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Paris or Brussels- That is the Question

(42 Posts)
LivFran Tue 08-Oct-13 14:22:11

Hi Everyone

Recently I posted some questions about Paris and schools for an 11year old and 6 year old. We have now had something else thrown into the mix Brussels. We may have the opportunity to live in Paris or Brussels for 3 yeas, as a family. Now, each have their own merits (but my heart is saying Paris).

Paris - beautiful, lots to do, good transport links for getting around, fashionable, romantic etc. Cons can be rude, abrupt and we won't talk about officials, apartment living.

Brussels - Houses with gardens, greenery, easy to get around, as we can take the car, good reviews for BSB school. Cons can seem a little boring, expensive and living in that expat bubble.

I would be very grateful, if those who live in either place or have lived in both, can give me their opinion on what it is like working and living there with kids. Paris is the obvious pull for me, even with the downsides, but the more I look at Brussels the more it doesn't seem that bad. In Brussels we would probably live in Tervuren/Duisburg/Vossem area. If, anyone has any suggestions, re areas to live with easy access to BSB that would also be very much appreciated.


runningmad Tue 08-Oct-13 15:26:52

I can only answer for Brussels.
Children's activities are plentiful and cheap, in French, Dutch and English.
compact city, public transport could take you everywhere in the region without the need for a car. There is a highly organised bike rental scheme and car rental scheme too, which coordinate with public transport.
Most international community and activities are concentrated in the south and east of the region or just outside in Vlaams Brabant in Tervuren/Wezembeek/Kraainem, so never need to spent too much time travelling.
Housing is far cheaper than Paris if you have the same budget.
More houses than apartments even in the middle of the city.
Lots of open space and playgrounds everywhere.
Well situated for travel elsewhere in Europe.
Local school day is much shorter, 8.30 to 15.30.
Child benefit is high if you have 3+ children.

Where would work be in Brussels? If it's right in the centre, I'd go for anywhere between Mérode and 44 tram line to BSB.
Duisburg and Vossem would mean high dependence on a car and little independence for your 11 year old.
I'd consider local schooling for the 6 year old at least.
There are other options other than BSB for English schooling, though BSB may indeed be the most suitable.

runningmad Tue 08-Oct-13 15:29:46

I had a choice of Paris and Brussels, I chose Brussels because of the quality of life for the children and because the local schooling was easier to move in to as non French speakers. We were initially coming for 2 years, we've been here over 5 years now.

xpatmama Tue 08-Oct-13 15:43:35

I am also in Brussels.

Certainly not boring! Many many activities going on for kids and adults. Paris can also be relatively closed to *outsiders. Brussels property is also much cheaper and I think it can be difficult to find well situated property in Paris without a giant commute. also do you really think Brussels is more expensive than Paris? Certainly not for restaurants etc although may be true for supermarkets.

Plus I have to say that officialdom is likely just as bad as Paris (though Tervueren may be less problematic).

Brussels is also a lot easier to get around in general, much smaller.

That said Paris is of course a great city and I do not know all the pros and cons!

*ie anyone not from Paris! includes les provinciales aussi :-)

xpatmama Tue 08-Oct-13 15:44:53

PS for fashion there is plenty here.. very lively contemporary arts scene/ dance scene etc and antwerp with its own design stuff is a short distance away

Longtime Tue 08-Oct-13 18:50:07

Loads to do in Brussels, both in the expat community and in the local community though of course it helps then if you speak one of the local languages.

Ditto living in the expat bubble - you don't have to but really need to speak the local language not to.

moveornottomove Tue 08-Oct-13 18:54:08

We moved to the south of Brussels last year. Personally, I'm a big city girl and would have preferred Paris. I find Brussels still has a feel of a small town. (Even though it's not) It has it's advantages - easy to get around, schools are good, local and private. Also, a great family feel to the city, so it really promotes a good quality of life. However, there is definitely a feel of outsider dislike, which I can completely understand as people come and go so often here. There is far less choice of culture and arts than Paris. Our friends who moved here from Paris really miss the diversity you get in Paris. I'd say for the adults Paris, for the kids Brussels. Good luck.

runningmad Tue 08-Oct-13 19:19:11

You could end up in the expat bubble in either city, especially if you choose BSP or BSB for both children and do not join in with activities outside those school communities.

I'd say that there are several bubbles in Brussels. There is the BSB bubble, European school bubble, ISB bubble etc, local schools but expats still and not married to a Belgian bubble, local schools but married to a Belgian and still feel like and expat bubble.

