Belgium is Introvert Friendly – What about Where You Live?

by an Anonymous INFP Introvert

About four years ago my journey of self-discovery took a new direction.  Since I had just endured a rather traumatic two year divorce, traveling seemed to satisfy my search for a new viewpoint on life.  This exploration manifested itself into discovering the world as well as my true self.            

Each area of the world I visited allowed me to integrate a long lost part of my own puzzle.  In the ancient temples found in the middle Nile region of Egypt, I faced paralyzing fears.  I sat at the base of the Mary Magdalene tower in Rennes Le Chateau located in Southern France while hundreds of Atalanta butterflies flew about me touching my heart with the Divine feminine of my life.  I related to the cocoanut palms of the Cook Islands rooted deeply into the Earth while the winds of change gently blew from the Pacific Ocean, rustling the fronds with new challenges.  So many pieces of my own puzzle began to fall into place during these journeys, each as insightful as the ones I have mentioned.  Of the nineteen or so countries I visited, perhaps the most profound experience was in the Flanders area of Belgium.  It was here I embraced the knowledge of how special it is to live as an introvert.  In some odd way yet to be fully understood, I had come home at last.              

 I remember that hot August day in 2003, my first solo trip toward the coastal area of Western Europe.  After navigating a crowded, local De Lijn bus ride into Gent, Belgium, I had the oddest feeling as I walked around the city center for the first time.  Most of the area of the world I had visited felt rather foreign, even after I had been there for a while. However, here in this reserved location of Europe with all the old buildings, Gravensteen Castle, and cobblestone streets welcoming tiny shops selling shoes, beer, and chocolate, I felt like I belonged to this part of the country. This was not an imaginary vision; it was quite a profound, authentic feeling!   Although I am a citizen of the US, there was something in my soul that felt at home in Flanders Province.  There could be many reasons of course that I still feel this way. However, the primary reason is that Flanders not only embraced the unrealized introverted part of myself, but also allows me to live in a fashion that actually honors my introverted nature.             

 Several profound differences exist between the consciousness of the southern United States, my legal residence, and
Flanders, Belgium, my preferred vacation residence.  A primary difference is illustrated in conversation techniques. In the South, when you meet someone for the first time, right after the initial hello, normally a second question immediately comes forth: What do you do?  In my own unique understanding, a what-do-you-do question thrown at me in order to determine who I actually am is far removed from an interior perception of my own self-authenticity. Therefore, it is not my preferred preliminary greeting.  As an introvert, I find it quite exasperating, actually, to start a conversation this way. In the Flanders area of Europe, at an initial meeting, one is greeted with a statement similar to the following: May I introduce myself to you?  That type of greeting immediately lets each party know that boundaries are going to be respected.  
 Compared to ordinary conversation in the most parts of the United States, conversation here is quite reserved.  People simply do not tell their personal business nor are they asked about it. Perhaps true extroverts would not find the more aggressive form of conversation annoying; however, to an introvert, it crosses a territorial boundary. Conversation in Belgium seems to be more reserved and a lot more considerate to my introverted orientation.             

Territorial boundaries as well as personal boundaries are quite protected in Flanders due to a sense of honor among the citizens here. In all probability this originates from the fact that land is very scarce in this part of the world, and, therefore, space is treasured.  For the most part, a Flemish Belgian would never intrude upon your space, either physical or personal, without your permission. A Flemish Belgian would also expect the same consideration from you. For instance, when two people pass on the street, a slight smile or nod of the head is quite a polite way to acknowledge another without blurting some loud greeting that is aimed right into the essence of another’s body.  While standing in line at the ATM machines, it is customary to give the person at the machine at least 5 feet of space.  Even the clerks at the stores, upon handing you your purchase, will say Alstublieft, meaning, “Please, take this.”  In most instances, your package is handed to you with grace, value, and dignity.              

Other boundaries honored by the Flemish are those of noise levels.  The average Flemish man or woman is rather quiet as to level of tone of voice, even when speaking into large crowds. It is rare, in my experience, to have loud, noisy gatherings, unless it is a festival of some sort designed to be a party atmosphere for community benefit.  When there does happen to be a party in an apartment complex, it is customary for the offending person to inform his or her neighbors as to duration of the party time, explaining when the party starts and ends, and sticking to it, apologizing in advance for the inconvenience.            

I cannot say that verbal confrontations do not exist in Flanders, for after all, it is an area inhabited by humans, with human challenges.  However, I would say that confrontation is not as prevalent here as it is in the US; it just does not seem to be necessary to have to function at this aggressive level in order to make your point. For this reason, crime decidedly is less.  It is within the nature of people here to lock the houses, the many streetlights are quite lit at night, and it is illegal to leave a car unlocked when empty. However, the lack of confrontation seems to be more than legal mandates; it is an ingrained human consciousness based on personal respect.  Yet, the Flemish will indeed stand up for themselves to protect personal boundaries and society when necessary. However, it is done from an inner strength instead of an outwardly projected aggression. In this regard, I was privileged to witness a negotiation between a homeowner and a lawn maintenance expert the other day.  The conversation seemed to follow a pattern, one that I liked a lot, yet had never been exposed to in my hometown.  There was of course, the initial greeting, very much as I have explained earlier.  Next, there seemed to be what I would call a gathering of the minds.  In other words, the two parties walked around the yard, each making statements about the present condition and optimal condition of the yard.  As each person talked, the other would either look at the area being discussed, or they would look into the eyes of the speaker.  When agreement was reached on any point, either major or trivial, a verbal acknowledgement would take place.  Both parties did this.  Then, having reached a results oriented conclusion between the two parties about the exact nature of the work to be done, then the lawn maintenance expert began to make his estimate as to time, labor, and hourly wage required.  As the meeting ended, the home owner and the lawn expert shook hands, and a time was set for the homeowner to call the lawn expert to let him know if his services would be required.  The respect between these two people was very evident in each of these four steps.  The entire discussion was concluded with a great deal of honor.             

Another attitude I have witnessed is that a greater number of the population does not judge the value of others by what they do for a living or how much money they have.  Friendships seem to be based upon other values.  For instance, Flanders is more conscious of the ways other societies live than we are in the US. Even the television programs and movies are played in the language of the country of origin with Flemish translations at the bottom of the screen. In the history of this area, even back as far as the thirteenth century, it was common for women to receive an education. Even though that was a long time ago, this type of rare, historical educational opportunity would raise the consciousness of the entire area on a long term basis. For these reasons as well as current educational opportunities available, it is not uncommon for everyone here to speak at least two languages, French and Flemish, with an additional language of English or German, or both.  This exposure to other cultures through their language is an opportunity not available to this extent in the US.  It seems to be a way of fostering respect between the differences in societies – greatly needed if we of the world are going to understand each other.              

Frankly, it’s nice to be able to spend at least half of the year in an area of the world that allows me to get as introspective as I desire.  Upon arriving in Flanders, I can feel every cell of my being emerge from their protective retreats and then yawn, stretch and begin to dance with life again.  I have time to think, time to ponder the mundane or delve into the deeper spiritual meaning of life, and do it introspectively.  I can ask permission to introduce myself to people of my choosing without having someone come up to me and aggressively demand what I do for a living as if I am being sized up by a hungry salesman!   My boundaries are honored as I stand in line, ride a bus, or just integrate into normal society.  In Flanders, I can take a long, introverted breath of life, at my own convenience.  It doesn’t get any better than that; not for me, anyhow. My soul sings in Flanders.    



~ by nancyfenn on June 5, 2007.

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