Category Archives: Dallas, TX

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


Holiday Season


Year end, the time when families come together and celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to celebrate ‘the american way’ with two families accepting me into their homes and treating me as family. I’m sad to announce I am leaving Texas and move to Georgia, to be closer to the office, and that sadness is largely due to the wonderful Texans I have met the past 2 years.

We celebrated Christmas by introducing the Flemish tradition of “Lukken” (a type of Belgian butter waffle) and Cointreau, to my American family. A Belgian family tradition they seemed to enjoy. Thank you for the wonderful times!


Uber vs. Taxi

Uber vs Taxi. It is a fight that is happening in all major US cities and many European cities as well. Here’s a story from my personal experience. Just throwing it out there…

When travelling for work, it makes sense (financially) to take a cab/Uber to the airport if I’m staying for longer than 8 days. From experience I know I pay around 150 USD (including tips, 2-way) for being driven, and parking at DFW costs 20 USD/day. So 8 is the ‘tipping’ point for me in deciding to drive myself or take a cab/Uber.

This time, I was out for 2 weeks, so I decided to not drive myself. Usually I use a cab driving to the airport, but this time I somehow forgot to reserve a car, so I ended up using my Uber app. usually Uber drivers are very nice and you have great conversations with them. This guy… not so much. He had his radio really loud on some Muslim praying channel in Arabic or some Middle East language. I do not like people forcing me to take part in their religious (or other) believes, but I figured I would survive the 30 min trip. Uber apparently has fixed fees driving to the Airport, and I ended up paying 75 USD (For a ‘Black Car’, the classic Uber). Which is the second highest fare I ever paid going to the airport from my apartment. Goodbye myth of Uber being cheaper than cabs!

On my return, I decided to get a cab, because that is what you do getting out of the airport. The driver and airport guy were joking about something about the tire… which made me not feel comfortable. Unfortunately nobody else was waiting for a cab, and since this is ‘first come, first serve’ I had no choice. The cab driver ended up being a Kurd, thanking the Belgian government for their involvement against ISIS. “Your accent is from Europe, no? What part?”. Not a lot of good words for the Turkish government. “Oh I need to get gas, I will stop meter”… (OK… could you not get gas before picking people up at the airport?… whatever). We continue and when I get at my apartment I pay with my Wells Fargo visa card. “Ooh Wells Fargo, they lost me lots of money! I not trust them!”. (Ok… weird, but whatever). Then he adds some bullshit about that he needs my phone number as a prove of ID otherwise they are not paying him. I’m already thinking to put a fake number on that paper (because that is just plain weird), but I’m tired and before I know it I have my real number on there. He gives me his card in case I need a reservation in the future, and urges me to contact my government “to do more for the Kurds”. It is late, and I am already just happy that I’m home.

Waking up this morning, I think about all the things that happened and start searching the internet to check why on earth they need a phone number. The reason is simple: to commit credit card fraud in your name.  Yup, that shit again. I called the guy (from his card that he gave me), it is voice mail. I tell him that I want him to remove the number from the paper. (I’m not sure if he is the one going to scam me, or if it is his boss that is basically abusing him to scam me), and that I want him to send me the name of the person asking for that information, so that I can go to the police. Let’s see if I ever get anything back. In mean time, I have blocked my card again. And Wells is going to send me a new one in 10 days.

So all in all, even though Uber being cheaper is a complete myth (we figured that out in New York last weekend as well), at least it is safe. You do not need to worry about credit card fraud, these cars are tracked all the time and that makes it so much safer. You can give your driver a bad rating if they decide to get gas while they are driving you, etc. The main argument taxi services have against Uber, is their price (“unfair competition”); but that seems a myth. So why are we still having this discussion? Uber is a perfect addition to the market, and should in the end raise the standards of cabs. I feel like it is much easier to become a taxi driver, than an Uber driver, given the quality of drivers I have had. Even though Uber is not always perfect, on average it ranks a lot higher in my opinion.

