Brussels – sometimes known as the capital of Europe; but even this cannot describe the sheer diversity of the city’s ever-increasing number of international expats. It’s a great city, full of life, exciting things to do, and amazing people to meet. But wait a minute; how do you meet, greet and make friends with these interesting individuals? Well, keep reading for the Globexs guide on how to hobnob, hang out with and hit it off with a profusion of possible future friends – and at the same time have loads of fun doing stuff and going places! Learn how to make friends as an expat.
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One of the most obvious ways of making friends with other expats is by joining one of the many clubs or societies that have branches in cities all over the world, and, of course Brussels is always included. Some of the most well-known are; Expat Club, catering for all types, who organise lots of events, activities and cultural visits, some Brussels based, like the Audi car factory, but also international, such as the Venice carnival, Marrakech, or even Chernobyl!
Their aim is to cater for international singles, families, couples and retirees, and if you’re new to Brussels, then their useful “Everyday life in Brussels” workshop could be a great way to avoid possible culture shock. Full Circle will appeal to the more professional-orientated expat, especially for those creative entrepreneurs and forward thinkers needing to exchange new ideas and connect with like-minded people.
They organise dinner debates, lunch talks, and even ‘teen talks’, encouraging younger minds to take active parts in ideas exchange. And on a positive note, many of their events are open to non-members to try.
Staying with professional themed clubs, women also have their own international clubs in Brussels, Global Woman Club helps you connect with other successful business women and entrepreneurs through networking breakfasts, conferences and excursions. But for a more general theme, try WIC, who bring international women together for cultural and recreational events, with a view to inspiring friendship and goodwill. Members also choose a Belgian charity to raise funds for at their social events.
Web-based Social clubs
The internet is not just for work. It can be a vital tool in your quest to connect with actual human beings! InterNations is an international club, but of web-based origins.
It allows you to connect with fellow expats for tips on living and working in Brussels. They have an extensive list of groups you can join, for just about any taste or activity, from live music to business brainstorming, with an amazing myriad of nationalities in each group.
Even the French, American and British groups have members from over a hundred different countries. And if you still can’t find what you’re looking for, no problem, they even let you start your own group. A-Club is a run via Facebook and Yahoo and organises events for a multicultural mix of expats in Brussels in their 20s, 30s and 40s, so no old fogeys, I suppose! Single and ready to mingle?
Then maybe meetup could be of assistance. They have well over 5,000 single, international members in Brussels! But to get networking while not working, plus the opportunity to meet fellow businesspeople, entrepreneurs and the like, try Apéro Afterwork, who organise informal, after-work drinks for professional expats.
The Apéro Attraction
So, what is an Apéro? Well, it comes from the French, and the original idea was that you meet a few friends after work for an informal aperitif and a bite to eat. However, Brussels has taken that idea and run with it, some would say quite far! While most Apéro takes place in the warmer weather because they tend to be open-air affairs, many different concepts of Apéro have emerged. Some are open most of the year, and there are some truly enormous events, with thousands enjoying music, food, drink, dancing and deejays. One of best, Boeremet, is surprisingly situated on the site of an abattoir.
Another Apéro open all year round, but rather early for some, is in the Châtelain Square Market on Wednesdays, from 2 pm until 7pm. But at least you’ll have the chance to get some fresh fruit and veg before the corks start popping. An Apéro really is a great way to informally meet new people, and for fairly extensive guide to pop-up bars and Apéro events try visit.brussels, which even gives you a day-by-day guide to when and where they are happening.
Going out and getting down in Brussels
Expats are spoilt for choice when it comes to eating and drinking in Brussels. As a rule, they try to avoid anything that seems to touristy, preferring to distinguish themselves from tourists by eating at more ‘in’ or trendy places, so sometimes end up bumping into each other!
You’ll probably see a few international faces at places like Waff, near the university. It has a great selection of drinks and cocktails, three hours of happy-hour every day, from 6-9pm and a cool terrace at the back. La Maison Du Peuple is a great place to chill out with your laptop while having brunch, enjoy a few drinks on the terrace as the world goes by, the lunch and dinner menus are great, and at night there’s music and deejays. Le Loft describes itself as a resto-bar, which is a fair description.
A good range of international dishes are enjoyed by expats here, but there’s also the after work Apéro vibe going on during happy hour. Of course, there are also Irish bars, a couple of them are situated in the European Quarter. You’ll always find a throng of certain types of international expats enjoying sports events, live music, quiz nights and plenty of beer! Kitty O’Shea’s is across the street from the European Parliament, so prides itself on its international atmosphere; whilst James Joyce is owned and managed by an Irishman from Donegal and claims to serve the best Guinness in Belgium!
Activities for all expats in Brussels
Another incredibly easy way to make expat mates is by joining a club or society that reflects your hobbies and interests. If the sporting life is for you, there are some great options, including Hebe, which promotes mixed-gender matches in different sports. But there are so many sports and clubs to choose from.
For football, you have the British United Football Club and the Royal Brussels British Football Club. For rugby there is the BBRFC Celtic Rugby Club, for Cricket the Royal Brussels Cricket Club, leaning towards the U.S. you have Brussels Kangaroos Baseball Club, who also play softball and the Brussels Bulls American & Flag Football Team. For fun-runners there’s the Brussels Hash House Harriers, who run every Saturday from different locations, at 3pm.
For you culture vultures there are also many theatrical clubs such as the Brussels Shakespeare Society, who regularly perform the bard’s works. The American Theatre Company and The Irish Theatre Group. If you are a keen photographer, then the English speaking group Viewfinders should be of interest. Like to belt out a song? Why not try The International Chorale of Brussels or the Brussels Light Opera Company. There are even clubs for the kids and teenagers, such as the English Youth Theatre, and the First Brussels British Scouts for both boys and girls.
French it up
Of course, you could always try brushing up on your French, or what would be even more impressive, give learning Flemish a go at a local language school. After all, I’m sure you’d love to meet some actual Belgians too! I could continue, but, the best way of meeting people is by living and working in the place. And if you’d like to find out the best places for expats to live and work in brussels, then read the earlier post about moving to Brussels and contact us at Globexs and Bluekey and learn how to make friends as an expat.