My colleague and team lead always said that “a hotel is the worst place to be sick”… but I trumped that during my first week in the US of A.
It all started fine on monday morning, slept well, got up at 5.30am (CET), my dad took me to the train station in Lille and I took the TGV to CDG airport for my ‘moving flight’ to the USA.
Took a taxi from DFW to the rental car office downtown (If you rent long term, it makes sense not to rent from the airport rental, since it is a lot less expensive; also it is cheaper to rent a car with a Belgian Drivers lisence, than it is using a US drivers license… A difference of 300$ for 25 days, weird). Anyhow, I cannot remember whether I paid the taxi using my Belgian credit card or cash, (see below why this matters). I got in the rental car office, used my Belgian credit card (the only one with enough credit limit -or so I thought-) and drove the car to my new apartment. Got the keys, checked the room, liked what I saw, tried to picture the size of everything and drove off to Best Buy a bit down the road to buy a GPS. Then got to the Hotel to check in (I took a hotel room for a day, because my apartment is empty at this point and I do not feel like sleeping on the ground/carpet). I have spend 60 days in this hotel in 2012, so the people at the reception recognized me and welcomed be back. I asked the receptionist if the ‘Full Breakfast coupon’ from last year was still valid, and she confirmed. I was happy, already thinking of the good food that awaited me the next day.
I took the day off the first day planning to get furniture, a mattress and other necessary stuff. I had a good breakfast and took off to the closest Target to buy basic stuff like toilet paper and forks, knifes,…
Got back to the apartment and suddenly started to feel sick… really sick… To cut a long story short, I spend the first 3-4 hours in my new home no further than 3 feet from my toilet. Then I fell asleep on the carpet (remember, I still have NOTHING whatsoever, except for -thankfully- toilet paper and some basic stuff like a glass to drink some water. I feel like shit and all I really want at this point is the comfort of a bed or sofa, a blanket and a pillow. I have none of that. My colleague and team lead always said that “a hotel is the worst place to be sick”… but I trumped that during my first week in the US of A. Being sick in an empty apartment, trumps everything and I do not wish it to anyone. After laying on the carpet for a few hours, I get a call from the rental office. Apparently there was a problem with my credit card and they needed me to get that fixed asap. I get up, walk around a bit, feel slightly better and decide to just go to the rental car office and get things over with.
We try several cards, none work (or better; none have sufficient credit limit). We decide to make the renting period shorter, and now it works. I promise to get back to them one of the following days once I have the credit resolved. It is now about 5pm, Needless to say that my objectives for buying furniture were not met. I do not want to go back to the hotel, and decide to go back to Target and buy a (camping) air mattress, pillow and some blankets to get trough the first days. I am going back to work tomorrow.
On Friday, I called my bank to raise the limit on my debit card (yes, there are limits on debit cards!?), and plan to go to the rental office in the weekend. Also, I got myself a contract with AT&T. I was expecting a huge discussion, but I just went into the shop at NorthPark, explained the situation (just moved here, already have an Iphone, want minutes, messages and 3gb of data on a monthly contract). In half an hour everything was fixed, including the transfer of my prepaid card to a monthly contract. I pay slightly below 100$/month. It is still crazy expensive compared to europe, but taking into account the regular contract is 240$/month I’m fairly happy with the monthly rate. Basically every half year I ‘save’ a new Iphone by using a monthly contract on an unlocked phone. I still wonder why so little Americans take this option. It is not that hard!
On a funny note, while I was walking to the shop, my Belgian service suddenly stopped. Perfect timing is what that is called! ( And again, many will wonder why I would take a contract with AT&T, well yes they are expensive but they are also to only one that allow you to surf and talk at the same time, and they have an extensive and reliable network).
Weekend! I get up early to go shopping, spend hours at several stores (Ashley’s, Rooms to Go, Ikea, Mattress Firm) On Saturday I actually left my apartment at 9: I go back to the rental office to extend my rental again to the original request. Weirdest thing, I have to pay a 10$ extension fee, but for some weird reason the total is suddenly less than the original request. I check everything, seems all OK so I just walk out again, happy this is resolved, and ask my GPS where the closest furniture store is. A nice salesman shows me around the store, explaining me all kinds of things, helping me choose the mattress I need. But, I cannot buy here just yet. That would be wrong, I need to check more stores. He understands, gives me his card and tells me that if I decide to buy there, I can get discounts up to 20%. Sounds good, but I forget to make notes of prices of the furniture; a rookie mistake I will not repeat. I check out several stores, all of them have huge sales. Basically everything is a reason for sales in the USA: Valentine sales, birthday sales, presidents day sales, Christmas sales, summer sales, special sales… you name it.
