The catastrophic economic crisis that put me and thousands of others out of jobs actually put me in a place where I said, “Fuck it, I’m gonna travel to as many countries as I can and then yeah, go back to school.” And of course, on my last leg of travels, I meet a dreamy Belgian bad boy with the accent to go-with. Fast-forward six months and Davy and I got married, knowing already where we’d live.
Beautiful countrysides and aesthetics aside, Belgium is a country full of places and moments where you feel like time just stood still. It’s one of the “greenest” countries in all of Europe, too, where the environment is thoughtfully cared for. And in so small a country, by and large, most everyone is content to keep their country healthy and thriving by living without overdoses in insider trading and rat-racing and reality television obsessions. Generally speaking.
But the real deciding factor was that Davy had a job and I didn’t, and so Belgium it should have been and was. And is. The social welfare and healthcare system in Belgium is such a priority, meaning nearly nobody dies of poverty or sickness without access and receipt of help from so many parts of the government.
And speaking of the government, politics, there is a huge difference in Belgium than there is in the United States. Here, there is both a King and a Prime Minister, each heading up part of a very complicated country. For a tiny country with a population that of New York, Belgium has six different governments, with seven parliaments and then more layers of provincial governments.
I’ve posted this video before in my “Belgium Has” blog, but if you missed it you’ll get an idea of the complexity of Belgian politics:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ceg6NQKHd70
But the best part of all of it is, that the average Belgian doesn’t care what this or that politician is doing every moment of the day. They let them fight it out behind closed doors. But like most countries in the European Union, Belgians do love a good Union protest while wearing colors of their party and setting off fireworks then going to the cafes and taverns to drink it all out in good fun. But I will tell you this, voting is compulsory in Belgium and punishable by law if you don’t vote come election day.
At first I struggled with the general indifference that defines most Belgians. But I soon realized, that it wasn’t about people not caring, but caring more about the day-to-day struggles of their own lives and less about making celebrities out of everyone in the public eye. Because although there is quite a hot mess of a governmental structure here, the most important of policies are set in quite a good place. The rights to choose to marry or abort a baby or quietly pass under euthanasia or a myriad of other choices, are not ruled on by the government. Although there is no clear separation of church and state there is a clear understanding here in Belgium, that quality of life comes by freedom of basic life choices.
It’s just that Belgium’s idea of what basic life choices are, and that of America’s are so very different. So although I lived most of my life up until now in the United States and will proudly retain my dual citizenship, I am proud that I am raising my child with dual citizenship here in Belgium. Whether or not one Noah wants to marry a man or woman in Belgium, he can legally and if he wants to pay for sex or die painlessly in his sleep when the times come it will be his choice. The “war on drugs” here is lax compared to America, but I’ve seen more crackheads in one day growing up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan than I’ve seen in the years I’ve lived in Belgium.
From here, the United States is impressive and massive and strong yet still young in its growing pains. America looks different every day from here but Belgium is no better or worse in a grand way, just different.
Being able to live and embrace differences makes you win in the end.
~ RIP Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch