The 'golden cage'. Once you're Erasmus in Brussels, it's hard to leave. Two reasons include the people - this city of friendly Belgians is flooded with expats, international students and immigrants - and the parties
'Big bottle' beginnings
Germans and Austrians 'vorgluehen' (warm up-drink) in student residence kitchen parties. 'Acclimatised' (or broke) southerners start with botellón ('big bottle'), a tradition of drinking at someone’s house or outdoors in the street or a park. Formula: eat, play cards, smoke thousands of cigarettes or a water pipe. Method: slowly and till late, or con calma as Giulia from Italy says. It's normal to head to a disco at midnight (the absolute record is Spaniards going to a club at 3am, hombre!).
Northwards, people start earlier by eating around 9pm. 'We hang out in Italian restaurants, Chinese and pitta places,' Pascaline from Belgium puts it. 'Although it really depends on where you go after.'
Dress code: veni, vidi
A mini-skirted, high-heeled girl in a pub downs one beer after another. 'She's British,' a student informs me over a pint. Belgian girls wear skirts with fancy tops, or jeans and fun t-shirts. The Greek and French have that stylish look renowned by the Italians, who along with the Brits follow a student 'goliardia' tradition of regularly wearing themed outfits to parties. Slovenians, Hungarians Poles or Lithuanians follow trends more.
There is a distinct difference in how the boys dress for partying in Europe. In the UK, its a strictly shirt + trousers combination. 'Students who study economics or medicine dress more formally,' says Florian from Austria. 'I got fed up with these preppies I met in France or Brussels, decked out in Lacoste, Tommy sweaters and Polo shirts,' a Polish girl comments. 'It’s like a caste.'
Bibi, bali - drank, danced
The folks (especially girls) from across the Channel are pretty good at (binge-)drinking - like their German, Austrian, Dutch, Belgian, Polish or Russian counterparts. No surprise, considering the best beer and vodka (ubrówka or Wyborowa in Poland, or Sibirskaya 'Syberian', Maskovskaya 'from Moscow' and ZYR Russian vodka), come from the latter two.
Southerners stick to wine, both straight or mixed. Popularities include sangría (a punch with fruits and cinnamon, sugar, cognac or gin), tinto de verano, (red wine with Sprite or soda), or Kalimotxo (red wine with Coke). Northern Europe is Bierbauch (beerbelly)-owners domain, while Germany has a select cocktail culture. Those from central and eastern Europe simply dig all of it and have no special preferences, (but naturally prefer not to mix alcohols). Jak si bawi, to si bawi…drzwi wywali potem wstawi ('If you party, party for real … break the door and then repair), says Micha 'The Saint' from Poland.
Brussels bartenders are busy pouring beer (een pintje! in Dutch) for the boys and 'kriek' (beer with fruit juice, or more precisely fruit juice with beer), wine and Martinis for the girls. 'Foreign guests drink less then the locals. And they tip more rarely,' complains Alain from Le Cirio, a busy downtown pub.
The French, Brits and Swedes have their feet nailed to the ground. But you will rarely see Spaniards or Poles people not 'hopping' on the dancefloor (though reports describe some Poles 'dancing' as 'supporting the walls so that they don’t fall down'). Rule: dance in a circle with friends (girls throw your handbags in the middle), in pairs to maintain a longer distance, with a special mention for the grinding Belgians who stick RnB close. Beer-lovers never lose grip of their pint, causing others to complain about the resulting broken glass on the floor. Southerners feel the music better - the Portuguese, Greek or Turks whip out smooth samba or salsa moves, which the girls 'dig', says Pascaline.
The spectrum of music tastes ranges from hot Meditteranean rhythms to classy rock from the Isles, American hip-hop, Brit cheese, German chart-toppers or 'Schlägern' and disco or techno 'steamin' beats mixed by big DJs' from the Benelux. 'De gustibus (to each their own), as the Poles say. 'But people party to a mixture of music genres,' says Leyre from Spain.
There is one thing all students have in common when it comes to parties - the sad feeling when it’s over. Some are more fortunate, like in Belgium or Germany, where there are no defined pub hours. Brits are used to the party ending at 11pm or 1am, whereas Italians protest via anthems, and have been known to sing the traditional folk song Bella Ciao in protest. Poles like to move on to parties like most Europeans - the klubing (clubbing) phenomenon. Stalwart Spaniards are famed for going only when others go. Then of course, there is the British/ German/ Belgian post-party kebab culture - which is another article.
*Melan (from French le melange or 'the mix') – Polish slang for party
Many thanks to all the people who helped me with this article, especially: Nabeelah, Pascaline, Leyre, Ola, Jan, David, Giulia, Florian, Sophia, Mimi and all the others. Without your help this article would have never emerged
Guide to student boogie
Overpoortstraat, pub-filled street, student favourite
Waterhuis aan de bierkant, beer heaven
Druppelkot, to taste jenevers
Culture club, party central
Delirium, 2004 different beers at the last count!
Coaster, for a cocktail in a shaker
Celtica, classic Irish pub with live music downstairs and a disco upstairs
You'niversity, popular club in city centre
Mirano, trendy club with a spinning platform on the dancefloor
Casco Viejo, the old town where all the good bars are
Plan B, excellent location, good place to go for a pint or coffee
Stodoa, legendary student club
C.K. Browar, a pub with fresh beer from own brewery served in a 1.5 m long tubes
Finland Erasmus party: with all the ingredients of the above
(Video: wverlinde/ Youtube)
(In-text photos: WM)Italic text