Tag Archives: American traditions

Thanksgiving 2017

Bit of a last minute arrangement this year, decided to go visited my Czech friend this year in the Bay Area (California) for Thanksgiving. Starting off with a typical American turkey, stuffing, bacon and beans, raspberries and gravy. Great cooking! The weather during the Thanksgiving weekend was lower 60ies to higher 70ies. Perfect for some hiking and sightseeing.

Friday we visited the Golden Gate Bridge, which was cool. Followed by Muir Woods National Monument, where they have the famous Redwood trees. Many Redwoods in this national park area are 900-1300 years old, and among the oldest living things on this planet. Where their cousins the Sequoia are growing wide, Redwoods grow tall. Very tall. The Cathedrals of trees.

Then Saturday we drove to Napa Valley. Visited the Sterling vineyard. Some of the best white wines I ever had there. Also took some pictures of the 10 year old historic castle.

10 year old historic castle

To conclude the Thanksgiving weekend, on Sunday we went whale watching in Monterrey. It was awesome. We saw hundreds of seals, all kinds of birds and 2 types of whales. In total we estimate there were between 12 and 16 whales. With a total of ~50 sightings, if not more. We saw several whales breaching, hunting for food. Saw magnificent tails in the water. A good 3 hour boat trip was not the most pleasant for everyone on board, but the trips was well worth it!


“But What If We’re Wrong”

So I thought I’d do a book review for once… Those who don’t know me might not really have a lot of feelings about that statement, but those that do, probably just fell off their chair reading this.

I just finished “But What If We’re Wrong” by Chuck Klosterman. What is so remarkable about this event of me finishing a book? Well, first off, I have read exactly 2 books since I left college 8.5 years ago. The first was a Dutch book that I got from a friend when I moved to the USA. It was a description of a road trip the author made, replicating a historic road trip from an American author some decades before. It was interesting for me to see how the Dutch author had such a hugely different view on what the US is as a country and society, than I have. Interestingly enough, the America he described seems to have submerged and voted Donald J Trump into the White House. (Those that now think I am referring to racist, America filled with bigots and deplorables, you’ve got it wrong, you have no understanding of America whatsoever).

Anyhow. Not only was reading my latest book a fairly rare happening, it was also the very first book I ever voluntary bought. In fact, I took the time to find it in a book store (yes Chuck, I beat those odds), . I actually had to visit four stores before I saw it , almost by accident, in a shop on Bradley Airport. One might contribute the finding of this book to divine intervention of some sorts, since I was supposed to fly out of Boston, not Bradley, but as any traveler knows; things change. Additionally it was the very first English book ever, as far as I remember, I read. I hope Chuck (I may call you Chuck, right… I mean, after all you are my closest literally friend I have had in a long time!), appreciates the significance of this event. By the way, you may thank Trevor Noah for me buying the book. Get the daily show to host you, and them talk about us being wrong about gravity. That’s pretty much all you need to do to get me hooked and trick me into reading a book about (American) sports and music (kinda). I’m writing this on Delta flight 0074 going to Amsterdam, and just noticed they have the movie “Citizen Kaine” available. So now I am forced to watch that movie and actually get what you were referring to.

The subtitle of the book reads “thinking about the present as if it were the past”, which is kind of appropriate since I like to think about the future as if it were the present. When thinking about that present I unfortunately do need to bring two factual errors in the book to mind. The chapter on democracy and freedom fails to acknowledge that there in fact is already something called a functional dictatorship. It is called Singapore (to name the best example), and is doing quite well according to standards we value presently. The second is about your underestimated fear for a nuclear attack (or is it a fear for statistics that make reality too real to accept?). If considering that somehow terrorists did get their hands on a nuclear device, I do agree they will try to use it. But this will not be in the USA. We’re protected sufficiently to stop that from happening. Nothing would be lamer for a terrorist group to get their hands on a nuclear device to then be caught by the TSA at JFK airport. It will much rather be somewhere in the middle east, or Africa. My bets are on Africa, since that would be the most improbably thing to happen looking at it from the present past.

