It is 5.30 PM, it is getting dark, and Brussels’ streets are getting crowded, and it seems that everyone who drives a car in Brussels has read the introductory chapter of a book called “Darwinism on the Streets of Brussels”. I am completely lost, trying to navigate my way through this see of car sharks, and I was supposed to be at my friends’ house an hour ago. The GPS decided to go blank as soon as we entered the city, and the directions that I have rely on street names – which is a huge problem given that there are no street names written anywhere. When finally and miraculously we find the right street, the next huge problem presents itself, there is absolutely no parking space whatsoever! If you thought driving in Brussels was a nightmare, try parking! By now it is almost 8 PM and I am swearing at every driver in Brussels in pretty much every language I know. I give up, drive the car into the city’s most expensive parking garage and head for my friends’ apartment – where they explain that driving around in Brussels was a really bad idea. Well, thanks, I think, I figured that one out by myself, and really, I am only downtown with a car because YOU GUYS told me it was no problem and that there even is a free parking lot close by! At least it turns out that there really IS a free parking lot about 1 minute from the apartment, and after studying the map for about 30 minutes, I actually manage to park my car there. Perfect! Almost too perfect. And sure enough, when we walk around the streets of the neighborhood the next morning, we see quite a few cars with smashed windows. “Oh, that’s normal,” my friend explains. Excuse me???!!! What does he mean by “normal”? “Well, it doesn’t happen so much with Belgian cars, but especially if you have a foreign licence plate from countries like Sweden or Germany, people think you probably have valuables in the car, so they smash the windows. It’s only a few kids that do it, mostly Moroccans, but it’s a shame, as the entire community gets a bad reputation” Gasping. So you let me park my car (with a German license plate!) right in this neighborhood where everybody (okay, sorry, only a few teenagers) seems to think that smashing car windows at night is great fun???? “No, don’t worry about your car, the spot where you parked is 100% safe, nobody breaks into cars there!” I am not really reassured. Meanwhile, my boyfriend points at an expensive looking car: “Why aren’t these windows smashed?” “Oh, that’s because of the tissue box!” Tissue box??? We notice that a lot of cars have a tissue box right underneath the windshield. Apparently, this is a Moroccan custom. My friend is not sure why exactly all Moroccans like to have a Kleenex box handy at all times, but it has become a code.
As the neighborhood they live in is mostly Moroccan, we notice the Kleenex box in almost every single car. The code seems to work! Maybe the Moroccan teenagers feel bad smashing another Moroccan’s car, maybe there is some important message that they send through the tissue box – either way, the tissue box cars are not smashed! “That’s what we tell everybody who parks on the street here, just put a tissue box in your car and you’ll be fine!” I consider running to the next store and getting a Kleenex box right away. My friend must have noticed the look of panic in my eyes: “Nooo, really, you don’t have to worry about your car. The parking lot where you parked it is very safe! The kids use it as a place to hang out and smoke weed, they don’t want anybody to draw attention to that lot, so nobody ever smashes any cars there!” And sure enough, when we go back to my car 3 days later, it doesn’t have a single scratch! Who would have guessed that Brussels secret to relaxed driving and parking is a parking lot that is off limits and tissue boxes?