On Tuesday evening I found myself on Place Jourdan, with my sister and some colleagues, in search of a bar. And it could not be any old bar; it had to show the US elections. I am not sure if it was the terrifying reign of Bush the 2nd or too many episodes of West Wing, but watching the elections had become a tradition for me and my sister. One of my colleagues had lived in the US for a while and a few others tagged along, some more interested in the elections than others. The election fanatics among us were the reason we were wandering around Place Jourdan in the rain, having left the Brussels Expats election party because of the loud music and party atmosphere. We wanted a quieter place where we could follow the elections and debate the issues without losing our voices.
The situation in the Jourdan neighbourhood was not looking promising, until we entered a small bar showing football, where we extracted a promise to screen the elections after the end of the game. As promised, after 15 minutes the TV turned to CNN, and we could finally follow the coverage, albeit without sound since it was the policy of the bar to play music. The slow start of the election coverage drove some of our group away and by 1am only me and my sister were left. My sister was enthusiastically expounding on the subject of the elections to a man by the bar, who was completely astounded by her knowledge of the electoral system in a country which was not her own. We tried to explain that as expats since 16 years we had lost touch with Finnish politics and Belgian politics is just too frustrating and complicated to get into. And even as residents of the capital of Europe, EU elections are not able to garner enormous amounts of enthusiasm. So we had adopted the US elections, which in all fairness do have a great effect on the rest of the world as well, while being conveniently simple and entertaining.
The guy explained that he was in Brussels only for two days visiting his friend, the girl who was working as a bartender at the place. He was lucky to have a job, and we wondered if he would consider leaving Greece for Brussels if he was unemployed. ‘Never’ he answered, with a horrified look at the drenched streets outside the window; he would miss the sun too much. The girl had left Greece at the time of the last general elections, being unemployed and completely disillusioned with the country and its politics. With a degree in international politics, focusing on sustainability issues, Brussels was an obvious choice, and she was currently feeling hopeful about a possible internship at a consultancy in her field. She missed Greece of course, but there were no possibilities for her back in her own country. We spent some time discussing the Greek situation and the all-pervasive corruption. The girl explained that after the turbulent years following the civil war and dictatorship the new government created a bloated public sector by promising positions to large numbers of people, in order to get elected. She seemed convinced that nothing was going to change any time soon. The guy said that the corruption would not go anywhere but Greece still needed the money of the European tax payers.
While talking about the Greece an hour or two of election coverage passed us by, but that is the kind of thing that happens in Brussels. You want to follow US politics but end up discussing Europe instead.
When the owner finally had the courage to kick us out at 2am, me and my sister continued to my place, where my boyfriend was still up and had made us popcorn. So in the end we found our perfect election watching spot, right back on my couch.
And as morning began breaking over Brussels we silently cheered as Obama was re-elected as the president of the United States of America. Now we can only hope that he manages to get something done, despite the Republican congress and with the European debts crisis dragging the economy down across the Atlantic. Because, in the end, it is all connected and what happens in the US will have an effect on the Greeks, like what happens in Greece will affect the US.