I will start by saying, I recognize that what I am about to write about can be classified as a “first-world-problem”. I understand that the things I miss are things some people in this world never have. I know that I am privileged to have had them in the past, and that I will have them again in the future. I hereby check and recognize my privilege.
That said, I will continue to tell you about how I miss them, because this is my truth. One purpose of this blog is to share my experience as an American expat in Belgium. Well, missing certain things, even if they aren’t life necessities, is a part of my story. I don’t write it for anyone to feel sorry for me, or to feel sorry for myself, it’s just to share my reality, and it is fun and therapeutic to complain (and laugh) sometimes.
So, now that I’ve put that all on the table, I’ll get to the point. My part two of “things I miss”.
I miss central air conditioning and bathroom ventilation fans.
First, on air conditioning. We don’t have A/C. Most of Belgium doesn’t have A/C. Most of Europe doesn’t have A/C. It isn’t really necessary because it doesn’t often get super hot here. It is still seen as an excessive cost for buildings for something that is only really needed a few weeks out of every year. For the most part, it is true, the summers here have been lovely and we’ve stayed pretty comfortable with the advantage of nice Flanders breezes, and lots of fans.
However, Belgium has experienced an (unusually early in the summer) heat wave this week. It is so f*ing hot. Stifling hot. Unhealthy hot. Unable to do anything other than pace around muttering cuss words hot. Last night was the hottest June night on record in Belgium, at least as far back as records go.
I don’t like being hot. I don’t like sweating. I don’t like feeling the heat suck the energy and hydration out of my body, leaving me thirsty, tired, and grumpy. I don’t like walking into stores – windowless stores – and feeling like I am entering a sauna, being hit with a solid wall of stagnant, hot air, rendering it harder to breathe. Even worse is when the employees or fellow shoppers don’t use deodorant, which also happens a lot in Europe. So much body odor in public spaces.
I don’t remember it being like this much last summer, maybe for two weeks at most, later in the season. But that was enough to encourage us to buy a portable A/C unit from expat friends who were moving back home. It was so worth it.
We set up the A/C unit today to keep our living room cool. Its design, combined with the design of our bedroom windows, makes it impossible to use in our rooms at night, but I’ll take what I can get during the day.
So, for me, I miss the modern convenience of central A/C just because it keeps me a comfortable and happy person. I know that people live in much hotter conditions doing more strenuous work without it. I recognize that I can survive without it. I do worry about the more at-risk people out there without it that really need it. But it is something I was used to and I can’t help but miss it.
Bathroom Ventilation Fans
Now, about bathroom ventilation fans. Belgium doesn’t seem to have those either. Our bathrooms (and most bathrooms in Belgium, as I understand it) have vents to the outside, but they are just holes/openings to the exterior of the house. So, theoretically, air is passing in and out, but there is no fan there to help it go quickly. Add that to the fact that there is no central A/C or heating system to keep air moving and you have a pretty stale air situation going on.
A year and a half into our time living in Belgium, the three of us living in this house have already smelled way more of each other’s poop than we want. To be clear, we’d prefer not to smell any poop, including our own.
Belgium plumbing is different, too. I don’t really know how it all works, but I know it is different. I know that sewage doesn’t go far away very quickly, and the smell comes through the pipes and street drains sometimes. Just another example of body odors in public spaces.
Again, I understand that people in other places don’t even have plumbing or designated places to go to the bathroom, or clean water. I know. But I know what I was used to, and I can’ help but to miss what I miss.
So that’s that. My totally impromptu second post on “things I miss”, inspired by my current discomfort with heat and stinks. On the flip side, I am so grateful for fans and air fresheners!