Expat/Immigrant Qs

When I ran across this Q&A post earlier today on the very enjoyable blogs of Bev and Ami, I thought “that sounds like a good topic for a rainy day.” Turns out, it was a rather lovely day here but I’m home alone and have watched everything new… so there’s no time like the present!

Some people call me an expat, some may call me an immigrant, but either way I’m an American in a place that isn’t the United States. Let’s talk about it, shall we?

1. WHERE WERE YOU BORN, WHERE DID YOU GROW UP AND WHERE DO YOU CURRENTLY LIVE?

I was born in Menomonee Falls, WI, lived in Milwaukee until I was seven, then we moved to Eagle, WI. Eagle is mostly known for its smiley-faced water tower, and that’s about it. After a stint in Prague, I moved to Nuremberg in 2011, and eventually here to the ze Dorf outside Nuremberg in 2013.

Our village has a castle, and the castle has this cool gateway.

2. WHAT MADE YOU LEAVE YOUR HOME COUNTRY

Floating in a sea of “what now?” post-college, I decided that my best bet to travel while still making money was to get a TEFL certification and try to teach English. I had no idea how long I wanted to do it for, and where I would end up going, but nearly nine years on I guess it has worked out okay for me.

3. WHAT TYPE OF REACTIONS DO YOU GET WHEN YOU MEET NEW PEOPLE AND TELL THEM WHERE YOU ARE FROM?

This has definitely shifted in the last year and change. It used to be an “okay, cool, where in the U.S.?” and now it’s a decidedly less relaxed conversation, thanks to 45. Germans have been pretty used to an American presence in most places since the end of the Second World War, so we aren’t really anything that new and exciting here. I do find the reactions of military-affiliated Americans funny sometimes, in that they’re confused by what I’m doing here of my own volition.

4. WHAT WAS THE EASIEST/HARDEST PART IN ADJUSTING TO YOUR NEW COUNTRY?

After coming from Prague, a lot of things seemed really easy. The paperwork had some sense of order to it, whether or not everything was being done correctly, was something I wouldn’t get into trouble with for a couple years though. The hardest part was not being surrounded by a group of built-in friends right from the get-go. I’ve found people here but it took some time, and if you’re not the most outgoing, social person in the world (introverts unite! Separately!) making friends here can be tricky. The good news is that once you are friends with someone here, they are sticking around. To me, that’s invaluable.

One of the first girls I met here six years ago got married in June. It was lovely.

5. IMAGES, WORDS OR SOUNDS THAT SUM UP THE EXPAT EXPERIENCE YOU’VE HAD SO FAR.

In Prague it was the sound of the tram. My bedroom window overlooked a stop where six trams stopped during the day and four at night. The drivers ring the bell every time they start so that sound is inextricably linked with Prague in my brain. In Germany, it’s a lot of things… Red trains. Red trains for days. Alpine bells, or the sound of the rooster next door crowing. The smell of roasted almonds at the summer festivals, or that smell mingling with the scent of Glühwein at the Christmas markets.

Red trains > other trains.

6. YOUR FAVOURITE FOOD OR DRINK ITEM IN YOUR NEW COUNTRY

Käsespätzle is life. Not to mention a frosty glass of whatever local beer is on tap (minus Tucher, that is).

Kirchweih libations.

7. WHAT’S THE ONE THING YOU SAID “YES” TO IN YOUR NEW CITY THAT YOU WOULDN’T SAY “YES” TO, BACK HOME?

Probably spending as much time on public transportation as I do here. First of all, where I grew up there was no public transportation. If I wanted to find a public bus, I’d have to drive 30 minutes in Waukesha, and get on a bus there. Doesn’t make much sense, really. I took a Greyhound one time in college and that was enough to freak me out on the Greyhound experience. The only times I can remember taking anything like public transportation was a shuttle bus down to the Milwaukee lakefront for Summerfest, a Brewer game, or some other sort of special event. Otherwise it was all cars, all the time.