It is hard to find somewhere I think which offers so much choice for children than Brussels in terms of activities outside of school and only a few like tennis at 10-20 euro an hour are expensive - I pay 160 euro a year for gymnastics club, 275 euro a year for swimming club. I love the mix of languages too. Our youngest is now in a class with 50% of the class who are non Belgian, 60% of the class speak 2 or 3 languages fluently, 8 nationalities, 6 languages, French is the uniting language between them all. Our 15 year old could easily pass GCSE Dutch, our 11 year old could too perhaps, due to the many hours studying Dutch too. You might not think Dutch is much use as a language outside Netherlands and Belgium and Surinam or Dutch Antilles, but it's very handy for German or Swedish or other Germanic languages and the anglophones in the class seem to pick it up with ease, whereas the monolingual francophones have an inbuilt aversion to learning it, like Brits learning a foreign language!

As for local school, I'd say my kids could adjust back into local UK schools and would find the transition pretty easy, especially the older ones, as the standard of grammar study, Science and Maths is higher than similar age in the UK. I would not think they'd manage it the other way around, say aged 14 years old and going from UK to Belgium - even if there were no lanuguage barrier, a child would probably have to drop a school year due to the difference in standards.

Portofino Tue 08-Oct-13 19:49:16

I'm in Brussels too. I love Paris but prefer living here. The continental lifestyle at a much lower cost. Schools would appear to be better. As it is smaller I think it is much easier to make friends. Less built up definitely. Lots of green space and the countryside/other countries visiitable within an hour or so. I love the huge range of activities available for kids - and under 12 they are all tax deductible.

Paris is vast. Brussels is manageable. I have had to take dd to parties on the other side of town and that is no more than 30 mins away. It certainly is not short on culture. And Amsterdam and Paris are only a short train ride away.

Indegloria Tue 08-Oct-13 20:27:10

The 'boring Brussels' reputation is so wrong!!

Just two of the great attributes of this city:
1. The variety of nationalities and amazing people that you can not only meet, but easily see socially due to the size of the city.
2. The huge range of accessible festivals and concerts. For ex, it is quiet realistic to go to a gig mid-week, get up and go to work the next day.

Have spoken to several families who have fled Paris for the warmer, friendlier, more interesting Brussels. I am convinced the opportunities for your children are huge here.

runningmad Tue 08-Oct-13 20:44:06

There are 53.5 thousand French nationals just in Brussels region, that is something like 5% of the total population of the region, the largest nationality after Belgians and 30% of the population is non Belgian. So the fact there are so many French living in Brussels must be significant. The numbers of French students at francophone universities here is making news too, making in harder for Belgians.

LivFran Tue 08-Oct-13 21:18:09

Hi Everyone

Thank for all your info. I have to say that Brussels is looking pretty good, the more I look at stuff. For the girls it looks like the better option. Is there anyone out there with one child at BSB and one in a local school? I think the 11 year old would be better off going to BSB, because we will only be there for 3 years. Also, does anyone have any recommendations on where to live? The worker of the family has to get to the area around Gare du Midi, 1 child possibly at BSB and 6 year old possibly at a local school.

Sorry, one more question has anyone taken their car from the UK to Brussels? Does it involve a lot of paperwork?

Thanks in advance

runningmad Tue 08-Oct-13 21:42:29

I already sent you a pm

Portofino Tue 08-Oct-13 22:34:23

To be very honest also, I found after the initial honeymoon period where you do lots of tourist stuff, normal family life takes over where school stuff and swimming/dance classes, doing the shopping takes precedence. So you don't do sightseeing that much, Unless you have visitors. So the bigger property you might have makes the world of difference.

LivFran Wed 09-Oct-13 06:16:29

Hi Everyone

Thank you for your replies.

runningmad, sorry I mised your pm, but I have now replied.

Looks like if all goes well we may end up in Brussels.

Cheers everyone

rushingrachel Wed 09-Oct-13 08:56:44

I lived in Paris from 2003 to 2007 and have been in Brussels since.

If l were going to do one posting for 3 years and had a really good budget I would go to Paris.

I have adapted to Brussels and it's ok and comfortable. I can afford to not work and I have a house with a nice garden in a road my kids can ride their bikes in and a comfortable lifestyle. And I have 1 child in international school and one in local school and they are both very happy. And as others have said, lots of activities for kids and it's easy to drive them around.

But I don't love it like I loved Paris. The sheer beauty of Paris had the power to lift the spirits whenever. The shopping was wonderful and the connections for a weekend further south were great. The arts and culture incomparably better. I spoke absolutely perfect French when working in Paris. Now I don't really use it at all except for perfunctory conversations at the supermarket and with other parents at school.

And this is a personal reflection but Paris is a city that knows what it is. It's soul is French, it knows it is great. And outsiders that come in can't threaten that. Brussels to me doesn't have that same identity. There is a bit of outsider hostility and no wonder. The Belgians are submerged with tides of foreigners in Brussels.

