Debut memoirist Hall recounts both the adventures and the quotidian details of his time living and working as an American in Belgium in the 1990s.
Hall and his wife, Cathy, were comfortable as Midwesterners, working for the American division of a multinational health insurance company. Then Cathy was invited to work on a branding project at the company’s Belgian office. Hall overcame his misgivings and agreed to make the move, and the couple packed up their Milwaukee life and set off for Europe. Hall’s portrait of Belgium is neither snarky nor starry-eyed; he acknowledges the challenges the couple faced in learning new languages, navigating unfamiliar roadways and being unable to watch the Packers play in the Super Bowl, but far more attention is given to the ways in which they adapted to their new environment, from finding an open grocery store to becoming regulars at neighborhood restaurants. Nostalgic techies will appreciate many of Hall’s anecdotes from the IT department where he worked: Windows NT is state-of-the-art, 512KB Internet speeds are something to aspire to, and a year passes before Hall convinces the company to let him build an intranet. Though there are some missteps in the writing—Hall’s attempt to render the local accent phonetically (“Yezz, auf cawrz. Many people ride them thayer”) can be grating—there are also plenty of sentences to admire: “I wouldn’t complain if it worked hard to turn our sullied linens pristine, but it acted more like a laborer paid by the hour,” Hall says of a recalcitrant washing machine. As he moves through elements including professional life, the search for housing and settling into an English-language church, Hall convincingly describes the emotional journey of an expatriate. The book concludes with the couple’s return to Belgium more than a decade later, as they discover that visiting a place is a far cry from making it a home.
An insightful tale of life both in and outside the United States.