8. ARE THERE ANY CULTURAL NORMS/PHRASES IN YOUR NEW COUNTRY WHICH YOU CANNOT STAND?

Sometimes I’m amazed that Germans are able to get anything done when they spend half of their lives shaking hands. I now know that if BV and I have to leave a family gathering, it’s necessary to start that process about an hour before we actually plan to leave, especially if we have to catch a train. Give me an “Irish Exit” any day of the week, because to me, that’s better than demanding people’s attention, interrupting conversations, etc. in order to have a formal goodbye.

Additionally, I’ve found that since a good deal of my classes have taken place in more technically-oriented companies, I’ve had to hear a fair amount of “women be shopping” sort of jokes (or half-jokes) from my mostly male groups. My usual strategy is to laugh it off and give them a bit of shit for that attitude, but I’m really not a fan. I have also tried out the tactic of switching the discussion to their hobbies because guess what? All that specialized sporting equipment, all those electronic toys and gadgets you have at home? Those are not cheap, buddy. Just because you only have two pairs of shoes does not mean you are a supreme example of fiscal responsibility. Most of these guys would say that women and men are equal in their companies, and in Germany as a whole, but they have a long way to go on a lot of things here.*

9. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST DOING IN YOUR NEW COUNTRY?

Any frequent readers of this blog can answer this one, I think. Get me south to the Alps and I am a happy camper.

Hiking in Austria this August.

10. DO YOU THINK YOU WILL EVER MOVE HOME FOR GOOD?

That is a question that I have a hard time answering. Never say never is usually a good philosophy for me, but the chaotic way that things seem to be unraveling at the moment makes me lean towards no way. If something should happen that means I do have to go “home” for a period of time, that’s one thing. But after nearly nine years gone? In those nine years, I think I’ve seen enough of this way of life to make me confident that this is what I want, and what fits the life I want to live best.

The water of the Eibsee is as refreshing as it looks.

 

*Not that the U.S. is doing much better at the moment.

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Six Years In

Yesterday marked my 6-year anniversary of living in Germany. I spent the majority of the day teaching in company Zap, which was rather fitting as that was the company that I was originally hired to teach at here. Tuesdays at company Zap are full days, and usually by the time I get home I’m completely bushed. Unfortunately yesterday the workday wasn’t over, as we had a few stops to make on the way home, and when we arrived I had to  get on the phone for two quick phone lessons that I’m doing as part of a multi-facet business course.

But, let’s be honest, none of that is all that exciting for such a momentous occasion as surviving yet another year among the madness of the Deutsch.

Instead, allow me to present some pictures of what’s been going on in just this last week. As I mentioned back in May, June has been pretty jam-packed. I have missed writing more often, honestly, but there’s been so much going on that I haven’t managed to settle myself down at the computer to do anything about it.

So what have I been up to? Well let’s dive into last weekend…

On Friday after I finished work, I met BV at home where he was lounging and enjoying yet another ‘bridge day.’  Since it was beautiful weather and not ungodly hot, we decided to take a long walk to the lovely biergarten on the river about eight kilometers away. While on the way there we spotted this restaurant in a small village, and thought its terrace looked rather inviting. After the biergarten and a salty pretzel or two, we got back to this village and decided our thirst needed another drink to quench it. So we stopped, had a drink, watched the birds swooping in and out of the barn across the street, and I admired the window boxes. Lush window boxes are delightful.

Then we wandered our way back home, and juuuuust so happened to come across the entrance to our village’s Kirchweih, which had just begun. And you bet your ass we stopped off to get some roasted nuts and yes, another beer. It wasn’t the plan, but we managed to turn our nice walk into an impromptu beer hike. Whoops.

The next day we slept later than planned (wonder why), frantically packed our bags, made ourselves presentable and headed off to the chapel…

My very lovely Sprachduo friend E. was marrying her fella of 12 years, and it was quite the occasion. Previously I’ve attended two German weddings, both from friends/colleagues of BV, and they were lovely. But this couple were both village mice, and the events of the day reflected that. For starters, they’re both involved in music groups, so there were several performances by various bands scattered throughout the day. His soccer and Kerwa clubs showed up during the ceremony, and sneakily erected a tiny Kerwabaum* while we were all in the church. Naturally they also brought and tapped a pony keg for the occasion.