Additionally, Uber can be used anywhere. No language skills needed (only a working internet connection on your phone).  If you are interested in using Uber, you can get a free trip up to $30 by using the following link (I will get the same as well, thank you for that)


Never a dull day

Lots of things happening in the USofA. Media and people are going crazy over Ebola, midterm elections coming up next month so lots of political hilarity to be found there and fights with terrorists in the middle east. All in all, great times for shows like the “Daily Show” and “Colbert Report”. I was very disappointed, however, in both shows during the whole Scotland Independence Referendum. Sure, they mentioned it, but when the President gave support to the English prime minister, neither show even covered that. I felt it was a very bad move for the president to give support to the English. I get it, the UK is America’s greatest ally, but still the best move would have been to just shut up about the subject. Or if something had to be said, it should have been support for the democratic process. The US did gain its independence from the British, after all. It is kind of sad to deny other regions the same.

Anyhow… I’ve been travelling a lot for work the past months and with weather being as weird as it was, I got to experience some interesting things. There is always the ‘normal’ delays, of course, but we also had a direct flight from Atlanta to Dallas landing in Austin to refuel. Last time I checked, Austin is not on the way to Dallas… Another flight from Dallas to Altanta, ended up flying west instead of east (see photo). That was kind of weird. The new American Airline planes have GPS tracking with interactive maps, so all the frequent flyers were playing around with the new screens, taking pictures and joking around. This is obviously something that does not happen often.

Flying west instead of east.

Flying west instead of east.

I also visited the doctor, and just had to take this picture…

Ebola protection masks at the doctors office in AtlantaEbola protection masks at the doctors office in Atlanta


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! :)


Visit from the Momma

After living in the USA for about 18 months, my Mom, aunt, sister and her boyfriend visited me. I took some days off to join them in New York. and after that they flew to Dallas, TX. What an amazing place New York is! it was my first time there and is was simply awesome. I used my Marriott reward points to stay at the Fairfields Inn New York – Time Square Manhattan. The hotel has a bar on the rooftop ‘Skybar’ which is apparently the place to be. As a hotel guest I could go up for free and skipping the lines. It was a pretty amazing sight and if I was not supposed to be up really early to meet with my family again, I would have spend many hours up there that Saturday evening! Its a great hotel, but prices are pretty insane too on Saturday evenings in summer. (Thank you reward points!),

My family visited most of the ‘typical’ tourist attractions already, so I ended up visiting only the 9/11 museum (really interesting and -forgive my words- kinda cool to visit), a bus tour and the 9/11 memorial. They are still building parts of the freedom tower and surroundings, but the monument is done really well. It is touching, extremely powerful and peaceful. It is really well done and a fitting way to remember the deaths and events of 9/11 2001.
Also went to see the musical ‘Chicago’ which is the longest running musical on Broadway (like 20 years or so). My family was very disappointed about it, it was better than what I expected. They had seen ‘Book of Mormon’ a few days before (before I joined them), so I guess they were just too overwhelmed by the South Park people to love a 20 year old production.

Lots of updates in the map (see ‘my places’).

We flew back to Dallas, basically because my mom wanted to see my apartment. They had enough of visiting museums, so I took them to some ‘American’ places that I know: Pei Wei (‘Oh my god, this is so good and cheap for fast food!’), The Cheescake Factory (‘I thought this was a fake name used in the Big Bang Theory!’), Jakes Hamburgers (‘This meat is soooooo good!!!’), Sammy’s BBQ (‘These people are so friendly and this meat is so good and cheap!!!’). Took them to ‘TopGolf’, which was really fun and did a little tour around Highland Park, Dallas to see scenery. They enjoyed their holiday and I enjoyed the company.

My family does not realize it, they enjoyed some time at my apartment pool, but they in fact visited Dallas at a historic day. It was only 65F in July, the coldest day ever recorded in Texas in July. It was raining, a horrible day. But we enjoyed playing cards together. I felt bad for them to be in Texas during the worst day ever, but they seemed to enjoy it anyway.

Waiting for my Brother and friends to join me in Dallas/USA, in August! It will be fun again, and it saves me a long trip to Belgium to see people.



Going to the Dentist in the USA (Part II)

I went back to the dentist to take care of the cavities they found during my last visit. It was kind of scary, because the last time I had cavities done was 16 years ago. Four need to be done, but the dentist only wanted to do two due to lack of time and it would be too hard for me to do all four at once. Ok, whatever.
It was kind of funny that they put my music on the radio. All in all, given the circumstances, it was a pretty good experience. I even got a greeting card from the dentist to welcome me as a new customer/patient. Only in America…

Click here for the first post

1 year USA

I am here for 1 year now. It is still fun and exciting, for example this month I got my first credit card approved (party!), I renewed my vehicle inspection sticker, I visited the DMV (changed the address on my car, they did not even ask my ID… I must have a very trustworthy face),…. yes, I do find those things fun and exciting! It is part of life here, and it is fun to feel part of life. The holiday feeling I’ve had the past year, is starting to fade a bit. Perhaps it will come back with the heat, we will see.

