Tag Archives: chaos

Eclipse 2017

August 21st 2017. The first total eclipse in a century moves from West to East over the USA. 2min34 seconds of darkness at 2:34pm EST. We drove towards Greenville, SC for this event. Leaving at 6:30 am from Atlanta for fear of traffic. It was my second total eclipse. My first experience was obstructed by the northern French clouds ~15 years ago, so expectations were high.

Unfortunately, a cloud blocked the sun for about 10 minutes, including the 2’34″ of totality. Another missed chance!

Moral in our road trip gang did not improve during the 6 hour commute back to Atlanta. 3x longer than the drive up to South Carolina.

It was fun, and exciting. The darkness, cold wind, and confused animals; are worth it. But next time seeing the corona during totality is preferable. Let’s make sure to go somewhere with a 0% chance of clouds.

The US gets another opportunity in 2024, who knows where I’ll be then…


“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.

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


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


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.

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.