Then everyone was off to the reception location, minus us, as we had to make a short detour to the nearest town with a store (any store) that sold shirts because guess who managed to bring two pairs of shorts for Sunday but not a shirt? That would be me. Again, whoops.

Shirt acquired, we joined everyone else at the reception location where everyone was already deep into the Sekt and another couple of kegs. Dishes of appetizers were passed around while everyone mingled and photos were done. Eventually the cake made an appearance, and after everyone snagged a slice or ten (so many cakes at German weddings!), all the men scampered off to another hotel bar up the road. This is fairly common. Sometimes the bride also gets kidnapped but not this time. They just got a little more sauced up while all the ladies organized themselves for more pictures. BV declined the additional sauce, so he even got to play photographer. Good man.

I’m currently in a phase where I actually don’t hate photos of myself, and I wanted to show off my grandma’s ring, which I can finally, somewhat miraculously, now wear. I always planned to get it resized but turns out? My fingers were just chubby.

Please enjoy a rare nice picture of me, especially with svelte fingers and a cocktail ring.

As is typical with German weddings, we made ze all-night party, yah. When the band finally started to break down the equipment, I checked my watch and was shocked to see the time… damn near 3am. We packed it in but rumor has it that the party continued until nearly 7. I don’t know how the couple managed to appear functional at breakfast but they are troopers.

Since the wedding was in the very lovely area close to the Franconian Switzerland, we planned to do a bit of hiking on Sunday. And hike we did, picking a round tour through the area. It promised a stop on top of a nearby hill at a Hütte, which was lovely but closed. The Franconian Switzerland strikes again!

We soldiered on, around a few more villages, admiring the overflowing gardens, and hunting for anyplace that could serve us something liquid. Preferably a yeast-based beverage. Mostly, it was just Fachwerk and flowers though. It’s okay. I do love Fachwerk, regardless of how thirsty I am.

We ended up right back where we started which was good since 1) it was supposed to be a round tour and 2) that’s where the car was. Even better, there were a few restaurants open and they had cold drinks. Sunday was the day when the temperature really started to creep up and we almost knocked over the waitress in our attempts to ensure they were still serving.

The day’s tour over, it was time to head home again and prep for the week ahead. Class papers to sort, grills to be lit, all of that good stuff.

Which brings us back to Tuesday. Six years in. I can’t say that I have any wise words or deep thoughts on what it’s like to have been here for so long. There have been ups, there have been downs. That’s life. But lately, it’s been a lot more ups and I can’t say that I regret anything that has happened along the way.

I love living here. I love the life that BV and I have created for ourselves in our little Franconian nook. I love the friends that I have made here. And I love that I’m still surprised and amused by the oddities of ze Germany. Boredom kills brain cells and I need those little guys. So Prost to that.

 

*See Kirchweih link above for clarification on that one.

Residence Permit Rodeo: Wait, what?

Oh residence permits… I so missed writing about you. The drama, the intrigue, the will-they or won’t-they…

But here we are. It’s been about two and a half years since I wrote one of these posts and the time has come to once again partake in the joys and wonders of German bureaucracy. Here’s what we know so far…

The Players:

H: me, still in Germany, still wanting to be here, still paying taxes, still thinking someone knows what’s going on.

BV: still helping me navigate arenas of German bureaucracy that a normal German citizen never has to deal with, and therefore often as confuzzled as I am.

Fr. C: my former Beamter*, responsible for doing all my paperwork and issuing my visa in 2014. Now onto something else, presumably, which is probably best for her.

Shiny New Herr (SNH): my new Beamter, who I will saying nothing further about lest risking a karmic smackdown.

The Scene:

Landkreis Fürth, 2014

Fr. C (paraphrased): your new permit is good for two years. If you do anything different for work, you must let us know. Since you are now registered in our system, you’ll receive all your paperwork automatically next time you are ready to renew.**

H and BV: thank her profusely and skip out door to not worry about nonsense for two more years, confident in the fact that German efficiency would deliver the appropriate documents to our door in about one year and nine-ish months.

