We chat to to some of the Belgian population in Dubai to find what they think about life in the emirate
Séverine Vanderbeken, 34
‘I like pretty much everything about Dubai: the different cultures, the sun and the new people you meet, not to mention all the wonderful shopping. In fact, the only problem I have is spending too much money in the malls. I don’t know how long I’ll stay in Dubai; only the future will decide. But I would like to stay as long as possible.
‘I relocated to Dubai in September last year because there was a job opportunity inside the company. I am a sales and marketing manager in a baby and parenting shop. I wanted to be part of something new, so I took the chance to live the expat life. So far, I’ve had no regrets. I like it over here and life is going by too fast.
‘The person I miss most from home is my grandmother. Of course, I also miss my mum’s cooking and having a nice family dinner all together. Fortunately I return home three times a year. My favourite things to do here? On weekends I like going to Blue Bar or Nelson’s. I also love day trips with friends or colleagues. This is the beauty of Dubai – you make a lot of friends from all over. I know people from Lebanon, the UK, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, Egypt, Germany, Iraq, France and Belgium. I like to try new restaurants with them. There are so many things to do here. Before I know it, one year will have already passed.’
Maarten Van Cauwenberghe, 30
‘I have been travelling to the Gulf region very frequently over the past five years, but only came to live in Dubai last October. I was reluctant at first, but I soon found out that there is a big difference between visiting on a business trip and actually living here.
I don’t regret my decision – I still like it here and there is still a lot to discover. I am an area sales manager for Barco, a Belgian company that provides high-end visualisation solutions. ‘The advantage of living here is the weather, for sure. I also really enjoy living close to the beach. I love the multicultural environment: it is fascinating to find people from all over the world, with different cultures, backgrounds and religions, all living peacefully together in one place. I hang out with colleagues, Belgians from my previous job, and people I’ve met randomly in Dubai.
‘My main activities include going to the pool or beach, discovering nice bars and restaurants, running round Safa Park, an occasional trip to the desert, enjoying one of the many famous Friday brunches and entertaining friends visiting from Belgium. I’d like to play tennis but unfortunately haven’t found a good partner yet. Although I do not specifically look for Belgian-themed places, I obviously like good Belgian drinks! One of my favourite haunts is the Blue Bar on the weekends – they have really great live bands performing [Live bands return after Ramadan]. There is also the Belgian Beer Café which serves Belgian food (try the mussels!) and beers.
‘For Belgian food I head to Léon De Bruxelles at Beach Park Plaza. And you can find fine Belgium chocolates at Godiva or Leonidas.The only things I really miss are family and some friends but I go back to Belgium often and they like to visit Dubai, so it is not too bad. ‘My future here is difficult to predict. My contract runs to two years, extendable up to four, but many things can happen in that time, like reorganisation of the company, or, even better, meeting a nice girl!’
Filip Heymans, 30
‘I’m a chef at Belgian Beer Café and Zaytoun restaurant. I arrived in Dubai in 2007 and settled down with a view to ‘‘develop myself’’. It was a nice opportunity to work overseas. I started in BBC as the head chef, and after one year I was running two outlets – so I can say that it’s going well. I’ve learnt a lot more than I would have had I stayed in Belgium. What I appreciate about Dubai is that anything is possible. I think there’s something for everybody here. Whether I really like living here is another question – I’m here for my job and I like my job, so that’s that. The place where I’m working is run very well and this is the only thing that matters. However, I do miss nature. I’m planning to stay for two more years, before moving somewhere else – though not back to Belgium.
‘Like everybody, I miss family and friends. I also miss my mother’s food and watching my brother playing football. So every year I return home for 30 days. I do have friends here; some are Belgian or Dutch – it’s always nice to know guys who speak your own tongue – but many are from other countries. And then we start to learn from each other.
‘I like to go to simple outlets where I can have nice food and just relax after more than 12 hours at work a day, six days a week. You don’t want to go anywhere too crazy, believe me! Keep it simple. I like to go to the Warehouse – it’s a nice place, plus they have some Belgium beers.’
Belgium’s history can be divided into two key periods: before and after 1830. After a revolution that year, Belgium gained its independence from the Netherlands (and became ‘Belgium’). In 1831 Belgium set up the basis of its regime – neutrality, parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy – with Leopold I as the first king.
As with the rest of the globe, the 20th century was hectic in Belgium, and included World War I, the colonisation of Congo and Ruanda-Urundi and World War II. The Cold War era was synonymous with multilateralism: notably joining NATO and the EU and the emancipation of Belgium’s African colonies.
Today the atmosphere is somewhat confrontational between the two main linguistic communities: the Dutch-speaking Flemings of the North and the French-speaking Walloons of the South. After the 2007 elections, they couldn’t agree on a ruling party for 194 days. Now they have one, but regional autonomy is being discussed. Yet Belgium being Belgium, life otherwise carries on as usual.