Category Archives: Belgium

All posts related to Belgium.

The story of a Belgian in America: Company Blog Post

We’ve published 4 blog posts about my expat experience the past weeks. Please follow the following links to read the 4 posts.

I’ve had generally very good feedback on these, and many LinkedIn requests. However, I’ve also had some remarks that I’m not very positive about the USA in my writing. I’m sorry to say, but the people who understood that from the blog post, completely missed the point. The blog was not meant as a glorification of America. It is about the experience, the transformation, of a person moving abroad and integrating/assimilating into the “foreign” society. It is not meant to be about America, it is meant to be about the expat, the person. Things you experience, things that are different, roadblocks, etc. Immigrants are a different breed. It is something people that never lived abroad for an extended period of time will never understand. I’m not asking for understanding or (dis)approval. My intention is to give people who are willing to take the jump, an idea what to expect. Do not give up while waiting for your visa, do not stop your life while waiting. Pay attention on remuneration, comparing is difficult, it is OK to miss things, but don’t get homesick. Understand you will change as a person in every way possible and understand the people around you will most likely not understand. Just like Steve Jobs was nervous every time he had to go on stage to show the latest Apple product, so does the expat feel nervous every time he/she ends up in a new situation. And just like Jobs, the expat will come out of the situation stronger and a step closer to perfection. But, and this is a big but, it is not for everyone. You need to be the type of person who wants to be nervous about things, who wants to be put out of your comfort zone. THAT is the point of this 4-series blog post.


1) How it all started
2) The paperwork struggle
3) Discover the people, discover yourself
4) Atlanta is Home


Visit to the motherland 2015

I have been postponing this trip a very long time, but I now I did not have a choice… my visit to Belgium was a mandatory one. I could either go to New York, get myself registered with the Belgian consulate (which is located in NY for Texas), or I could go to Belgium and renew my passport with the Province, or so I thought…  I made it into a family trip, covering my passport renewal and two family reunions. Just because I can.

I did not visit Belgium for over a year. It was interesting to see the differences: new roads, windmills, buildings,.. people driving much slower than I remembered. It was kind of interesting to see all the new faces in our office. Many of which had never seen me before, and could not figure out how this weirdo that comes in at 11 am (I had appointments in the morning) , seems to know so many of their colleagues. Funny. We had good food, visited most of my friends (not all unfortunately, sorry guys!), drove over 1,000 miles in 2 weeks crossing the country. My company gave me a company car for 2 weeks (thank you Delaware Consulting!) and I must admit this is probably what I miss most here in America: a shift-stick car. Driving manual feels so much better than driving automatic, and driving an Audi -just like the one I drove before I moved- is just an unbeatable feeling. Relaxed driving over the highways at ~120 KM/H, keeping right. Waiting at the red light, just feeling awesome in my car.

My main priority was to renew my passport. So first Monday I drive to Brugge to find the Provincial service who is supposed to do this for me. I’m there, and it turns out that they changed the law a few months before, and now I must be registered in the consulate in the land I am living, to be able to get my passport renewed in Belgium. That kind of sucked, since the whole point for me was to renew this, without needing to register in NY. I do not care about registering as such, it;s just that with a move planned to Georgia within 2 months, I does not make a lot of sense for me to register in NY and then move all that stuff to Atlanta. Anyhow, after the civil servant told me that “You do not pay taxes here, so I do not need to help you”, and made it clear that he was not going to do anything without the NY embassy giving me permission to get my passport in Belgium, I felt a bit depressed.  He said that without permission he had no idea where I lived (which is false, since he had my US address displayed on the computer screen and I gave him my US drivers license showing the same address). So, I drove to Kortrijk, to the office to meet with some colleagues. Then called the NY embassy during their opening hours to get everything resolved. They were very helpful and all went very smooth. 3 days later, the provincial services had confirmation that I could go renew my passport.  Conclusion: Belgian abroad: you must register with the Belgian government in order to renew your passport.