Some news in Dallas this week! The city council is banning free plastic and paper bags starting Jan 2015! This means we all have 9 months left to stock up on bags!

Dallas City Bans Free Bags

Also see 6 months in the USA

2014 is here

Happy new year!

It’s been a while since I last posted here. That’s a good sign, apparently I am too busy to think about my blog.

Christmas was great. Thank you to my American friends for inviting me! It was a blast!
New Years was awesome too, spending it with the most multicultural group of expats I could ever imagine. Almost every continent was represented (except Australia), which was kind of cool. A lot of fun, and a lasting hangover on my credit card statement :-)

I’ve been here almost a year, so start to get into the ‘normal’ routine of living. Re-signing my apartment lease, changing the cable bill (which I cancelled to the bare minimum because I have NetFlix now). It is weird, because I still feel like I am on holiday here, not really living. Sometimes I do forget I am not a local, which is a proof of assimilation… I hope. I’ve been cooking a lot at home lately. Although I enjoy cooking, I miss having my out-of-town colleagues around and hang out with them. The USA consultant life, I’m really hoping for it to happen this year!

2013 has been a really great year for me, but somehow I feel like 2014 will be even better. February is very promising with lots of parties, friends, food, travel and fun at work.
Tomorrow is the ‘Big Game’, good stories may come out of that. Then we move to St Patrick’s Day, which is kind of my personal ’1 year’ mark. I have my first out-of-Dallas assignment and going to travel to New Jersey, through Philadelphia (PA). I need to get myself some additional sweaters and a warm coat to walk around there. I get annoyed these days if temperature falls below 60F. Too much of the good stuff around here.

There is much more to tell, but not things I want to share with the internet… sorry! :-)

Winter is here!!!

Freezing temperatures for 5 days, with lows of 10 degrees F (-12 C). Brick hard ice that looks like snow, frozen trees and plants that sometimes collapse under their own weight, 300,000 people that loose power up to several days, schools closed for days, roads extremely dangerous and the airport closed.

Yes, winter has arrived in Texas. Temperatures dropped from a nice 70 F (21 C) to 30 F (-1 C) within 10 hours and the city has completely shut down. As an outsider, I thought I know better and people overreacted. And in fact, the last 3 ‘ice days’ I have experienced here in Texas the past year really was funny to see how everyone stressed out for, well…., nothing. So, I kind of expected the same thing this time; and boy was I wrong!

It is impossible to understand what a frozen tree looks like, if you have never seen one before. It’s like walking in a fairy-tale world (a really cold one!). I worked from home on Friday and then in the evening went to the bar across the street. One of my Belgian friends living here in Dallas, lost power due to the cold and joined us at bar where we took the seats next to the fireplace. There were 5 other people (including the waitress) in the bar. I decided to stay warm inside for the rest of the weekend and signed up for Netflix, watched 3 seasons of the Walking Dead and forgot all about the cold mess outside.

It is a very weird feeling, nothing you expect moving to Texas. Alaska, yes, you would expect crazy weather, but Texas? It is a humbling feeling to see the power of mother earth and the speed things can change.

Stay safe, stay warm and may the heat come soon!


Oklahoma vs. Texas – Football @ The State Fair Of Texas

One of those things that are not comparable between life in the USA and Europe is sports and how college/university alumni works. The best examples of this is college football. The concept of college football is kind of cool. You’ve got students who study for free, and play in the college football team, they are cheerleaders, musicians, … The students need to meet certain requirements (including grades) to keep their position. The whole thing is pretty big around here, it is not just a means for students to study for free, it is much more an alumni event more than anything else.

For big games, such as the legendary Oklahoma vs. Texas (Sooners vs Longhorns) ‘exes’ from all over the country travel to Dallas. By car, bus, private jet… The game is aired on national TV and the Dallas Fair Park Cotton Bowl arena is sold out… 92,100 seats! To compare, Belgium’s biggest arena, the Koning Boudewijn Stadium has 50,024 seats.
It is pretty insane for a foreigner to even grasp how huge college football is. Many claim that college football is actually better than the ‘real’ NFL league because less money is involved. Having a strong team, and lots of alumni to come and watch the games is a potential important income source for universities.