Landkreis Fürth, mid-2016

H: my permit is up in November, so we should get something in September or so, don’t you think?

BV: yeah that’s what she said last time.

Landkreis Fürth, October 2016

H: soooo, we still haven’t gotten anything… it’s up next month, and we’re supposed to go to the States in December. That seems really short. Maybe we should email Fr. C or call her?

BV: probably, let’s send her an email.

*crafts email and hits send*

H: uhoh… guess who just got a ‘this person doesn’t exist’ auto-reply?

*checks Landkreis  website*

H: ummm… Fr. C is no longer on here. And there’s no contact info for a new person. That seems… ominous.

*a flurry of phone attempts and emails to assorted addresses that WERE listed follows*

Landkreis Fürth, November 2016

SNH (via email): we don’t normally do this by email but I will give you an appointment in December and we can discuss your travel plans.

H: we’ve had tickets to Wisconsin booked since APRIL. If there’s a possibility that we can’t go, what are we going to do?

BV: I don’t know. I don’t get this.

Landkreis Fürth, December 2016

BV: Fr. C told us two years ago that the information would be sent automatically but we didn’t get anything.

SNH: well not yet, it would have come.

BV: but her permit was up last month?

SNH: yes. And it takes 6-8 weeks to process the new application.

BV and H: ????

SNH: so we’ll give you a temporary extension for four months, you can travel with that and we’ll start processing the new application. You’ll get information about your next appointment and what you need to bring with when it’s ready. That’ll be €30.

BV: is there anything that we can do to make this easier? I mean, it would be better if we didn’t have to do this so regularly every few years (nervous laughter).

SNH: sure. If she had a normal working contract, not a freelance contract. Or get married. I’ve never had a case like this.***

*BV and H leave office*

H: is that normal advice? Doesn’t seem like they should run around recommending marriage as a means to an end here.

BV: yeah but a working contract would be nice.

H: true. And why don’t they send the stuff in advance if they know it takes that long to process? Shouldn’t it go out in advance?

BV: that made no sense.

Which brings us to…

Landkreis Fürth, April 2017 (I think you know where this is going)

H: okay, now my extension is up at the end of this month and we still haven’t gotten any new information.

BV: I’ll give them a call

*BV calls at the beginning of the month. SNH is on vacation (naturally) for Easter and won’t be back until the 18th. His colleague however, digs out my file.*

SNH’s colleague: I have her file but it doesn’t say anything. But I’ll send you an email with the usual documents that are needed for the next appointment. You can gather them and then get in touch with SNH when he’s back.

Landkreis Fürth, April 18th, 2017

BV: hi I’m calling about Frau H’s application… the extension is almost up and we still haven’t… uhuh…. uhuh…. super…. uhuh….. okay, yes let’s do that.

*BV gets off phone*

BV: okay… we have an appointment next week and we can bring all the things that were in that email. But SNH applied for the longer-term permit this time and he hasn’t gotten it back yet.

H: longer-term? Like… the permanent residence one?

BV: I think so.

H: well that explains the thing about the retirement insurance. But…

BV: permanent would be great, right?

H: yeeeeees. Yes it would. But I didn’t even really think that was an option.

BV: why not?

H: because I haven’t looked into it in ages, and it seems like every time I read the account of someone else getting it, it was like… a THING. Yeah I’ve been here more than five years but there were interviews. Copious paperwork, language tests… I don’t have any of that stuff. There’s no way he could just request it, and ta-da! That’s way too easy. I was planning on another 2-year extension and then see what happens. Plus, I’m freelance and that further complicates things. And what happens when that gets rejected? Can we just get a 2-year one instead? Or do you get one application at a shot and then I have to go?

BV: I have no idea, but we’ll see what he says.

Fin.

So that’s where we are at the moment. Would I be goddamned delighted to have an unlimited residence permit? You bet your sweet ass I would. But my pessimistic side thinks that there is no way in God’s green earth that this could possibly happen nearly completely by accident. Even writing this feels slightly like tempting fate but this is how it goes sometimes… and that’s what blogs are for. Which means that I’m just sitting over here pressing my thumbs, and waiting.