Lots of other things going on during my visit, just life. But one little anecdote I do want to share with you: In Antwerp, I was visiting a friend. I arrived around noon, and did not have lunch yet, so I figured I should order some food with my beer… ask the waiter/bartender/owner (still not sure) if the kitchen is still open (it was after 1:30 pm after all, and this is Belgium…). His answer: “Maybe”. At this point, I think he is just joking, so I figure to just play along and ask him: “Ok, when do you think you will know for sure?”. “In 20 minutes”, he answers. I’m not sure how I looked at that point, but I’m pretty sure there is no emoticon to capture the sight. 30 minutes later, I ask the waiter again and he answers that he will check. At this point, I do not feel like fooling around, so I just order a pasta. He looks at me, and asks “are you sure?”, and I confirm. At this point, the guy turns around, and instead of walking into the kitchen disappears outside of the bar, onto the street. I’m not sure at this point what to think, but since nobody else seems to actually work in the bar, I decide to just stay and drink my beer, see what happens. About 15 minutes later, the waiter returns with a bunch of pasta boxes under this arms. French food, indeed…

Welcome to the USA!

August 2014, my brother and friends are visiting the USA for the first time. My brother came over a few days early to visit me in Dallas and experience the ‘Cowboy way of life’. His main goal in Texas was to find an outfit and dress up like a hillbilly, similar to the ‘Cletus’ character from ‘The Simpsons’.  The search for the jeans overall and cowboy hat was an adventure on itself. We’ve visited several ‘Western Wear’ shops where people would look at us, shaking their head in disbelieve. ‘It is summer’, was the most common answer. ‘Nobody wears that in summer’. We finally found a store in Louisville that actually had the overalls in stock and we also found a great cowboy hat. We did all kind of ‘Texan’ activities, such as buying ammo (In Walmart, ammo is stored in the aisle next to the children toys… cliche confirmed), going to the shooting range with my American friend, visiting the Stockyards cattle drive, the Stockyards Rodeo, eating steak and having Texan BBQ. And although he did not actually wear the overall anywhere (a bit too hot), it were good times. After a few days of Dallas and Fort Worth, we took the plane to New York where we would meet two mutual friends from Belgium.

Originally the plan was to stay at an apartment in Jersey City that we rented through AirBnB. Unfortunately, they cancelled 2 days before we arrived due to ‘boiler problems’. We were forced to get a new spot asap, and basically did not have a choice of where we wanted to stay. We ended up booking something else through AirBnB in Brooklyn, which seemed looking at the map as not too distant from Manhattan. We turned out to be really bad at reading maps… We arrived at two different airports. My brother and I ended up in EWR (close to the original Jersey City location) and our friends ended up on JFK. Although they landed over an hour before us, and they were closer to the new location, we still ended up arriving first in Brooklyn. The cabdriver was not happy to cross NY and get into Brooklyn at all. When he saw the neighborhood we were getting into, he was even less pleased. And so were we… We spend almost 2 hours in traffic before we got to our destination. Our friends ended up waiting for almost 4 hours in immigration (JFK is the worst airport to enter the USA, if possible, always choose another!) and once they get a cab, the driver had no clue where to drive, and asked them several times if they were sure about the address. Living in the USA for some time now, I understood this neighborhood was not the best, to say the least, but for people trying to enjoy their holidays coming from Belgium, this place was worse than their worst nightmares. We had 2 studios. The first one was quite reasonably OK, something you would expect to find when backpacking through poor countries, but certainly not to our standards. The second studio was just plain really bad, and not a place you would want to stay at all. Dirty mattress, etc. We decided to make the best of it, and go out for dinner, since we’ve all had a long day of travel already. But it was obvious nobody was very happy with the place we got into.