You’ve got to be there, to understand it. But here are some pictures to give an idea:

Cotton Bowl - Sooners vs Longhorns 10/12/2013

Cotton Bowl – Sooners vs Longhorns 10/12/2013



The Longhorns (Texas, in Orange) were supposed to loose big. But they played aggressive and the Sooners (Oklahoma, in Red) had no idea what was coming at them. The result was the red half of the arena leaving the game prematurely and the orange half having a party.

For more info on the stadiums see: Wiki Cotton Bowl and King Baudouin Stadium

Credit Card Issues

By now most frequent readers of my blog know that one of my biggest frustrations in this country is related with credit cards; it is impossibly hard to get a credit card, which is an issue because america runs on credit. It is hard to imagine for Europeans, but literally everything here is paid with credit cards. It does not matter whether you are paying for a “$4,00+tax sandwich” or a “$1200-20% clearing discount + tax HD-TV”; you pay everything with credit cards. This includes the drinks you buy on Friday evenings.

Last Friday, I went to my favorite bar -The Old Monk-, met some new people of which I forgot most of their names (sorry!), had some fun. Around midnight we decided to go the another bar and ended up at the Dram, a fancy lounge-bar across the street. All good, met some more new people; had more fun, all was good… until the waitress came back with my bill… and a blue MasterCard -which did not have my name printed on it-…

I knew right away this was not good. I have only one credit card, and kind of have a lot of things to purchase the next weeks, so I could really not have the very hot blonde waitress loose my card right now. Unfortunately she did. They ‘looked’ for it, but did not recover it by the time the bar closed. As with any major crisis in the USA, the manager took action and came to apologize with me. They had reversed my last drinks (sadly I closed an earlier tab already) and gave me her number in case something was wrong.
The people I just met did the same; gave me their number in case I needed help with something, and I went home. Slightly drunk, but seriously frustrated.

I called the bank, locked my card. Refused to pay $16 to get my card within 3 business days. It takes them 7-10 business days to send a card someone else lost for me. Then I realized that all my utility bills get paid trough this card too, so I had to cancel all my recurring payments and replace them with other payment methods. It is kind of a miracle I thought about this at 4am on a drunk morning, but it probably saved me hundreds of dollars (in fees, un-reimbursed security deposits and interests) and a credit history hit that would take months to recover from.

Other than that… not much happened the past weeks. Or nothing I want to share with the internet anyway :-)

Edit Aug 3rd: I received a letter from the bank asking to call them about my credit card to verify account activity. I call, telling them all is OK, I’m just waiting for me to receive a new card. Funny thing… apparently no new card was on its way. They only locked it. So now they blocked my account and I will need to wait another 7-10 days to get my card… I thought I was pretty clear on that last week, so now I just lost another week. I really need to get a backup-card somewhere for when something like this happens again. Maybe I should try Macy’s again… although that didn’t work out too well last time :-) !
… aaaah credit history, it is a funny thing.

Tornado Watch

There are may things you think about when moving to the other side of the world; but what you tend to forget, or better: ignore, is the bad sides of the weather. You cannot comprehend things you have not experienced so you tend to minimize or blow them totally out of proportion.
For me, living in north/central Texas, one of these things are tornado’s. I did not really think about it, since last year I did not have any tornado warning or even a watch; or not that I was aware of anyway. I did see the effects of a baseball-size hail storm, but you tend to simply ignore it. What you remember is the sunny weekends at the pool, the warm water of the Gulf and the occasional refreshing rain.
Last week however, we had the tornado siren going off in my county and this is the story of that evening.

The story begins early evening. I was going out for dinner with another Belgian couple that is visiting Dallas. (FYI you can find their blog in the new ‘other blogs‘ section of this page). I invited them for dinner at a BBQ place just south of of Dallas, they serve huge cow ribs on Wednesday which is kind of a cool tings to see for a Belgian. They were picking me up at my apartment. By the time they were here, the weather seemed a bit weird and I suggested we should go for the great Mexican place just a block away. We have seen what bad weather does with the roads around here, so it just seemed like a good move.