I have to mention, Chuck, that one of the most difficult parts of the book is the tile being up-side-down. You’re doing it wrong. It made me physically ill several times just looking at it, requiring me to turn the book around. It makes you wonder, does it not, why we would create a simulation where people get upset by book covers printed the “wrong” way. How would that help us gain knowledge about the universe? Who knows… perhaps we will find out in some distant future.

I do realize this blog posts will make absolutely no sense to anyone who has not read the book. But there is a simple solution to that. Read it! Or not, it really does not matter to me, since I’m probably wrong about everything I understood from the book anyhow. Although I do not think Chuck aimed for me to learn anything from the book, rather he probably wants me to think about stuff. Well, Chuck, just to let you know. If I ever meet you, I will buy you a beer and we will discuss the world of today as if it were the past. Maybe by that time, hedgehogs do live in Ohio thanks to global factors you refused to discuss (but could not stop yourself from mentioning). To your defense, I’m sure they are smart and love apples, so there really was no way you could know… Have you considered the possibility that you actually DID see a hedgehog, and everyone telling you otherwise is just wrong about this well documented fact? (After all, I read in a book somewhere that you saw a hedgehog, and we all know books are never wrong!). Anyhow, since I lack the possession of a book case, I am forced to give the book to my brother and his girlfriend. I’m interested to learn what they think about it, since it has some distinctive American flavors, that I am not sure how they translate into a normal non-US minded person. I will keep you posted, or not. We really do not know what the future brings.

“But What If We’re Wrong”
Chuck Klosterman
Blue Rider Press; 2016.

 Ps: I forgot to deliver the book to my brother.

Orlando, FL

A quick trip to Orlando Florida, just because I can. Decided to visit Orlando for 2 days, needed a quick trip for my miles (I know for those who are not traveling all the time, this sounds totally ridiculous, but trust me, this is going to save me hours in check-in and makes travel for work a lot more comfortable for 2017.

Perfect start in a plane packed with children, with an upgrade to 1st class. Always nice, even if only an hour long flight. I left Atlanta with ice on my car windows, I got off the plane in Orlando around 68F (18C). Ticking off another state from my travel map, and fairly certain I will be back. Decided to check out Sea World. Wanted to see the Killer Whales in action before they stop having shows, due to haters who dislike people enjoying experiences they could typically not have. Travel tip for  people visiting Sea World: During the last weeks of the year you can buy a “fun pass” at the same price of a normal ticket that allows you access to the park for the next year (this year even 18 months). So basically during the holidays you can visit every day, for the price of 1 day. Also good to know, is that literally everything is in the Christmas spirit. My mind can only handle so much Christmas songs a year, and I got well past that mark this year. The lines were not that bad, and I could visit every attraction I wished and see every show I wanted (actually saw the Killer Whales twice, once in a “normal show” and once in the “Christmas” show).

The second, and last, day I went to Universal Studio’s. Didn’t really know yet which park to visit (there are 2 parks, and they are building a 3rd one next to the others as we speak). From my friends I heard the 4D experiences are awesome, so I chose “Adventure Island” seeing Spider Man and Jurassic Park were in that park. It’s pretty expensive, but an amazing experience! Visiting the park alone, I was able to do all the rides I wanted to do, even with as many people in the park as there were. Even did Spider Man and the Tower of Doom twice! Without a doubt, “Kong” is the greatest attraction around. very much worth the wait. Talking about wait times. Universal has this very interesting concept of “single rider” lines. These are used to fill rides with just 1 seat left. In some cases (like with “Kong”) they take probably as much time as the “normal” lines, but certain times you win a LOT of time. Especially when waiting times are rather short (<30min), the single rider queue was very interesting reducing times to ~10-15 min. Not the same amount of fun when you are in  a group, but when you travel alone, a perfect alternative as fast as the (expensive) “preferred” lines.

I’ll be back to Orlando. It’s a crazy expensive, but Oh so much fun!

Thanksgiving 2016

The Most American of holidays: Thanksgiving & Black Friday!

(Yes, I know Canada, you have Thanksgiving as well… but let’s face it, you are just the 51st state of the USA in many ways).