It was getting dark, and we did not feel very comfortable walking 5 blocks to the nearest subway station, so I decided to introduce my friends to ‘Uber’. Uber is actually illegal in Belgium, so they were very surprised how good, safe, fast and cheap the app really is. We get into the Uber car, and the driver just looks at us and asks: “What are four white boys doing in a neighborhood like this?”. The tone was set and the driver recommended us to either get out of that place or at least use Uber to get out and in every time. Which we kind of already realized those were our two options. It was actually a really fun ride. “I was not planning to pick anyone up around here”, the driver said, “but I got your request and I noticed you had 5 stars… so I thought, well let’s go take a look”. “Nobody around here has 5 starts”, he said. I did not realize the Uber drivers also rated their passengers, but it was a pleasant surprise to hear I have the highest rating. He explained to us that we were not in the very worst part of town, but pretty near to it. ‘They are trying to clean it up”, he said. We were not sure what that actually meant at that point. Just being around there only a few hours, we had noticed at least 3 drug deals. The driver dropped us off at Little Italy, where one of my friends who recently moved to New York joined us for dinner. Making some jokes about ‘All Belgians being the same’ and discussing the place we ended up in a bad part of Brooklyn. Walking to the subway after dinner – we wanted to go see Times Square- faces and conversations were still a bit dark and gloomy. However, the second we walked out of the subway and saw Times Square, all of our faces lighted up and my friends were skipping around like little girls. ‘WTF is this?!”, “This is awesome”, “I feel so small”, “Daaaaaaaaaaaaaamn!”. We had a few drinks and decided to Uber it back ‘home’. This driver was a bit confused about where we were going… “Are you sure that is where you want to go?”. The drive made it clear what the first driver meant with ‘they are cleaning it up’: This was a Saturday night and there were at least 2 cops on every intersection. I’ve never seen that many police officers, and I live in Texas… Once we got into our Neigherbood, it was actually quiet and there were no flashing lights or anything. The Uber driver waited for us to get in the house, before taking off to his next customers. My friends thought that was weird, and it enforced their believe we should get out of there. It had been a long day, and we went to sleep.

We woke up the next day, and all was fine. Sun was out, people were quietly walking the street, and there was this general feeling of confusion in our group. “Was this now a bad place to be, or not”, we slept OK, but in the end we decided we could not stay there. The mattress and bathrooms were just not good enough and some of us were scared they would catch some kind of diseases. In the end, when you are on holiday you should feel comfortable. The Uber drive also cost us a decent amount, and we just wanted to be closer to the city as was the original plan. So we decided to move out. I booked one of the Courtyard Marriotts downtown and we moved out. We called the owners to let them know we would be leaving and ask if we could get a partial refund. I’m not sure how exactly that worked out,  all I know is that at some point they called us racists. We wanted to leave there because it is a black neighborhood was their assumption. Oh well. The whole experience lead to my brother and friends cancelling their AirBnB scheduled for their trip to LA the next week. “Not this again”, was their general feeling. AirBnB actually got back to my brother about it, but I do not know how that ended and if we were given any type of refund. All I know is that if you want to be comfortable, do not get anything through AirBnB. I’m sure it works really well for people on a low budget or backpacking, but for us this is just not the type of service we expect. In fact, since the Marriott gave us a huge room with 2 queen beds and a coach, and the most expensive day of the week (Saturday) was already gone, the price of the hotel room was quite reasonable and we felt really stupid to even have tried the AirBnB service.

After that, New York was awesome. We did all kinds of touristy stuff and just enjoyed the whole city. It was amazing. ‘Top of the Rock’ (going up the Rockefeller building), gives you an insane view over the city. It was the first time in my life I was actually scared in an elevator. it just keeps on going up! Biking through Central Park,… Cherry on the cake was the Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon”. It is anti-religious, very politically incorrect and awesome. Not only the performance itself is absolutely brilliant, the reactions of the public is worth it too! Half the public (including myself) loves the whole show, while the other half seems to feel uncomfortable, and perplexed. To see how some people cope with it is hilarious in itself.  Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez (you know the first two as the creators of South Park), really did a great thing here. If you have a chance, go see it! Book your tickets well in advance, though. They are sold out every day for many days in advance.

After five days New York, we traveled south to Washington DC. The original plan was to take the train, but when checking we realized it would cost us 600 USD and we could not take luggage, which is kind of a showstopper. No worries, we decided to rent a car and just drive there. Stopping whenever we felt like it, and so we did. I was a bit disappointed on our road trip, the scenery between New York and Washington is mostly just forest. A bit boring. We did stop at an authentic diner and had great burgers. I had to explain my friends the concept of tipping again, again and again. Which was funny.