We went to ‘Janviers’ restaurant, had a good meal, good time. Suddenly an insane storm started outside. The rain poored down and cars were parking on the streets due to lack of sight. Lighting every 1.something seconds and thunder. People in the restaurant started looking outside and it was very silent for a couple of seconds. If the locals are silent because of the weather, you know something is wrong.
Because of the bad weather, we decided to have a desert too. Probably the best desert I had in Dallas; pancakes with ice cream and some kind of caramel syrup. Very nice.

Anyhow, once the rain was getting less bad (it still rained), we decided to go back to my place. There was no traffic whatsoever, and when I got out of the car I heard a siren going… While I watched my friends drive out of the gate, I couldn’t really tell what kind of siren this was… was it a firetruck called to help after a flooding due to the rain or going to a fire caused by lightning? No, this was a different type of siren… An ambulance, maybe? No, those are different… what could this be… And then it hit me. It’s a TORNADO SIREN!!! Oh FUCK! I was totally panicked, ran into my apartment (second floor) and tried to find something on the TV. And yes, there it confirmed what I thought: there is a tornado watch in my county. I send a text to my friends they really shouldn’t be driving, but should get inside immediately and turn on the weather channel. The tv said some people died south of Dallas (80 miles south) in a tornado earlier that day and I am supposed to take cover on the first floor. Oh, crap. Issue; I have an apartment on the second floor and really do not know anyone on the first floor yet. I have no clue what to expect, so I decide to go down and look for an apartment with lights on at the first floor and just knock at their door.

So I go down, it is weirdly quiet outside, almost no wind, little rain, nothing like just an hour ago, but the siren is still going whoooooooooooooooh whoooooooooooooooh whoooooooooooooooh. I knock on the first door with lights, but nobody answers. This is now starting to scare me a bit, why would nobody answer the door when they are cleary home? I knock again, a bit harder. Still nothing. Now I am really scared. I knock again. And some guy opens the door, hiding behind the door. He is totally naked, which only seems weird to me now, but back then I was just panicked. I tell this guy that the siren is going off, I just moved here and never had anything like this; what does this mean and what am I supposed to do? Guy tells me, “I should not worry’, the thing is down south (where we originally planned to eat out) and should just go back to my apartment and stay in doors away from windows. The fact I live on the second floor is ‘not a big deal, nothing is going to happen’. He tells me ‘I wouldn’t be taking a shower if I was worried’ (which explains him not answering the door and being nacked when opening it). I’m still a bit panicked, and walk/run back to my apartment. While I run 10 foot between the buildings, I see people walking their dogs. … people are walking their dogs during a TORNADO siren??? Are they brave, naive or just plain nuts? The siren went on for another 20 min, then stopped. The weather channel now said the chance for a tornado was near zero, but a huge storm with potential base-ball size hail was going over my region. It indeed did. The hail was not that bad, but I saw the street turn into a small river, lighting thunder, nothing like Belgium has ever seen. I’m starting to get used to thunder storms here, we have them all the time, but this one was slightly different and more scary. Nothing happened, and by 12.30 AM everything was fine again and I went to bed and slept. No tornado actually emerged.

Back at work the next day, my colleagues were mocking me for being scared and made fun of the other Belgians for the same reason. Most of them grew up here in Dallas, or up north in Oklahoma where tornado’s are even more common. That same day an F-5 tornado hit the city of Moore in Oklahoma, destroying everything in its path. Suddenly, I seemed like everyone took tornado’s serious again. It seemed to be a wake-up call for everyone. Not just the colleagues, but everyone around here. Many people living here in the Dallas region have friends and family living up north in Oklahoma. Many of them knew people who’s houses were destroyed, or lived very close to the destruction path (like 1-2 miles) and everyone suddenly seemed to have a story about family, friends or themselves experiencing a tornado, hurricane or other potential deadly weather events.

We’ve had another tornado watch this week again. Expecting very bad weather and everyone seemed to take it very seriously. It ended up to be a lot of rain and some local thunder and lightning. A little hail too. But no tornado’s have been spotted. It is weird, it is scary. It is something you wonder why people choose to live in a region where things like this emerge. But once you sit by the pool after work, or in the weekend, and it feels like being on holiday, you wonder why people don’t all want to live here. I guess in the end it is give and take. There is also no point in focusing on tornado’s. More people die in car accidents or gun shootings around here than people dying from weather events. And floods probably kill more people than tornado’s do too. Next to that there are the snakes, Nile-virus mosquito’s and the poisonous spiders. It is better just not to think about it and enjoy the good parts of the weather, which is exactly what I will do.

