March 2, 2014


It's been raining for three days straight now so San Diego suddenly feels a lot more like Belgium! My surroundings look a bit greener, the streets are wet and that pale blue sky you always see here? It has been shifting between grey and more grey. Yesterday we went for a walk in the rain (literally no one was out) and today everyone Hollywood is hoping it will stop right in time for the big ceremony tonight... Fingers crossed!

But to stick to the overall topic: I realize it's been a while since the first 'expat comparison' and I wouldn't like to call it a comparison, because it's just a little list of things I notice in my new country. Three months ago I posted my first impression and today I think I'm ready for another round. March marks my ninth month here (can you believe that??) and with all the holidays, paperwork and a new season upon us I think I've made some discoveries... 

    To start off with an awkward topic: let's talk about deodorant. I can only speak for Belgium here (and maybe the UK) but I have the impression that most of Western Europe at least uses deodorant sprays. Of course there are some brands that offer roll-ons (not so much the sticks) but no one I know buys them. Until I moved here I had never actually used them. In the US it seems to be the other way around. Go to any grocery store and you'll find a huge selection of deodorant sticks and roll-ons and basically no sprays (although I did see a few for men). I'm a bit puzzled as to why that is... is it really healthier? And if it is, why are the sprays still being used in Europe? On another note: what about convenience? How do you put it on during the day?

    This has been a traditional discussion between me and Nick for a long time. American sandwiches are usually big; less bread, more ingredients. While in Belgium we tend to stick to one choice of ingredient you put on your 'boterhammen' unless you get a 'smoske': a french baguette with different ingredients on it (usually Gouda cheese, lettuce, tomato, eggs and mayonnaise).

    So one time I made the mistake of ordering what we started calling a 'Belgian sandwich'. I chose what type of bread I wanted at the local place. They asked me what type of cheese I wanted, I said Cheddar. They said I could pick up to three different types (three?? so many choices!), I said that just Cheddar would be fine and then they I asked me how many layers of Cheddar I wanted. Hmm, one? The look on their faces was one of horror. Surely I must be kidding? So the lady checked if she'd heard correctly and I assured her she had. Eventually she believed me, but when her boss came by he pointed at the miserable layer of cheese on the bread as if to demand answers and I could hear her explain that I asked for that... I felt really out of place that day. Does that really never happen?

    I don't know if this is an American thing or if I just have never noticed it in Belgium, but California seems to be obsessed with almonds. I have never seen so many products with almonds before and it seems like anything is possible: cereal with almonds, chocolate with almonds, cookies with almonds, almond butter, ... I used to love milk chocolate with bits of walnut but I haven't found those here yet, guess I'll have to try the almonds! 
    There is one thing that is driving me crazy here and I'm sure it isn't just me. I feel like Americans have perfected the efficiency of the automated menu, but that it's been brutalized in everyday usage. There have been so many times I had to call a company with a specific question or problem (or the same company over and over again) and they made me go through what felt like a thousand options first. I would understand it if by the time you get to talk to a real person you don't have to worry about that information anymore, but usually you just provide your basic information again. What's even worse is when there's no button for what I want (that's most of the time) or when the machine doesn't understand me... It's like Gandalf in Lord of the Rings: 'You shall not pass!'

    But you know what's funny? The automated voice menu of the Belgian consulate is probably the most annoying. It let's you go through the whole menu and if you don't pick your number fast enough it just hangs up! There's no option for repeating the menu and you'll just have to call back and start from scratch. Yes, I know this from experience.
Hope you had a nice weekend and welcome to March!


  1. So true with the deodorant. I live with a Canadian (close to America right ;)) and all she uses is a stick! We all use spray on and think she's a weirdo haha

    1. haha I feel like one of those weirdos now... I need to look for a good alternative here ;)

  2. I hear you about the deodorant, almonds and the menus!
    In Australia we use spray deodorant, but I've not found one in the US that actually works. The nozzles get clogged and just stop working half way through the can. It's totally odd!

    And do you shop at Trader Joe's? You should try the almond milk -- the original one (in red packaging) is the best! I was skeptical of the almond craze until I tried that. Now it's the only milk I drink!

    Glad to hear you're settling in well in San Diego. That rain's much needed :)

    1. So there's no hope of finding a normal deodorant spray here? :( I sometimes go to Trader Joe's! (love it there) A lot of people here seem to recommend almond milk. I guess I'll have to give it a try ;) Thanks for the tip!

  3. Almonds are so popular in California because over 80% of the world's almonds are grown and harvested in California's central valley. On the automated menus, often if you press "0" at the beginning of the call, it will take you to a person - if it doesn't, you can call back. There are also resources that allow you to look up in advance and figure out what the key code is for what you want, and you can dial the key string in advance (, )


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