Tag Archives: Dallas

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


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.



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

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.

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.

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!