Since "President Obama called" in 2009 and asked him to represent America in Brussels, New Yorker Howard Gutman has become one of the most recognisable and popular ambassadors in Belgium.
With the disarming charm of a boy who "grew up broke in Queens" Gutman readily admits he doesn't fit the profile of an ambassador. Though active in politics since junior high school, through his time at Harvard and practising law in Washington DC, Gutman was surprised when he realised what President Obama had in mind for him. "I had never thought at all about being an ambassador because I was not a wealthy retired man; I was younger, I was working, I had school-aged children."
When asked to consider an overseas posting, Brussels was top of the Gutman's list. "It was most like Washington; it's the capital of the US and Brussels is the capital of Europe. For my wife, who had been a dentist in Washington for 27 years, it was a dream come true."
Since his arrival Gutman has thrown himself into his role and describes himself as Belgium's "number one tourist", especially during carnival time. "There is so much magic in Belgium. It has such a long history and a love for culture and festivals. I've come to realise a lot of food throwing goes on here - I've thrown walnuts and had oranges thrown at me. And at carnivals I've posed for embarrassing pictures next to dummies of defence ministers in pink tutus and naked papier-mâché mayors."
Such experiences have taken place during Gutman's quest to visit each of Belgium's official cities, villages and communes - a goal he announced shortly after taking his post and perhaps before consulting a map. "Turns out Belgium has 589 official cities, villages and communes. I didn't think there were that many! I've chalked up 536 so I'm closing in on it."
Gutman has enjoyed the history, folklore and culture in his adopted city too. "I've carried the meyboom, which is a tree that has to be planted before another city steals it. I've taken part in folklore events at the Mannekin Pis and the medieval pageant of Ommegang.
"And, of course, there are the wonderful museums here - everything from Flemish masters to cartoon and comics. I also love the art nouveau architecture you see everywhere and the EU complex where you can learn about Europe. Brussels is a fascinating place."
The role of an ambassador is that of a liaison between governments; Gutman is responsible for promoting US business and building bridges between the two countries, as well as providing support for expatriates.
The ambassador's residence is an enviable address bordering a park that is shared by parliament, the King's palace and BOZAR, but Gutman is most enthusiastic about the ease with which he can walk from home down to Avenue Louise for a movie and a pizza or some waffles. "I am a huge fan of Liege waffles and totally against putting chocolate sauce or whipped cream on them as it destroys the caramelised essence. Anyone who comes to visit me is only allowed to taste the Liege waffles, piping hot. And they thank me for it the minute they savour the taffy-like taste."
When Gutman arrived in the city, polling showed Belgo-American relations were at an all-time low. Policy differences had led to misunderstandings that made political and business relations somewhat challenging. "Belgium loved America through two world wars, but in more recent times the relationship had not gone so well."
This year Belgium has had the steepest increase in favourability towards US leadership in the world - Gutman attributes this turnaround to President Obama's popularity and his own talented embassy team, but all that food throwing can't have hurt.
He accepts that rebuilding the partnership between Belgium and America means doing a lot of listening, but admits this is sometimes painful - particularly for those who have to listen to him. "I spoke neither French or Flemish when I got the job and I've been taking lessons five days a week, every week, since I got here.
"I have to use my French in Wallonia and so the poor people there just cover their ears and hope for the best. Flemish is a hard language to speak correctly, so the Flemish speak English to me a lot. I can understand most of what's being said but you've got to split your verbs, do the hokey-cokey and move them all around - so I'm still learning where to put them!"
As the American election looms next month and the possibility of Ambassador Gutman leaving Brussels arises, he's already planning what to do when he comes back to visit. "I can't wait to return incognito, when I can wear a bathing suit or a T-shirt! There are beautiful parks with ziplines that I've always wanted to try, but it's really hard for an ambassador with three security staff following him, to hurtle down a zipline."