Belgium through the eyes of a Latvian

The busy traffic, cancer rates, sporty people and the small size of Belgian beers: these are some of the things that struck Latvia's Rita Garnizone most on her first visits to Belgium: "What's up with the small beer? I still have not got used to the 'kids beer size' as I call it!" This the last report in our series about Flandersnews readers from abroad!
Rita: "In Belgium there is no such thing as remote"

"My once-upon-a-time story is a Latvian one. That is where I come from and that is where I am currently based. I live in a small town called Sigulda. However, English is my working language and that of my personal life. And this is where Belgium comes in. My connection to Belgium is love - I fell in love with a Flemish speaking Belgian. As simple as that.

Long-distance relation

"We met on a holiday in Bratislava. A few months later we went on a trip to Germany and by the end of the trip we were a couple. So being in a distance relationship I went to visit my boyfriend in his home country - Belgium. It was my first time there. That was a year ago. Since then every time I go to Belgium we go on weekend trips to different towns around the country.

"I thought I had seen traffic jams - was I wrong!"

"What struck me in Belgium was the number of cars on the roads, hence the traffic jams. That came as quite a surprise to me - I thought I had seen traffic jams - oh, was I wrong!

In remote areas in Latvia you can drive for an hour without a passing car while in Belgium there’s no such thing as remote - one town ends, the next begins. I guess I feel like we have more breathing space (with our 10 acres around each house).

Cancer rates: could woods make a difference?

"I was also shocked by how common cancer is in Belgium. I guess it goes hand in hand with the pollution caused by the same cars blocking the roads.

I wonder if having as much nature - the woods, our oxygen generators - as we have in Latvia would make any difference. But then again, we only have 2 million people with 2 times more land than you do so go figure.

(Belgium's population density is over 10-fold that of Latvia's: 370 inhabitants per square kilometre compared to some 30. Latvia has 2.067 million inhabitants and covers a surface of 64.6 thousand square kilometres, compared to Belgium's 11 million inhabitants for 30.5 thousand square kilometres; both are relatively small countries compared to, for example, England which has double the size of Latvia and 53 million inhabitants, red).

Sporty Belgians

"On the other hand I was pleasantly surprised by how sporty Belgians are. Everyone is exercising: running, cycling...

Here in Latvia healthy lifestyle in terms of sports is only starting to take shape with younger generations while in Belgium it seems already deeply rooted - kudos! (Belgium is not doing as well as one would think at first; more people should be moving and taking up physical exercise, experts say, and many Belgian citizens have a Body Mass Index that is too high; the average BMI is now at 25.4 and nearly 50 per cent of the adults is battling overweight, red)

"What's up with the small beer?"

"Another one of my experiences was beer - what’s up with the small beer?! I still have not got used to the ‘kids’ size beer’ as I call it - I come from a country of 0.5 litre glasses. And man, you love your chocolates! Chocolate here, chocolate there, chocolate everywhere!

"My ultimate goal is to move to Belgium and study Dutch"

"I only started reading this news site recently so I have not developed specific news reading patterns for yet. I am definitely picky so I will go through all the headlines but only read the pieces that catch my eye. I used to work for a news agency so I know how important it is to give your piece a catchy headline.

I am a translator so I read the news in English for the language (of course) - to pick up new expressions. I also prefer journalistic style over fiction in general. But most importantly, I see this site as a kind of a cultural connection to Belgium and as my way of getting to know the present Flanders. As my goal ultimately is to move to Belgium and study Dutch.