úterý 20. září 2011

First Days With Intercultural Shocks

Public toilets vs. toilets for 50 cents
Perhaps the very first thing I noticed as strange or rare to me, and in fact the thing which has been the biggest intercultural shock ever for me, is local toilets. Yes toilets! Because they have public toilets here! I would say the person who came up with an idea to build several huts with pissoirs should be awarded the Nobel Prize. Throughout Ghent you can find really a lot of these men public toilets quite reminding a bus stop, so that normally you don't have a problem to find one when needed (even after drinking some beers). This invention is concededly great, but some people (let's say women) within this context also talk about discrimination of women. Yes, maybe, we finally have something what is not a discrimination of men O:-) Anyway, if you live in Ghent for a longer time, you can encounter another interesting thing. In many bars, clubs, pubs of Ghent, if you want to use a toilet, you have to pay something for it (usually 50 cents)! You know, at least for me, this is not nice anymore and I don't like it. I'm very angry when I see a place in the Czech Republic where they have public toilets, for example stations, shopping centers or certain places in the city and I have to pay for that, but I have never come across such a toilet in some pub, club or whatever! Paying even for such human needs seems to be unfair, mean and inhuman to me. Always when you go somewhere for a beer(s), you have to add also 50 cents to the final price of your beer then. Speaking about toilets and discrimination, very often women are dispensed from this obligation, it means that only men when they want to visit the toilet inside, only they have to pay. In fact, this forces people to think whether it isn't better not to drink so much or else go outside every time.....
    Well, I'm not going to look for the consequences, I just wanted to tell what the one of the biggest cultural shocks is for me.....

Tram stopping
As it is said, failure teaches success. Maybe the very first thing I learned here as a habit is that you have to wave at buses and even trams. Yeah, I noted that people were waving at buses every time, and I have also already been to the Netherlands where people do the same, so it took only a few hours to realize I have to wave as well. But I didn't realize, or actually I didn't know, that the same applies to trams, till the moment I was waiting for a tram at the tram stop, listening to the music with the earphones in my ears, so thinking about something else. I was quite surprised when the tram was just passing without stopping at the stop. Okay, I will be waving next time....

Drivers of means of public transport - they don't wait!
Yes, the title sounds ridiculous but it's obvious. The drivers of any mean of public transport in Ghent do not wait. I don't know if I could call it "culture shock" because this can be same in many countries, in many cities, and actually I can't even say how it works in different cities in the Czech Republic (because I have never had an opportunity to try it out). And of course, at the same time it depends on actual mood of the driver or on the driver himself or herself, but in Ostrava, when you are running to catch your bus, tram or trolley-bus, the chance you will make is pretty high. In Ghent the drivers don't wait at all. I have seen a lot of such people catching the tram and one time I experienced the same finally. It was even at night and moreover it was the last bus. I almost made it, I even touched it so the driver had to see me! But he was probably looking forward to be at home and just went away. From this moment I know. What is the advice if it sometime happen? If you know how it works here, how much time does it take to stop and start up the tram again, you know place, shortcuts etc., you can make it. But don't ever rely on the drivers....

Bicycles everywhere
I think this is maybe the most obvious thing. After you first come to Ghent, moreover if you get out of train at Sint-Pieters station, the first thing you see is....bicycles (well it's not the very first thing but the first thing you really realize) Yes, when walking through a city, you are probably used to look around (at least if you are not going through area without roads) if any car isn't going right now. In Ghent, the probability that you will be run over by car is much less than the same will happen by a bicycle. In the Czech Republic we like to ride bike, but for us riding bike is a kind o sport. It's the kind of summer (spring) sport therefore we usually do it during the time of nice, sunny days when we find some suitable bike path. Riding a bike somewhere in the center (not only in the center but in the city in general) is not only strange, but it is mainly dangerous and sometimes even impossible. In Belgium, this activity is not sport at all, this is a very useful means of transport which became a part of life of many Belgians. Here, thus, somebody who is just walking or is even going to take a tram or bus is the weird one.