Washington is a great city. We were only there for one and a half days, and I think we all felt we should have stayed longer. Basically we did the National Mall the entire day, and did not even take the time to wander around every park. Washington is certainly a great place to visit. My friends and brother ended up flying to Vegas after that. I had to drive back north, to Philadelphia, for work. And so ended our holiday in the USA together. They visited Vegas, the Grand Canyon and LA without me. They tell me they loved their visit to the USA and it looks like they would not object coming back later!

I believe we made a really good choice of visiting different places. My brother visited Dallas, New York, Washington, Las Vegas, The Grand Canyon National Park and Los Angeles in about three weeks. This was a very diverse road trip and they’ve seen the different faces this great country has. And honestly, I was just happy to see my friends without needing to fly all the way back to rainy Belgium! :)


FIFA World Cup 2014

It is happening!!!

Next Tuesday Belgium plays the USA in the FIFA World Cup Round 2.

All present!

On edit: Belgium WON 2-1 and advances to the quarter finals to beat Argentina on Saturday July 5th 11AM CST.

Great game by both teams! Tim Howard is an amazing goalkeeper and makes a good chance to be Goalie of the tournament. 16 (!!!) saves, a world cup record. Or as CNN puts it here:

It was an epic battle. Team USA goalie Tim Howard on one hand. The entire Belgian team on the other.

‘neuf said.

Belgian National Holiday

July 21st is Belgiums national holiday. We do not celebrate our independence, we celebrate King Leopold I to take the throne as first king of Belgium on July 21st, 1831. Yes, indeed. While Belgian soil has over two thousand years of (kinda) known history, Belgium itself is in fact younger than the USA!

Today is a historic day in Belgian history, as Albert II, king of Belgians, is stepping down in favor of his son Phillipe I. ‘Bertje’ is the first Belgian king to step down voluntary; his father Leopold III had to step down after the second world war for liking the Nazi’s a bit too much… or getting married to a lower class girl. Who the hell cares anyway? It’s frkin’ Belgium…

I do want to share this nice song with you all:
The Belgian Song – by Mister John


For the Belgians in or around Dallas, there is apparently a Belgian meetup today in the Old Monk. See you there around 6-7pm.

Foreigner in the mother country

Weird things happen when you move to another country. The weirdest feeling up till now, was going back to my mother country (Belgium) for business. I spend 2 weeks in a hotel in Belgium trying to use all my US stuff. My US credit card, US drivers license, US phone number (this failed, as you could read some posts ago). I found out that all the issues you encounter as a foreigner traveling to the USA, actually apply for Americans traveling abroad too. My credit card was rejected at gas stations because I lack a pin code, just as my Belgian card used to be rejected in the US because of lack of ZIP code (a colleague informed me that you can ‘skip’ this check by pressing zero (“0″), did not try it myself yet).
I got an automatic transmission car, as a real american, unable to do any shopping because stores are closed, working on a national holiday and no split bills. It is weird. You do not feel at home, yet everything feels very familiar.

I had a good time with friends and family in Belgium, but I really was happy to open the door of my Dallas apartment, go to a fast food restaurant and sleep in my own bed. Belgium may feel too familiar to be considered ‘abroad’, but ‘home’ definately is Dallas, Texas in the US of A.

Traveling for work

I cannot count the number of times I traveled abroad for work the past 4 years and this has never been a problem for me. I had my credit card, my passport and cellphone with me and never had issues.

So some weeks ago I am told I need to travel to Belgium for work. I think: cool, visiting my friends and family and getting paid for it. However then I start to think about what I need; my basic travel-kit: credit card, passport and cellphone. I cannot see the passport being a problem at all, but I start to wonder about the credit card. Credit cards need to be activated abroad before you travel. I’m sitting at the bank, using the clerks phone to call customer service and get the card activated for my travel destinations in Europe for the travel period. As everything in America, you cannot call the customer service without them activating all kinds of new programs for you. This time I apparently qualified for 1% cash-back on all my credit purchases. Fine, activate it (one wonders why they did not activate this before). This was not a very difficult task.