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.

Week 3 & 4: Drivers license, car, insurance, furniture and a Stetson

I’m finally getting the final pieces of the puzzle in order. My furniture was delivered last week, it fits perfectly into the little apartment I have. It really feels like home now.

I got my drivers license, theory and practical. Using a fully insured rental car. If you want to use a rental car, make sure they actually write the car details on the papers, or you could end up waiting 45 minutes, frustrating all the other 16 year old kids doing their license test. I got 7 points deducted (you can have 30 points deducted before the test ends in fail here). Some minor stuff. I don’t think the practical exam makes much sense to do, but I do understand why the government makes us do the theoretical test. Even though you can perfectly function on the road, it is good to know the different rules.

While getting a drivers license is not so difficult as one might think, getting a car it really difficult. All the great commercials on TV are suddenly gone, all because you do not have a credit history. The way the american system works is they do not really give a shit about how much money you make, or the value of the car. They only look at your ability to pay back credit and this is calculated 100% based on your past repayments of credit. When you just enter the country, you do not have the worst possible score, you are way below that; you are officially a ghost. “A ghost” is the actual word they use for people that do not exist in the credit system, I have heard it many times the past weeks. The result of being a ghost is that your best finance rate is 18%. It does not matter if you take a loan with the car dealer or with the bank. They always come back with 18% (Trust me, I tried). For European immigrants there might be a possibility with BMW, Audi or Volkswagen because they use a European financing firm. I did not check that because maintenance costs of European cars is too high here in the USA (Although I will miss my little Audi A3 very much here).
I ended up transferring money from my Belgian bank account (it is being transferred as we speak). En expensive joke, but not 18% expensive. And will pay my car cash. This potentially saves a bit in insurance costs too.

Last weekend I went out car-shopping. I ended up finding a nice pre-owned certified car. One previous owner, a leasing contract. In theory the best type of previous owner you can get. If you buy a used car, always ask for the “Carfax”, this is a paper that shows you all the registered actions on the car (first time sold, miles at maintenance, accidents, type of contract,…). Most decent dealers will give it for free. If you go shopping yourself, you might want to get the carfax app and pay 50$ for unlimited Carfax checks on used cars.
Anyhow, I found a car and gave the dealer a deposit to keep the car for me till I have the money on my US bank account and started making insurance quotes.

Insurance is a bitch. It is far more expensive than Europe is… Painful. Most quotes I got are between 200 USD and 320 USD a month for 6 months. State Farm seems to be cheaper, but everyone keeps telling me not to go with them because they are very difficult to pay out. Geico and Progressive were close to each other, Progressive being slightly less expensive for me. Just before I wanted to sign up, I got a call from an insurance broker who helped me get a quote at 160/month with a subdivision of Farmers (Not to be confused with State Farm). It seemed allright, but about everything that could go wrong actually did go wrong. On the first documents I received, my Address was wrong, my car VIN number was incorrect (I know I have a funny accent, so I check everything 3 times; a habit I am trying to force myself in but a habit I really really REALLY dislike I need. Then once that was fixed I found out that the guy put me as a first drivers license on 16 instead of 20 (BE)/26 (US), as I told him. This immediately explains the difference. Since I do not want wrong information, I am not getting the car before it is changed and I have the new price, if any. It is starting to stress me out because I really just want to get my car and have it all over with. My conclusion: Stick to the online forms, or force them to send you all the input information before you give your credit card number to pay. Learning money I guess. At least I got the guy to confirm by e-mail that all is OK and I can legally drive the car without problem. And he is going to fix the age thing tomorrow.

Let’s get back to Credit History for a second. All of the credit history stuff you will read tells you not to have too many credit cards because that lowers your rating. However, in order to raise your rating you must show to use different types of credit and the ability to pay those back. If you are not willing to pay 18% interests, there are 2 other possibilities:
You can get a “secured loan”, Basically that means you pay the bank -for example- 10,000 USD in order to get a 10,000 USD loan (no typo). The 10,000 USD depost goes to a blocked savings account that does not generate any interests. On the loan you pay the “normal” interest of 3-4%. Basically you are paying the bank 400 USD (+opportunity cost) to build credit history and you get nothing in return. Needless to say I did not go for that option.
The other option is to build credit history using credit cards. Yup, do exactly the opposite of what you are supposed to do to get a good credit score. Because, the easiest way to a good score is to have a score in the first place. It takes 6 months to get a score, according to what people tell me. I’m curious what that will do…(my guess is not much, since I don’t need credit once I have everything).

