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  • Writer's pictureDearbhla

Hospitality In Brussels: A Guide to Being Wrong

Service in Brussels is always on the leisurely side and the customer is always wrong. But if you come to terms with that, life is infinitely less stressful and at the very least, quite amusing. Most bar staff move with the urgency of a languid jellyfish, and they will sting you if you indicate that you might in any way like to have your drink served before you die. Any sense of propriety they may have had prior to you reminding them of your presence, will rapidly dissipate to a slow crawl, and they will probably have already spat in your beer.

My initial introduction to Belgian hospitality happened to be on my very first weekend in Brussels. My flatmate had taken me out the night before to The Old Oak, an Irish bar in Schuman, to sample the beers of Belgium. The following morning, we went to a brasserie on one of the quirky cobbled side streets just off Avenue Louise to try and quell the raging hangover that was rearing its ugly head by about lunchtime. The Belgians are unrivalled in their superior beer quality, and the unequivocal sore head that accompanies it. Belgian coffee, on the other hand, leaves much to be desired. It’s not so much the coffee itself, but their insistence on using UHT milk to render the whole cup undrinkable. You are left wondering why they are serving up the kind of coffee you would only deign to order on a Ryanair flight. The bitter coffee you order mid-flight to keep you awake in case you might miss any of the fantastic offers they have blaring over the tannoy every five seconds. I half expected the plastic stirrers and sippy cups that burn the first layer of skin off your hands. You do get lotus speculos biscuits which makes the experience more palatable.

The dimly-lit brasserie was noisy and atmospheric, very typical of the Brusseloise experience. Wooden tables lined up next to each other, as diners squished along scratched red leather banquettes to enjoy a meal next to complete strangers. The smell of beer, eggs and frites filled the air. We were greeted by a waitress whose hair was as frizzy as she was frazzled. I had only briefly scanned the laminated menu before she came over in a flurry.

“Oui? Dites moi?”

The pressure to order was palpable. Having not eaten meat for five or so years, I settled on a cheese sandwich. Even in my hungover state, I was fairly explicit about only wanting 'fromage'; the croque monsieur "sans le jambon". Or so I thought. About 15 minutes later, she plonked a Croque Madame in front of me. This was quite a surprise as not only had I not ordered the ham, but my sandwich had acquired a runny egg too, which was dribbling down the side of the plate.

“Sorry, I think there's been a mistake as I don't eat eggs or ham."
"That’s what you ordered” she spat at me in French.
“Well, I don’t eat ham or eggs so I didn’t order le croque madame.”
“We are very busy.”
“I can see that but I'm sorry but I can’t eat it. Can you please bring me the cheese sandwich?”

She scowled at me and sauntered off. Neither she, nor the cheese sandwich, were ever seen again.


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