If you made it through all of that, I commend you, you trooper. And for that, you shall be richly rewarded with a picture of Marry die Katze enjoying the spring air on her personal balcony.

Marry says, “don’t deport the Bringer of the Noms!”

Disclaimer: this is merely my experience. I have never met two foreigners here that have had the same (or even close-ish) experience when dealing with this nonsense. The only other non-married, non-contracted Americans I’ve run across have had EU passports, which I only resent slightly, the lucky bastards. You can ask me for advice on these things but as you can read above, it’s basically the blind leading the blind, stubborn persistence, and a dash of dumb luck.

*Beamter = public official

**Because my previous residence permit had been issued by the city of Nürnberg, we were mistaken in thinking that my registering a new address in a new city would be relayed to the foreigner’s office. We had to call them to get my renewal started, whereas in Nbg my renewal information had come automatically after the first year. See more on that whole friggin’ circus here.

***I’m hoping that this statement was due more to his relatively young age than anything else. I’m hardly the only freelance foreigner in this country.

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Customer Service Stress

A major complaint I hear quite often living here is that the customer service is total crap. Do they kiss your ass every time you walk into a store? No. Has anyone ever been openly rude to me? No. Have I waited what felt like a thousand years to get help in stores and restaurants? Absolutely yes. So while I don’t consider myself to be one of the foreigners here who has a major problem with German customer service*, there are moments when it does scare the bejeezus out of me. This is a story about one of them.

BV and I had gone into the Karstadt department store recently to pick up a few things, and a brightly-colored spring sweater caught my eye. Since I still had a few gift cards floating around my wallet, I decided to go ahead and get it. We checked out with my sweater, and then proceeded to hunt the store for men’s socks, before checking out again and descending to the U-Bahn level to exit the store.

The bottom level of the store is the food section, and as it is at the U-Bahn level, it sees a fair amount of foot traffic. BV and I were eagerly debating what our planned dinner order would be (we were marking the end of vegetarian January/February by going out for Greek), when we heard peep peep peep as we went through the doors. We stopped, turned around, peep-ing again, and paused in the entryway. There’s no security in most stores here, and people continued to go on about their business around us. The store employees in eye/earshot didn’t blink at all, and then we heard more peeps as other people went in and out. We figured at that point that the metal detector was faulty, and since we had receipts for our purchases, we headed back out the door.

The next day I pulled out my new sweater to try it on with a few things and, you guessed it, the friggin’ ink tag was still attached. Sonofabitch. For two reasons, really.

  1. This means an extra trip into the city, because I’m usually carrying around enough stuff to class that I don’t really care to add a shopping bag to the mix and…
  2.  I can’t do this by myself. My German is serviceable under benign circumstances but just the thought of trying to explain this to a cashier was enough to scare the crap out of me. Did I have receipts? Yes. Did it warrant a lengthy explanation? No. But the American in me would like to give some kind of a justification/story to explain myself more. And my German is not good enough to do that and I didn’t want to cause a scene somehow. Or get arrested.

That meant when poor BV came home, I got to tell him that we were going to take another trip into town at some point because of the aforementioned reasons. He wasn’t thrilled about another extra trip either, but he completely understood my reasoning.

Cut to us on the S-Bahn a few days later…

BV: Yeah we have a receipt, but what if they think that we bought one and paid for it, but stole this one?

Me: Oh my God I didn’t even think of that! Why would you say that? Don’t put thoughts in my head!

We walked back into Karstadt, peep-ing again on the way in, headed to the nearest Kasse, and waited to hear our fate.

When our turn came, we stepped up, BV pulled out the receipt and the sweater, showed her the ink tag and…

Cashier: Oh mein Gott,(continues in German) sorrysorrysorry, hate it when that happens, etc.

She took the ink tag off, folded my sweater up, handed it back to us, and went to a cabinet in the corner. We thought maybe there was a “whoops something happened” form or who-knows-what, but she came back with two chocolate hearts (Lindt, not some crap chocolate), handed them to us and apologized profusely for making us come back.

All that stress for nothing.