Agree with whoever said admin is shocking in both. Unreasonable, illogical and difficult to access. Opening a bank account in France was unreasonably difficult.

I think the scope and provision of health services in Brussels is great and easier to access if that is of interest.

I also think it depends where you live in either place. I would never personally want to live in Tervuren but that's because I am a city dweller and get a type of suburb fever. Equally in Paris I would have wanted to live and did live within the city. But there are gorgeous Parisian suburbs and lots of MNetters who rave about their experiences.

I guess having lived in both I probably agree that Brussels has more for the kids but Paris is fantastic for adults.

bigbrick Wed 09-Oct-13 09:26:12

The suburbs of Paris are great. Versailles with the rer link is a place with lots to do for kids. There is so much to do in Paris for everyone and a vibrant feel. You will not have this in Tervuren etc imho

rushingrachel Wed 09-Oct-13 10:37:25

Agreed ... Lovely lovely place.

Guess it all comes down to budget. In eg Tervuren you would get a lovely detached house with a big garden relatively cheaply. In Versailles, if nothing has changed, you could get a big detached house but errrrm, far from cheaply.

EspressoMonkey Fri 11-Oct-13 11:50:07

I second Rushing Rachel. I lived in both Paris and Brussels in my mid and late 20s, both prior to kids. Paris was by far the best experience. Yes you maybe in a small flat but it is Paris! So much fun, so much to do. It is only for 3 years which will fly by. What a fab experience for you and your DCs! Paris all the way.

LivFran Fri 11-Oct-13 22:20:54

Hi Everyone

Thank you for all your replies.

And a BIG, BIG thank you to the amazing runningmad. Thanks for all your advice, great ad who has answered a lt of questions for me. smile

LivFran Fri 11-Oct-13 22:21:36


Should say great lady

MrsSchadenfreude Sun 13-Oct-13 12:24:23

I've lived in both with children and would choose Brussels every time. Yes, it is a shithole of a city where no-one gives a fuck about how it looks, compared to Paris. Paris is cold, insular and hostile to foreigners - the bureaucracy in both France and Belgium is horrendous, but France is worse. I felt permanently ground down by bureaucracy there and it follows me still - I've had an email from my employer saying that the French authorities won't issue my successor with an ID card, because I didn't hand mine back. Mine went in to be renewed in April and I never got it back, despite chasing and chasing. Apparently this is my problem now - they are "in the process of reissuing the card", I then have to sign for it and return it...

I told my neighbour when we left that we were returning to London. She told me I was lucky - she (born and bred Parisian) was thinking of moving elsewhere, as the rudeness of people was grinding her down.

I speak good French (I have a certificate from the Institute of Linguists to prove it), but the number of times I was "deliberately" misunderstood in Paris just ground me down.

LivFran Sun 13-Oct-13 17:20:47

Hi Everyone

There are so many pro's and con's for each city. One minute I think yeah definitely Paris, next I read something else and think actually Brussels maybe better.

MasterOfTheYoniverse Sun 13-Oct-13 17:20:53

Having gone full circle as an expat child and a fully fledged one I totally agree with Mrs S.
My experience is that some cities are not made for the expat lifestyle and Paris, like London and NY is in that category.
Its swim or sink.
Brussels is geared up for expats. The above are geared up for immigrants. If you don't have a thick skin and immediate visceral feeling of belonging no matter what shit is thrown at you, you won't make the most of it.
I definitely think kids will be happier in Brussels.
The best of both worlds? Amsterdam! just thinking laterally in case that would be an option….

runningmad Sun 13-Oct-13 18:01:09

For local schooling alone, Brussels wins hands down. Local schools are so used to the foreigners, even arriving mid year, they can have a similar social and ethnic mix as some of the fee-paying international schools, school days are shorter than in France, child care covering 7am-7pm is available at usually less than 5 euro a day and inside school, after-school activities are incredible in choice and low cost (unless you choose something like tennis or horse riding), enough time to fit in English lessons to keep up with UK curriculum, the curriculum itself I feel is broader by secondary level than in France, schools can vary from strict and quite old-fashioned Catholic (in the way they are run, not in religious terms) to schools which have a strong emphasis on alternative methods such as Freinet and Décroly and Iena which you don't really find in the UK in the local schools at all. Local schooling is not perfect in francophone Brussels, but if you embrace it, you can have a very successful time. There are dozens of mumsnetters with children in local schools, children aged 2.5 years old to 16 years old. Most of us can be found in the eastern communes. The BCT schools network has contacts in over 100 local schools, so there is usually an English speaking parent you can talk to before choosing a particular school.

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