Some days off, dinner with friends, The President performing his most important job. All joking aside, I do home that President Trump next year only pardons 1 Turkey and gives the other one a “You’re Fried“, statement. Just because, you know, he can. As every year, the Cowboys play the Redskins (Think about it for a second). And Black Friday has resulted again in a number of shootings and deaths. It is good to know America is still the same.

I thought about going shopping, but just the idea of having to go through the masses makes me ill. Plus, I did a bunch of game shopping this week with Targets’ 20% off deal. Checking the prices today on Black Friday, it seems I made a good deal, since most games are now NOT on sale any more. Only select items have huge discounts. Everything else is normal price. For those who are interested I can advise the following website: https://blackfriday.com/ ; and all of your Turkey related issues can be covered by calling the Turkey Hot Line: http://www.butterball.com/turkey-talk-line. If you are lucky, you got Stephen Colbert on the phone this year.

It all began in 1981 when six home economists worked the phones that holiday season to answer 11,000 turkey-cooking questions. Since then the Turkey Talk-Line has grown in both the number of calls answered and experts responding.

I took the liberty of making some changes to my blog. I updated the name. Although I meant nothing with the original title: “Niggy in the USA”, it seems my American friends cannot get used to it. So I changed it, to the very original “Living in the USA”, Although it should probably state “Working in the USA”, as I am not a resident here.

I also added a new page for Games. Since I am very much into board and card games these days.

Elections 2016

Finally, it is over! After 18 months of primaries, attack ad’s and incorrect polls, America has elected a new president. Donald Trump will be the new president, to everyone’s surprise. Well, not everyone. Michael Moore predicted this, several months ago. (And to my credit, so did I. Ask anyone who wanted to hear it the past year).

Before getting into the details and results, let’s all take a moment and acknowledge how awesome it is to live in the country that invented modern Democracy. 240 years later, American democracy still stands. Sure it has its problems and challenges, but it works. There has not been large scale rigging of elections as some have predicted, there has not been foreign nations hacking the process as some feared (“The country’s outdated, offline voting machines could actually save the election from cyber attacks, say experts at a Congressional hearing.”).

Anyhow, the people have spoken and they clearly want change. There are many reports that claim the same people that wanted change in 2008 by voting Obama, voted for Trump this time. For some weird reason, the media does not quite understand that logic. It’s really not that difficult to understand. People all over the world are fed up with politicians only working for themselves, so they will vote for anyone who is not deemed a ‘typical’ politician. In 2008 this was Obama, In 2016 it is Trump. The ‘Rust Belt’ states are in constant state of decline economically and people are scared. There is nothing more to it. This was not a vote against Clinton (she actually won the popular vote), but a vote against politics. Exactly the same as what happened in Greece, the Brexit vote, The Philippines, and what is likely to happen in the Netherlands and France in the next year as well. Politics is a slow changing system, but eventually they will change. Like it or not.

That brings us to Trump. There is some very interesting things going on with Trump. First of all, he is now the leader of the Republican Party but he’s not really a republican (he supported Hillary Clinton in 2008 when running against Obama).  He has never ran for any political office, so literally has no clue what is going to happen. In fact, he is the very first President ever to never hold a political or high military seat. There were times where you had to win a war for independence, or defeat the Nazi’s to become president. Today, you need to win Twitter.
Second, he has claimed the past year that things are wrong in Washington, and he wants to clean it up (the same message Senator Sanders was spreading during his primary campaign), much to the dislike of the establishment (at both parties).
Third, for the first time in over 200 years, a European will live in the White House. Melania Trump is only the second non native born american to live in the White House. How can that not be exciting, just to think about!