Prohibition of smoking in bars, clubs, restaurants and casinos
From the latest summer (July 2011), there is a new law on smoking in enclosed public spaces such as restaurants or similar facilities. This is not surprising to me but on the contrary it is great to hear something like that does exist. In the Czech Republic, we don't have it, unfortunately, so you can basically smoke wherever you want. I'm a non-smoker but I don't care about the others, about smokers. Well, I'm not going to discuss about the rights and relations between the smokers and non-smokers but it's horrible when you go with anybody to a pub, club, restaurant, whether for a drink, meal or party and you can't stay there longer because you just can't breathe and stink like you have just came from a factory. Isn't it so?

New Lifestyle
What comes into your mind when you hear the word lifestyle (or maybe even "life" is enough to imagine) concerning students, in addition Erasmus students? I think everybody imagines just a party at first. Yes, of course, that's how the Erasmus (student) life works actually. But a lot of people is off base when they think this life is only about partying! Also students have their own obligations. We have to cook, go shopping, go to laundry (or wash at home), sometimes also go to school etc. But it's normal even in our contry to go out with friends at weekends and for a drink also during the week sometimes. I accepted very quickly the fact that young people go partying when they just want and no matter if it's Friday, Saturday or any other day. Either way, every Wednesday there is a student day so as a student you are obligated to go partying. Sometimes it happens that you have classes on Thursday very early, it sucks then because this is not a good excuse in such a city. And if you happened to think about going out earlier to get up better next day, it wouldn't work either. Because in Belgium as well as basically in all Western Europe countries, people are used to go out very late. The Czech meeting time is not applied in Belgium at all. Therefore since I didn't want to sit in a bar alone not at 9 or 10, but not even at 11 p.m., I had to adopt to the local time. The bars start to be filled up by people at about 12 p.m. if you are lucky and it's not rare that you finish your night at five, six (sometimes also later) in the morning. Hence your next day is indeed completely different. However, you get used to it very quickly.
Abstractly from the party nights, the time schedule of each day is still quite different in comparison with the one in CZ. If you go to bed later, you have to also get up later naturally. Thus, mostly my breakfast here is almost at the time of usual Czech lunch as well as I eat my lunch later. One thing to mention, people, or at least Belgian students, ordinary have lunch in form that I could call big break or breakfast maybe - it means "broodje" (baguette). This is also normal for more people from countries of Western Europe since we I have a Dutch guy as a housemate and it is quite ridiculous when we are preparing our lunch at the same time, but I'm cooking meat and soup for example while he is spreading the butter on his bread.
Anyway, the complete life is like one, maybe two hours forward (regarding my country). The first early morning classes start at 8, in the winter when you have to wake up there is totally dark outside, people go out later, a lot of shops is open from 10 a.m.
That's how it works in Ghent....

Driving rules
Oh, I remembered I should warn people who could maybe think about visiting Ghent by car. At first, there is an unofficial rule: Bikers at first, pedestrians then, and cars are even the third! Yes, when you are driving your car you have to be always alert. You have to expect the bikers even where you would never expect them.
And there is another thing I noticed. The drivers don't use lights neither blinkers! So another thing you have to take into account when you are driving your car (or actually this is not only for drivers but for all people around) that it can easily happen a driver will turn somewhere without warning you. What is also quite strange, that in Belgium, the country where there is quite a lot of not so sunny days, it is not obligatory to have the car lights on.....

A few general remarks
I must say that so far I have a very good impression of this city or of Belgium as a whole (respectively Flemish part to be punctual). Of course, I could find some, let's say not that good things, but generally I have fancied here. Especially I like these people. That's something absolutely new for me, because local people are in the best sense absolutely different from the Czechs. They are friendly, kind and smiling! I can't remember I have ever met someone who was looking sad, angry, upset and the like, whether at office, shop or school . At least not so much I could notice it.

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