Anyhow. It have been rather nice weekends since I arrived in Dallas. There was the Saint Patricks day parade, where I got sunburn and talked with an Irish guy who thought I was Irish too. Not sure if it was because of my accent or the amount of alcohol in his blood. Last weekends I went car hunting in beautiful weather and I enjoyed reading a book at the swimming pool (I got it as a gift from a friend for moving to the USA, it is pretty cool, I’ll write a blog post about it when I finished it -Warning: I read slow and unfrequent-). The water is still too cold to actually swim in it, but sitting in the sun gives me a vacation feeling. Happy times.

Talking about presents I got from friends and colleagues. To celibate that arrival of my furniture we enjoyed beers and went to Arlington to buy a real cowboy hat (a gift from my Belgian colleagues). I wore it for fun at work today and made everyone laugh wearing my cowboy hat in meetings.

I guess that is about the most important things that happened the past weeks in my USA adventure. I’m still cleaning up my room getting trough all the papers. I’m getting tired of all the stuff that is involved with moving to a different country (this has been going on for 8 weeks now), it is time for some rest and time to actually meet some new people here. Start to learning how to play golf.

Week 1 & 2, in the USA

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.

Location, location, location

Looking for a rental apartment turned out to be a lot more difficult then I expected.
Not because of the american system (at first sight this in fact seems to make things a lot easier), but because of my personality.

You would not expect there to be many different ways to rent apartments (americans call renting leasing for a reason I still haven’t figured out), but some very small differences in (national or state) law can make huge differences on the field.
For example, in Belgium every contract less than 3 years is considered “short term”, in the USA a year is considered long term. The reason for this difference is the fact that in Belgium contract prices are “indexed” based on official inflation figures. In the US, prices cannot be changed during the length of the contract.
Anothing thing I found very weird, is that in most cases, the leasing offices usually show you a “model apartment”. They give you a floorplan of the apartment you are going to lease and then show the differences with the model apartment (this floor will be covered with carpet instead of hardwood, the kitchen is on the right, your balcony is rectangular, your bath room is about half the size of the model, your kitchen will be dark-wood instead of light-wood color, y and your living room has a fireplace while the model does not… any questions?…). It is not possible to visit the apartment you are actually paying for because in most cases people are still living there (extremely fast turn around!) or they are refurnishing/rebuilding the apartment.

I could not put myself over the fact that I had to sign a 13-month contract without seeing the place I will lease, and this caused me to loose several opportunities. Eventually I found -what seemed, and turned out to be- a nice place using a “housing locator”. Housing locators in Dallas work for free, you simply contact them, tell them what you are looking for and they go house-hunting for you. This system exists in many cities in the US, in Dallas they are free and get a fee from the leasing offices if someone (like me) signs a contract. I can surely advice you to use people like this (in fact, if I recommend you my housing locator, and you lease trough him, I will also go a referral fee!). Some of the locators will give you a part of their fee if you lease trough them, others will pay for your moving truck, others are just free and give good value. Contact me if you want me to send you my locators contact info.

Some info for immigrants coming to the USA: if you rent trough a leasing office and they show you a model apartment, the quality of the model is exactly what you will get. Every room can be switched or be slightly smaller or larger (check the floor plan and your leasing officers instructions), but in terms of quality, what you see is what you get.

Some advise for Americans leasing an apartment somewhere outside of the USA: NEVER sign a contract without visiting the actual apartment you are going to rent. Even if people still live there, they will provide a tour if you insist (and you must!).

Price-wise, Dallas is supposed to be reasonably priced. Just remember that in the USA, you get what you pay for. Cheap apartments will be very small, low quality and/or bad location. Location is extremely important! When you look for an apartment in the US, there are only 3 rules according to my team-lead at work: Location, location and location. I’m starting to understand that too and am very happy with the decision I made: close to everything, nice neighborhood, and no traffic jams going to work.
Next to location, there are the amenities such as pool, gym,… some apartments even have their own golf-training course (and are not more expensive).
I have visited about 15 different apartment places (of which 12 showed me model apartments). Take your time, visit a lot of places on your own and share what you are looking for with a locator (if they are free in your neighborhood). It does not harm to have more eyes and ears open to find a good deal, at a good place!