So what is going to happen? Nobody knows. But I wish I was there. I’m actually very excited about this. I did not really feel anything for one candidate or the other, and as a work-visa immigrant I cannot vote, so did not really bother to care too much… And while some of the cabinet shortlist picks are extremely scary (Ben Carson on education and Sarah Palin as Interior Secretary; are you fucking kidding me?), overall this is very exciting to me. Why? I do not know. But roughing up the establishment from the inside, has always been an appealing concept to me. Now what would I do if I were Trump, and it is my first day in office? You’ve got a party that does not really want you there (Republicans), and another party that really does not want you there (Democrats). If Trump wants to succeed he will need to give Republicans what they want, but if he goes to far, they will just walk over him. Democrats will probably go against him in all fury, but he will probably need their support to get some of his less conservative proposals through. How can president Trump appeal to (part of) Democrats, and keep Republicans in check? It is up to him and his staff, but my suggestion is to ask Bernie Sanders to head a commission to clean up Washington politics. This was a topic for both of their campaigns, and I cannot see why Sanders would not accept this, if he believed Trump was serious on it. Trump has run his campaign as a bulldozer, I believe the only way for his administration to succeed is to keep acting as a bulldozer on some key topics. Keep everyone in check, while doing good for the American people. Internationally, renewed relations with Russia will probably help end the war in Syria. It will be very interesting to see if the Trump administration will support NATO ally Turkey, or rather the Kurdish forces who’ve been doing all the dirty work. In the end, all will be fine. Personally, I still have a backup country or 28 (27?) to go back to, should the USA turn into the same hellhole as the capital of my country.

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!


Philadelphia, PA

Last weekend, I visited Philadelphia. The birthplace of America and capital before Washington. Philly is the weirdest place. It’s not that I did not like my Saturday in Philadelphia, but it kind of left me with an unsatisfied feeling… Like something is missing. I had my Philly cheese steak. I saw the Liberty Bell, seen the Rocky Balboa statue and the steps of the Art museum. I guess… The places I visited today did not really teach me much I did not yet know. But it made it clear to me, as the tours made it clear to Americans too, that the USA is a country still under construction. While the many exhibits mostly focus on slavery and racism, the huge stain on American history, I could not help noticing the impact, or lack there of, on the rest of the world. While America, “We The People”, applauds itself on the remarkable journey the country has taken since the revolution, and arguably before that already, I believe Americans give themselves too much credit for having impact on, or even changing the world… Mandela did not visit the Liberty Bell as a symbol of freedom for black Africans in South Africa, the pictures of that event are actually pretty cynically located in the room next to the Liberty Bell story for African Americans. Neither did Reagan himself ‘tear down that wall’, as the footage in the Constitution Center seems to imply. The American statement of Independence and constitution are among the best written political work in the history of mankind. Work that should be copied to so many other countries, and in many ways has! So why is it so difficult for America to uphold these values domestically and abroad (in the works of foreign diplomacy/policy)? It is a divide that is seen all over American history. All sides believe and respect America, but both groups see a very different America. Examples are the rough days after the independence wars, followed by the civil war, over world war one and world war two on until today with Democrats and Republicans fighting over large and smaller topics. The hopeful thing is that, in its history, America always came back stronger after each challenge.

On Sunday I visited Eastern State Penitentiary, Another great example of the American Dream to bring justice and healing to the world. Even though its best intentions were violated at the very beginning, and the results were disastrous with inmates going insane, the good intentions are always there. Eastern State Penitentiary is a great building and has a lot of history, and stories to tell. Everything I missed on Saturday going through the Liberty Bell Museum and the ‘National Constitution Center’ was there. I spent 4 hours walking around and looking at stuff. Certainly worth a visit if you go to Philadelphia!


Thanksgiving marks the start of the holiday season in the USA.
The great American holiday celebrating the first harvest in the New World; is probably the holiday of the year. It is the most important family day in the USA and it is the busiest day for traffic (air, train and road).
Turkey is the national dish that marks this holiday, pretty much like Christmas back in Europe. Americans love traditions, much more than the average European, so almost everyone in the entire country is having Turkey.

Being here for the first time, my mother (back in Belgium) was kind of worried about me spending the holidays alone. I have to admit, this was a concern to me too before I moved. Would America and the American people accept me in their lives? Living here now, I know Americans are very friendly and open people. Several people have invited me to their homes to celebrate all the major holidays; including Thanksgiving.

So I went to the parents home of some friends I made here in the past months. All the people (family and friends) were really nice and friendly. The food was… amazing. The common perception back in Belgium that Americans never cook and cannot cook food, is just plain wrong. The picture below, was the best turkey I ever had, and without doubt one of the better meals I’ve had since moving to the USA.


It was a really good experience and I want to thank my hosts for the invite! Another great American tradition I can tick off my to-do list.
Thank you!