I left my apartment at 9am, and only got back at 10pm. I was in shops all day trying out, getting info, trying to get discounts (What? 0% financing, but no discount if I pay cash!? Are you trying to rip me off? -salesman looks weird, repeats: “no discounts for cash”, and I decide to leave the store-). Another funny comment a salesman gave me was: “look how strong this is! This is real wood, directly from the Indonesian rain Forrest! Cheap and strong, not like the European stuff!”; There is no way a comment like that would ever sell anything in Belgium, and I didn’t know if I should be amused, or ashamed for even considering that furniture.
I checked out 2 different Ashley stores, their prices were the same, but the type of discounts you could get was very different and made things hard to compare. At one shop I got free delivery and 10% discount, the other gave me 25% discount. My advice: Really do check several stores, even from the same brands; they might be operated very differently.
When I got back to my apartment, there was a huge storm, I have not seen many storms like that and it was pretty scary to drive. When it rains in Texas it rains like there is no tomorrow. Even a week later, some lower-grounds are still full of water.
I did not fall for the sales, I did the calculations and ended up buying at Ashley (bedroom, mattress and living room). I got a 25% discount from my salesman Scott (if you are in the Dallas area and want furniture, let me know I will give you his contact details, refer to me and you might get a discount like that too!). I paid cash in 100 dollar bills, which made people look funny at me. I had to explain to them that it is extremely difficult to get a decent limit on your debit/credit cards as a new immigrant in the USA. They thought it was pretty funny when I said: “It is more difficult to spend your own money here, than it is to spend money you do not have.” Funny, but also true.
The delivery of mattress was done a few days later. The other stuff is going to be delivered by the end of the month.
The next week my colleagues (they seem the closest to family I have around here) were so nice to drive to Ikea and help me buy a dining table, chairs, desk chair and some lamps. Too much stuff for me to carry on my own, and too much for my rental car to carry. It took me 4 days to build all the stuff and I am now really happy I did not buy everything at Ikea (they did not seem very cheap anyway compared to the other furniture stores).
I had to buy a TV, vacuum cleaner, iron, washing machine and dryer. I am still not convinced I actually need a dryer, but there is no possibility of a decent conversation on the topic, talking to Americans (I mean that in a very nice way), so I just bought one and got it over with. I bought all this stuff at Fry’s, their in-store service is -to american norms- horrible; I think I used an entire tree on papers to fill in between the departments. They also refuse to ship everything once you pay for shipping, they actually wanted me to pay twice because I had to many items! After threatening to just leave some of the items in the store if they did not deliver it, they proposed to get everything nice and save into my car. That was fine with me. (Dryer and washer were still delivered). Mediocre service, but comparing the prices of the stuff I bought on the internet and other shops, they were always cheaper. Sometimes small savings, sometimes huge. Still worth the trouble of filling in a zillion papers in the store.
To end my 2100-word post of the week (yes, you have been reading a lot if you got here!), I want to end with something typically american: My (Belgian) credit card got hacked and was used for all kinds of internet purchases. 1400 EUR (1800 USD) of sales I have nothing to do with. As I said in the beginning, I do not know if I paid the cab driver with this card. If so, he did it. If not, it was the rental car service. I have not had any issues for almost a year and I thought the chip would help, but as I found out just yesterday, you can actually purchase stuff on the internet with just your credit card number. Pretty scary. I hope I will get that money back, it is a lot of money… and I’m still wondering if I should go to the police office and file a complaint. It MUST be either one of these purchases, and the more I think about it, the renting office makes more sense given the dates and the ‘problems’ I had there.
Fraud happened between March 7th and March 13th. on the 13th my card was automatically blocked, a new card and code was sent to my Belgian address, but I only found it there was a fraud problem on March 19th. Why would the credit card company block my card, send a new one, but not inform me about what happened??? FAIL to BCC corporate, you should at least send me an e-mail and let me know. Calling Belgian card stop 070 344 344 was an awesome experience with a phone contract that does not allow you to call foreign numbers. I still need to fix that (and thank you again to my colleague who helped me out in the time of need!).
Many experiences… many more to come. Next big thing is getting a drivers license.
Oh, and last weekend was Saint Patrick’s day. The day religious Irish people celibate the extinction of snakes on the Irish Ile, and Americans celibate Irish culture with huge amounts of green beer. I will try and post something about this phenomenon some time later.