Monday, February 25, 2013

My daily source of exasperation

It's the little things that drive you crazy.

As an expat living in a foreign land, I can accept a wide range of strange and unfamiliar practices that fall under the heading “Cultural Differences.” I understand that people here have their own customs and habits, and that it is up to me, as an outsider, to adapt and assimilate.

However, there are some things that I simply cannot accept—things that I view not as cultural differences born of this country's unique history, language or traditions, but as serious errors. Yes, it's true: There are a few things about life in Flanders that are just plain wrong.

Take TV, for instance. One of my pet peeves is the mysterious logic behind television programming. Flemish TV channels carry a lot of American shows, which is great—until you realize that they're showing episodes from last season. Or maybe it's the current season, but the episodes are several months old, so you end up watching the Christmas episode of “Castle” in February.

Often there seems to be no logic at all to the scheduling or programming of shows. They'll show the previous season of “Bones,” and then when it's over, start again with episodes that are 4 years old. For no apparent reason. Shows regularly jump from one time slot to another, or from one day of the week to another, without warning.

There's no respect for the intrinsic structure and rhythm of your typical TV show. A one-hour drama is built around commercial breaks at specific times, with one scene ending at the cut and another picking up after the lead-in. Flemish broadcasters run right through the break, and then insert a commercial somewhere else in the episode, usually at the worst possible moment, mid-scene or even mid-sentence.

Here's another thing that I find maddening: TV shows don't start and end on the hour or half-hour like they do in the US! Each channel has its own schedule with shows starting and ending at completely random times that are completely different from all the other channels. Nowadays, with DVRs, it's easy enough to record one show and watch another, but how did this system ever come to be in the first place?

And I have the distinct impression that the start and end times listed on the channel guide are just suggestions. Nothing ever seems to start at the time it's supposed to.

Maybe it's the fact that I used to work in the entertainment industry, or the fact that I'm addicted to TV (can you tell?) that makes me so particular about how my favorite shows are presented. Or maybe it's part of my greater frustration over being a slave to television broadcasters in the first place.

By the time I left the US three years ago, I was watching less and less TV on my television and more TV shows online. After coming to Belgium, I soon found that all of the digital content I was used to streaming live on my computer was now unavailable to me. Three years later, nothing has changed. Digital content from the US is still blocked in Belgium.

So I'm stuck watching TV shows on TV... when I can figure out what times they're on. One good thing about watching TV in Flanders: American shows are all subtitled, not dubbed. We also get the Walloon channels from our cable provider, but I simply cannot bring myself to watch American shows with the actors' voices dubbed into French!

(A version of this post also appeared on the website for Fans of Flanders, the English-language TV show for and about expats in Flanders. I'm honored to be one of their guest bloggers--and I even watch the show on TV.)


  1. Diana, I completely understand your frustration! I am an American Expat and have been living in Switzerland for almost 10 years. I am admittedly a bit of a TV addict, and have been on a decade-long quest to get my American TV when I want it. I am actually blogging about it now :) I have tried everything from Sky satellite to Slingbox to VPN.

    My favorite thing this week is Hola Unblocker. I wrote a review post about it here. Please excuse the state of my blog. I am just getting started!

    Let me know if you need any help. My favorite thing to do next to watching TV is figuring out HOW to watch TV!


  2. I just setup Netflix with a VPN, which has since replaced our telenet-box as "the thing that is on in the evenings". For about $12 a month, it's not the cheapest way to consume television in Belgium, but it's certainly one of the easiest and less frustrating!

  3. interesting that you like tv shows to start at a fixed time...but not movies in the movie theatre ;)

    Yes you are right, the chronological order of an imported show is not respected, ofteh leaving me completely at loss. The fact that we are always behind (one or more seasons) however is a pure financial reason. Belgian tv channels produce/buy local productions and also offer foreign series. The older they are, the cheaper they get. And there is a time delay on getting them subtitled. Overall I am happy to get this very rich offer of shows: North-American/British/Dutch/(very rarely something German or French or ...) combined with our own Flemish productions. Seems richer than what you get in North America?

    The random times also explain a bit the buying of foreign formats: our publicity blocks are less frequent or shorter (or non existant on some channels) yet a "30 min" episode of lets say "New Girl" in reality only has 18 minutes of footage. so there is a 12 min gap to fill with publicity or simply to close by an earlier start of the next program. Big prime time programs (news) do start on fixed times though.

  4. Hi Diana,
    I agree Belgian TV is dreadful, so about a year or so I was so glad to finally get live US TV channels in my home in Antwerp. Not on a PC, but on a 46 inch flatscreen and in HD ! No more scruffy Belgian stuff, but the real thing: US channels from NYC (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and lotsa Movie and US sports programming). All this with DVR possibilities (nice workaround for the 6 hour time difference).
    See pic here :
    Also interesting is Hulu, which is free and can be setup to work from Belgium as well.
    It's all easy to setup, if you're interested, drop me a line, I'll be happy to assist:

  5. Hello, Diana!
    My name is Ramona and I am a Tv series addicted! There, I said it!
    I´m living in Hasselt 2.5 years allready, but I am from Romania. I watch my series online, the very next day after they broadcast it in USA. It is true that i watch them on Romanian websites and they are with subs, but still, they speak in English :)) so, if you don´t mind the sub, you have here some websites.