Like many people who end up calling Brussels their home away from home, I had only planned to stay for 3 months when I first arrived in this cute northern town. While working at the heart of the EU bubble, I was lucky to share a flat with a native who was savvy in political science.

Indulging into local delicacies, such as “stoemp”, “waterzooi”, “carbonade”, waffles, chocolates, and beers, I still remember being bewildered when the complicated political system of Belgium was explained to me back then. The federal state of Belgium being divided twice, once territorially (Flemish, Walloon, and Brussels-Capital regions) and once linguistically (Dutch, French and German-speaking regions), with certain overlaps, is very unique and almost non-heard of in the whole world. And this very system makes the autonomous region of Brussels distinct, where people coming from different backgrounds, can still identify themselves as “Brusseleir” in the capital of Europe. In fact, according to the International Organisation of Migration, every six Brusseleir out of ten are of foreign origin due to migratory waves since the 60s.

Even the dialect of Brussels is one of its kind as it uses unique expressions such as “non, peut-être, “fieu”, drache, caberdouche, une fois”, which can be admired at the royal puppet theatre Toone but one does not even need to learn Brusseleir in order to feel like one as there are more than 100 languages that are being spoken in Brussels, the second most cosmopolitan city in the world. To give an example, I attended a baptism ceremony of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious couple last weekend, which was conducted in 5 different languages – one thing you would probably witness “only in Brussels”.

The city of Brussels is a living manifestation of diversity faithful to the image of its symbol, the iris flower, which has more than 200 species that bloom in all colours, from pure white to almost black. Every year, the anniversary of the Brussels Capital Region is celebrated during the Iris Day with live concerts and dozens of free activities.

Multiculturalism is praised in festivals, such as Zinneke Parade. The expression “zinneke” borrows its origins from the now underground river Zenne crossing the city and refers to the inhabitants of Brussels that are not originally from there. Every two years, a colourful parade combining elements of Belgium’s rich carnival folklore with a modern air, connects many different cultures, communities, and districts within Brussels.

Other folkloric parades, such as Ommegang, to honour the arrival of Charles the Fifth to Brussels in 1549 in medieval costumes, and Meyboom, to plant a tree in the presence of giants, point out to the city’s rich history and traditions while filling its inhabitants and visitors with joy and enchantment. Of course, the Carpet of Flowers at the Grand Place, the music festivals, such as Couleur Café, film festivals, including the International Fantastic Film Festival and Anima Animation Film Festival, and sports events, such as Roller and Bike Parade, Brussels Half-Marathon and Bruxelles les Bains (Brussels Urban Beach), are other attractions that are also on the agenda of Brusseleirs in addition to concert nights at the Ancienne Belgique, BANAD Art Nouveau and Art Deco Festival (paying tribute to famous Belgian architects, such as Victor Horta), BRAFA Art Fair and Museum Night Fever that open the doors to some 120 museums, including the Magritte Museum dedicated to the famous surrealist artist Réne Magritte and the Belgian Comic Strip Center showcasing Belgian masterworks, such as Tintin and the Smurfs.

Many new bees in Brussels would be often complaining about the never-ending rain (which is now rarer thanks to global warming with open swimming pools being built in the city for the first time), the Belgian “je-m’en-foutisme” or indifference, the heavy administration (there are 9 Health Ministers in Belgium!!!) but they soon become aware that they are amongst the lucky few who can enjoy the many advantages Brussels has to offer in their every-day lives. Whereas Belgian fries are still very much on the menu, they can increasingly take pleasure in gastronomy in numerous buzzing cafes and restaurants of Brussels, which was voted the capital of international cuisine last year. Importantly, their children can register in traditional Belgian schools, be it French-speaking, Dutch-speaking, secular or religious or benefit from the large number of international schools, which are directly aimed at particular communities.

I think I can count myself among those lucky people after experiencing 15 beautiful and exciting years in Brussels and becoming a Belgian citizen. I fully embrace my “belgitude” now and plan on spending many more years here with my family and friends.

Eli from Brussels