While in Belgium I had two Birthday parties to go to. And while walking through all the cute shopping streets, I realized that the gap between my old Belgian life and how I am living now, became huge — what a crazy country, Belgium.
“Ooh, in Belgium people are much more ecological than in Portugal.” I love hearing myself saying it. We eat healthier, we share cars, have zero waste shops, we ban single used plastic from supermarkets, and we demonstrate with 65.000 people for a better climate! We are góód!
And yes, after leaving the hills of Portugal for the streets of Ghent, I witness that everything is about ecology, healthy food & local products. Home. How I missed this: cute, unique shops & vegan food without having to explain it first… Love it, love it, love it!
There is one shop, close to the Kouter where I can even find everything: biodegradable laundry soap, homemade food, local brands, Hygge, Kintsugi, pop up space with books about simple living and a whole community of modern shoppers & local celebrities. It’s a kind of concept store 2.0. A brand store? A theme store?
“For Critical and conscient people,” I read on their website. But then something occurs. After walking around for half an hour between the more than 100 brands they organise in a very instagrammable way, I realise that I am kind of bored: a raincoat from Scandinavia. Again. A healthy cookbook. Again. A plant. Again. I did my best to find something because I wanted to give a birthday present to my friends.
This I a shop for critical consumers, right? Which can be true because it’s here that I have the insight that I actually don’t need anything and that my friends probably don’t need homemade jam that I didn’t make myself. I am chuckling in the middle of this store like I am the chosen one expecting a dwarf hopping out from behind the ‘Christmas sweaters with balls’, handing me over a big check under the spotlights while there is confetti falling on me: “Congratulations Sophie! Free at last!”
This whole concept store got me the giggles: “What the fuck are they doing?” This is just another supermarket stealing ideas of /and killing local shops, preying on the masses with their Halloween, Black Friday and Christmas concepts. Fool me once.
Afterwards, we have lunch in a cool spot where two girlfriends serve super healthy salads & sandwiches. They are all about ‘Local’ & ‘Healthy’, as you can read in the articles they got published in. Cool, because I miss these kinds of places in the North of Portugal! Until I get my dressing in a plastic cup together with plastic cutlery. The Belgian writer Jeroen Olyslaegers wrote it on his Facebook page: “ Hypocrisy is one of those survival tactics that make people human. Whether you think this sucks or not, it would be strategic to at least consider this.” But I just get pissed. How hard can it be to avoid plastic¹? I ask to top the dressing over my salad. Outrageous of me, I know.
“Yes, but maybe their cups are biodegradable,” Davy tries.
“They are not,” I react, “And still, they keep on using the neoliberal mechanisms they loathe.”
“But the health inspection prohibits to serve food as you want it.”
Ooh, that fucking health inspection always comes in handy when having this kind of conversations. Maybe you should stop eating falafel salad with beetroot until sterile robots can prep it for you. I don’t say this out loud. My poor husband already has to deal a lot with these kinds of situations. Jeanne d’Arc is mounting her horse for a war!
And then all this kindness. In one shop I had to say hello to the staff at least seven times. Yeah, thanks. Great of course but when they all greet you in the same manner with the same toothpaste smile it has probably to do more with corporate culture than with actually seeing me with a bar of soap in my hand and loving that. This role-playing makes me very nervous and at some point, I reply very spastically so a saleswoman asks me if she can help me in English or French. Não obrigada.
In one of my latest posts, I write about choosing experiences above (earning/spending) money. And it is in my advantage that a lot of people in Belgium are doing a lot of things. I help moving a friend, I help cooking a meal for a friend in need, I help to build a Christmas market, I help a friend having a one night stand. Which is much more awesome than a wrapped present right? I don’t give a fuck about presents (Just got the book The Subtle Art of not giving a Fuck recommended three times. I can’t ignore a hint). In that book, Mark Manson writes: “Much of the advice out there operates at a shallow level of simply trying to make people feel good in the short term, while real long-term problems never get solved.”
Sophie 2.0. thinks Belgium is as absurd as that unknown country she moved to. Unaware, I slipped from buying ecological products and finding myself the shit, to actually refusing/ not needing products. My values changed. I want to fix the more long term problems: self-image & expectations about my life. Introspection is awesome but considered a taboo and boring in our culture.
It’s weird to build a life of your own with a lot of discipline, reducing the assumptions and trying to have no waste by simple actions such as refusing plastic & decluttering or more complicated goals such as producing everything ( from food to cosmetic stuff) you need yourself… Only to see in Belgium all window shops talking about ecological design and magazines writing about sustainability, making people buy more. This ecological wind is still based on the culture of earning and spending money on stuff we don’t need.
If you’re happy, you’re already happy
We just love to spend money. We work our asses off, just to be able to spend it on being more beautiful, more mobile, more healthy & more ecological. In that sense, coming to Belgium is a kind of goodbye. The mindset changed. The appreciation of basic needs peaks above the misty intoxicating clouds of fast pleasures. Life can always be prettier, faster, healthier or greener but it’s a race you can’t win. That is why it’s such good business for the curators of concept stores (ha!). That is why I had to chuckle so much in that shop. Smug, I admit, but more relieved to be liberated from all the shizzle². That fixation on what I need and what I miss. That need to show how ecological I am while (because) I am not. “After all, no truly happy person feels the need to stand in front of a mirror and recite that she’s happy. She just is. A confident man doesn’t feel a need to prove that he’s confident. A rich woman doesn’t feel a need to convince anybody that she’s rich,” Manson writes. If you’re happy, you’re already happy.
It’s been enough. I miss my piece of land. I miss Portugal. The silence we created there. But first I want to see my friends here in Belgium. Acting all weird & stupid with them. They are the reason why I love to come back to Belgium.
- Some restaurants are already using sugar cane packaging. Check this place in Ghent or this spot in Espinho.
- Up to bigger problems! Avoiding burn- and bore-outs, examining our expectations for life & resetting our goals. A lifework, but probably the most fulfilling work one can do.
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People in Portugal are more ecological than in Belgium, as you can see in the Global Footprint Network ranking (http://data.footprintnetwork.org/#/): we use less energy, we travel less, we buy less (we have less money!)… African countries are the more ecological ones, and they don’t need ecological movements or eco-labels to reach it! 🙂
Every old people in the countryside of Portugal who does not recycle and knows nothing about plastic waste is more ecological than you and me, as they don’t leave the country, some doesn’t even have cars, they don’t eat quinoa and many don’t care about coffee, chocolate or cigars.
Fancy and eco shops appears precisely in cities where everything is already fucked up or as a sign that shit just started.
An individual test to our footprint is quite useful, in order to understand what really matters most and what is a makeup to a still consumption capitalist lifestyle: https://www.footprintcalculator.org . This is also a very powerful graphic: http://www.kimnicholas.com/uploads/2/5/7/6/25766487/fig1full.jpg.
Two books that meant a lot to me: Le Développement, Histoire d’une croyance occidentale, by Gilbert Rist and The Story of Utopias, by Lewis Mumford.
You are right Olívia. These mechanisms occur where the system fails. Modern society is very polluting everywhere. And this post is about my personal evolution. Or from a Belgian woman that grew up in the city :-). Not between Belgium and Portugal. Or Europe and Africa.
Thank you for the comment and the links!