Then I figure, I cannot even call foreign numbers, so I need to get that fixed and activated too.
Now, Americans reading this should know the following: When you have a phone contract in Belgium, and you want to go abroad, all you need to do is not forgetting to take your phone charger with you. You just call and text and use roaming all you want. It may cost you a lot of money (especially the data), but everything simply works. If you are travelling a lot you can get special plans at reduced prices. Here I start chatting with one of the AT&T employees (they have some kind of weird messaging system, they sometimes feel like talking to bots) on how I can activate this stuff: Calling foreign numbers from the USA, calling US and other numbers from abroad. Now she transfers me to the ‘international calling’ department (the what? ok whatever…) and this guy explains to me that he cannot do this online and I need to call the customer service because my account is not active for more than 90 days. (eh what now? Well duh, I didn’t even live here 90 days ago)!
Now the customer service department can only activate this using a “special procedure”. He goes trough some security questions and at the end he said the result turned out false. So according to the ATT system, I am not me, which is very interesting given the questions he asked me. I also wonder who I am and who is supposed to pay that insane high bill I get from them every month.

Anyhow, I gave up and decided to go to Belgium without my phone. I guess I can still activate my old Belgian number again once I arrive and pretend not to have a US phone.
Why is this country making it so difficult for people to just do what they need to do? What can go so horribly wrong by activating a phone?
Every day is an adventure…

Neutraliteit en vrijheid van meningsuiting.

Er is in België blijkbaar een storm losgebarsten toen Bart Dewever in een interview met De Standaard heeft gezegd dat hij geen “Regenboog” shirts achter het loket wil. Ik snap de heisa niet… Ofwel gaan we voor een samenleving waar de overheid neutraal is, en dan mag een loketbediende geen enkele mening of positie tonen tijdens zijn werkuren, ofwel laten we alles toe. Persoonlijk denk ik dat het makkelijker is dat de overheid zich neutraal opstelt, al was het maar omdat ik niet wil dat die overheid de loketbediende zou verplichten de mening van de overheid uit te dragen. Het lijkt me bijvoorbeeld geen goed idee om de loketbediende, nu de N-VA de lokale verkiezingen heeft gewonnen, met een Vlaamse vlag op de borst te laten werken. Het lijkt me ook geen goed idee dat de overheid zijn mensen verplicht om zich volgens de een of de andere godsdienst te gedragen. Neutraliteit is dan een goed scenario, en iedereen die zich niet bij dat scenario wil neerleggen zet zichzelf feitelijk buiten de samenleving waarvan de overheid dan enkel akte kan nemen.

De tweede mogelijkheid is die waar de overheid alles toelaat. Elke vrijheidslievende geest is daar natuurlijk voorstander van, maar het feit stelt zich nu eenmaal dat bepaalde burgers daar (terecht of onterecht -dat moet u zelf maar uitmaken-) moeilijkheden mee hebben.
We kunnen niet zeggen dat we geen hoofddoeken willen (trouwens een maatregel onder Janssens ingevoerd), want dat zou wel eens de Vlaamse Antwerpenaar voor het hoofd kunnen stoten, maar dat we dan andere symbolen waar bepaalde -significante- groepen van de samenleving aanstaat aan kunnen nemen wel toelaten. De regenboog T-shirt is daar een voorbeeld van. Goed wetende dat vele minder ruimdenkende gelovigen daar eventueel aanstaat aan kunnen nemen is het feitelijk een daad van provocatie om dergelijke trui te dragen. Ik wil hierbij ook opmerken dat het dragen van een regenboogtrui niet noodzakelijk iets wil betekenen over de persoon achter het loket (behalve dan een vrij slechte smaak in kledingdracht), maar het is wel een duidelijke en bewuste keuze om te provoceren. Ik vind dat perfect. Provocatie moet kunnen langs alle kanten. Het probleem zit bij de mensen die zich geprovoceerd voelen. Natuurlijk mag je bij provocatie wel een wederwoord verwachten, maar zolang de geprovoceerde geen fysiek geweld gebruikt zie ik daar het probleem niet van in. Zolang mensen niet verplicht worden om te provoceren, maar dit uit vrije wil doen, kan daar geen probleem mee zijn in een echte open samenleving. Of de provocateur, of de geprovoceerde met het schaamrood op zijn/haar wangen in een donker hoekje van het café of theehuis gaat zitten, hangt volledig af van de samenleving. Wat vandaag als provocatief ervaren kan worden, is dat morgen misschien niet meer. Of wat vandaag niet provocatief is, kan dat morgen opeens wel zijn. That’s life.

