My name is Anna. I am originally from Stratford-upon-Avon.
I went to Sheffield University where I studied French and Spanish. When I finished Uni , I was looking for a bit of adventure and wanted to use my languages. So when a friend of mine, who had been living in Paris for a year, invited me out, I just packed my bags and took the Eurostar to Paris.
I met some people working in the finance industry through my friend and ended up working as a trading assistant in a French investment bank. After a couple of years my then boyfriend got offered a job in Brussels and I moved there with him and found a job editing financial reports in a Belgian investment bank. But the collapse of the dotcom bubble hit the bank hard and I was unfortunately made redundant, although I did meet my future husband there so it wasn’t all bad. I then saw an advert for a trainee journalist, very poorly paid but with the opportunity to gain experience with an online news feed called EUPolitix. So I went to work for them and began reporting on business affairs. EUPolitix struggled to survive and I moved across to European Voice where I worked for a few years as their business reporter. I’m pretty sure I would not have been able to get a job writing for an Economist-owned paper here in the UK without journalism training or more experience, but having English as a mother tongue together with fluent French really helped in Brussels and opened doors for me.
I am not sure the British know much about Belgium although they may have visited Brussels on a city trip. Many do not know that there are both French and Flemish speakers there and sometimes ask me if I can speak Belgian.
But Brussels is a lovely place to live; my husband is French-speaking Belgian and all his family are there. I lived there for ten years and found the people incredibly kind and warm, and very accepting of the fact that their city is full of expats.
The bureaucracy can be a bit annoying. Everything has to pass through the local commune which is only open at certain hours and you have to queue up for ages. It can also be tricky knowing what to do; I didn’t know I had to register my driving licence and got into real difficulties when I lost it.
What I really miss is the international feel of Brussels, making friends from all over the world, the fantastic food and drink, the culture and the beauty of parts of the city. And after living in Paris, the friendliness of shop assistants was both a surprise and a pleasure.
What really made me want to come back to the UK was my eldest daughter reaching school age, which in Belgium is two and a half. The classes are large and the teachers are quite stern with the children. This is just the culture but I found it very difficult to accept. I am not sure I would be so sensitive to that now but at the time it was hard. So I was getting homesick and luckily my husband was offered a job in London, so we were able to come back.
I don't think the British know too much about the European Union. They often don't know where rules come from and the fact that a lot of good laws, such as those on seat belts, for example, were made in Brussels. There doesn’t seem to be an appreciation of the fact that the EU was founded to ensure peace between its members and that that is an incredibly positive thing.
Sometimes I am not sure the EU knows how to get its citizens involved, The institutions can seem very complicated and distant from their lives. I also think the ‘Euro-English’ language and style can be a bit off-putting. There is lack of popular appeal among the EU institutions. The tabloid culture is also a real obstacle to getting information across in Britain where we tend to have opinions masquerading as news. In both France and Belgium there are no tabloids so EU stories make it into the paper on their own merit, whether positive or negative. As a result people in those countries tend to be better informed and with less prejudice.
I think a better way of getting the message across about the EU would be getting it into the school curriculum, teaching children about the basics of why the European Union was founded and how it affects their lives.