Welcome to America!

So here I was, getting up at 5.20 am on a Monday morning, taking a cold shower. I very much dislike cold showers -especially when it’s below zero (0°C, 32°F) outside-, but the idea of going back to Texas, back into the heat, made it all worth it. Got into the taxi at 6. At the airport by 8.30. Plane boarding at 11. Spend some time in the airport lounge, read some e-mails and then at 10.55 realizing that “49″ is not the gate number, but the plane number. Panic! Been waiting for 2,5 hours and now there is a chance I’m missing my plane? Which is my gate? The screen says 38… OK. where is 38? It turns out gate 38 is conveniently located at exactly the opposite side of the airport from gate 49, where I currently am. I run through the airport, totally out of breath when I arrive. Using my priority ticket to board as one of the last passengers. I made it, the captains announcement that the flight is going to take an hour more does not even bother me.

Arriving in Dallas, Texas was a bit disappointing, having my morning shower in mind. I left with green grass and great temperatures back in November, but now was back with temperatures below zero and grass that looks like it hasn’t had water in years. OK, so winter knows Texas too, that is fine. I guess it was a bit naive to think it would be really warm. Did some grocery shopping and went to bed early (well, early is relative if you find yourself 7 hours behind your “normal” time zone), because I wanted to be at the office early the next day.

I woke up today with thunder and lightning. Weird… I opened the curtains in my room and noticed there was 3 inches of snow on the parked cars. It took me a minute to realize I was watching SNOW in TEXAS!!! I’ve been told that snow creates chaos around here, I was about to find out of my sources are trustworthy. Sadly, they turned out to be right: the morning show in the breakfast room of my hotel was airing traffic updates like this: “School bus delayed 7 hours”, “Highway closed”, “100+ accidents in and around Dallas”. F***
Being on the road, it did not take me much time to realize why snow was such a problem around here. To start there is the infrastructure, clearly these roads are not build for cold weather: many bridges, on/off-ramps are iced over and simply plain dangerous. Second there is the automatic car gears. It is more difficult to drive a car that you cannot actually control. Last, but probably the most important factor, is the drivers. I mean, if people start breaking on iced-over bridges, for no reason at all (other then the fact the bridge is iced over), you shouldn’t really be surprised that cars suddenly find themselves going the other direction, crash into each other and blocking several lanes. My 25 min drive to work, took me over an hour today. I decided to take an alternative route after standing in a traffic jam for over 20 min. Thank god Katy Perry was played (3 times) to comfort us in the commute pain.

All of this was forgotten this evening, when I sat down with my colleagues to have a great dinner. Sometimes, all it needs to feel at home is a nice, warm meal.

A midnight MMS

I wasn’t planning to use this blog before 2013, but this night I received an MMS from one of my colleagues in the USA with a picture (see attached). This picture and the story behind it is exactly the reason why I want to start this blog, so I take this opportunity to post my first real message.

Back in October 2012, we were setting at the bar of our Hotel in Dallas, Texas when I discovered they served a Belgian beer on tap: Palm. I suddenly felt like having a Palm, which was one of my favorite beers back at university in Brussels. I got my Palm in a “normal” -American way- beer glass. Seriously, this glass must have been the biggest beer glass anyone has ever used to drink Palm. The taste was obviously good, but being Belgian -and consequently a bit of a beer-nerd-, I had to call the waiter on the beer glass. I always get excited talking about beer glasses, and -although my colleagues probably think I’m crazy- I really believe it is going to be the next big thing in the US beer market: not only serve really good (Belgian, or Belgian style) beers, but also serve them in a beer glass that respects the beer and its consumer. America is a great country, but when it comes to food and drinks there are a few things they can learn from Belgium still (not necessarily talking about taste by the way). Anyhow, we had fun showing pictures of a real Palm glass and talking about beer and food in general and how it is supposed to be served.

Now, yesterday out of nowhere I received the following MMS message from my American colleague Kevin:

Thought u would appreciate the hotel’s new glassware!!!

Palm glass

A real Palm glass at the Renaissance Hotel, Marriot, Dallas, Texas

And yes, I do appreciate it! And yes, I know what will be my first drink at the Renaissance Hotel when I arrive next month!