Maar bon. Om terug te keren naar het Dewever voorval: De argumenten die worden gegeven door “tegenstanders” van dergelijk verbod zijn volgens mij ook nogal vreemd. “Homo- of biseksualiteit is geen keuze, dus mag je de mensen niet verbieden dat te tonen”: goed, het is geen keuze om homo te zijn, maar het dragen van dergelijke t-shirt is dat natuurlijk wel. Dewever heeft ook nooit gezegd dat hij geen homo’s achter het loket wil! Hij wil provocaties vermijden. Het is ook geen keuze om blank of zwart te zijn, maar je gaat ook niet naakt gaan zitten achter een loket om te bewijzen hoe blank of zwart je wel niet bent (om nog maar te zwijgen over symbolen van superioriteit – die zijn uiteraard al helemaal niet gewenst). Dat zou namelijk ook wel wat mensen kunnen provoceren. Het is ook geen keuze om een vrouw te zijn, maar je gaat achter zo’n loket ook niet met een extreme minirok gaan zitten. Hier in de VS sturen ze je zelfs naar huis als je zo komt werken (“sexual harresment” wordt hier serieus genomen en moet tot elke prijs vermeden worden). Er is niks mis met homo’s, blanken, zwarten of vrouwen. Maar door je op een bepaalde manier te kleden -vanuit een overheidsfunctie- maak je het je medemens wel moeilijk. Mensen zijn nu eenmaal niet ruimdenkend genoeg om alles naast zich neer te leggen.

Het is grappig/zielig dat er nog steeds dergelijke discussies worden gevoerd in België. Ik vermoed in deze meer politieke redenen dan een echt praktijkprobleem, en ik heb zoals 80% van de mensen die over dit topic debatteren ook het initiële interview helemaal niet gelezen, maar het wordt toch tijd dat België eindelijk eens een standpunt inneemt waar het nu naartoe wil met dit soort van incidenten. Willen we naar een neutrale samenleving, of naar een tolerante samenleving? Bij de eerste moeten alle symbolen verwijderd worden uit de overheidsdiensten die tot doel hebben een mening te uiten of iets bekend te maken dat niks te maken heeft met de dienst op zich (we kunnen bijvoorbeeld geen rekening houden met mensen die zich geprovoceerd zouden voelen door een politiepet op het hoofd van een politieagent, gezien de kepie een symbool is van de dienst die de persoon in kwestie uitvoert). Bij de keuze voor een tolerante samenleving zullen we allemaal moeten leren dat geprovoceerd worden, of je beledigd voelen iets is wat nu eenmaal zal gebeuren. Het cultuurverschil of verschil in ideologie of levenswijze kan dat met zich meebrengen. Ik beledig hier in de VS elke dag mensen zonder dat te beseffen, en enkel wanneer ze mij daarover aanspreken kan ik weten dat ik iets fout heb gedaan of kan ik uitleggen waarom ik zo denk of handel. Waar moeten of kunnen we naartoe? Ik heb geen idee. Wat ik wel weet, is dat het niet gezond kan zijn voor een samenleving dat politici elkaar door het slijk halen zonder echt te weten waar ze zelf naartoe willen.

Om te eindigen, ik kan het niet zo goed verwoorden als
Hans Teeuwen in 2007 deed…