To be fair, she did ask us if the alarm had gone off, but BV explained that we had heard it go off with other people as well so we just assumed it was faulty. So could I have explained that myself? Debatable and I’m glad he was there just in case.

However that means perhaps it’s time to set myself a new goal. To not only be able to survive a normal interaction in German, but to be able to get my own damn ink tags removed without fear of a panic attack. That seems reasonable, right?

 

*I highly recommend spending a few years in Prague. Those customer service people HATE EVERYONE. Germans seems positively cheerful in comparison.

Thanksgiving the Fifth

I know they say that time flies when you’re having fun, but I still was surprised at how quickly the fifth Thanksgiving BV and I have hosted here came along. This year has, in general, blown by, but it seems like only yesterday I was discovering the joys of the Metro and learning how important it is to order a turkey from the local butcher early… ah, to be young and naive about turkey availability again!

I was also once naive about how weirdly enjoyable this part is.

I was also once naive about how weirdly enjoyable this part is.

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A rare sighting of BV in his natural habitat.

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Bondage Bird, aka Hank.

We also continued our unintentional tradition of having a bird much bigger than what we asked for. Hank weighed in at 7.3kg, and we requested something more in the 5-6kg range. *Sigh* But BV happily packaged up turkey to freeze and throw on the grill in the coming year. Thanksgiving leftovers are the gift that keeps on giving.

Like the previous four years, we had a houseful of people and a really lovely evening. At the risk of sounding like a complete cheeseball, it is so wonderful to have people coming in, exclaiming about how excited they are, and how they’ve come to look forward to this day every year. Not to mention the fact that someone is always willing to come out early and help, bring a delicious side dish, dessert, or even a chair or two.

At times it can seem like such a struggle to find the kinds of people you want to surround yourself with, whether you are in your home country or not. And cheesiness be damned, it is really wonderful to realize that it took some time, but you have got some really damn good people here. Warm fuzzies for everyone!

Those damn good people are also great about doing things like taking pictures of the finished product, thank goodness. Usually at this point in the cooking process my brain is figuring out my next six steps and have completely lost track of my phone so it’s nice to have witnesses who are actually on top of the documentation aspect. Big thanks to N. and S. for the next two photos….

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I am straight up impressed with how clean the kitchen looks here, considering this was taken very shortly before we planned to eat. It did not stay this orderly for long though.

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Feast mode!

Ditto for the table. We started strong but ended up having to put in an extra seat for another couple who arrived a bit later. But everyone fit comfortably this year, and there was plenty for all. Plus leftovers, of course. Now if only the magical dish gnomes had shown up to deal with the aftermath for us!

 

Previous Thanksgivings here in the Dorf

One * Two * Three * Four

 

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Five.

A minor side effect of being busier than I’ve been in recent memory was that my 5-year anniversary of being in Germany came and went on June 20th without my realizing it for more than a week. Whoops.

I just went back and read my last anniversary post from the 3-year mark and it bummed me out a bit. I know I took that disastrous interview pretty hard, and was feeling exceptionally shitty about not only my lacking German skills but also the lacking work. While I don’t feel particularly fantastic about my German these days, I know it’s much better than it was two years ago. And while I still don’t see myself teaching English forever, right now I’m busy enough and have enough positive and enthusiastic students that it has made life A LOT more pleasant on that front.

So all in all, I don’t feel too bad that we didn’t mark the occasion in a more festive manner. It was a Monday and I had four classes, ran around town, and then came home to make these absolutely amazing shrimp tacos. We had a nice bottle of wine, watched The Wine Show, and relaxed. And thanks to the aforementioned shrimp tacos and a few other recent recipes, I can say that I have just about converted BV into a cilantro person. If I accomplished nothing else in five years here, at least I did that.

cornflower

No pictures from the anniversary, but I have taken a LOT of cornflower pictures this summer. Love cornflower blue.

3-year anniversary

1-year anniversary

Lest I Forget: 7 Years Down

After being abroad for so long, I tend to lose track of just how long it has really been. Luckily for me, Facebook is all over that. In mid-December, I started to get a bunch of notifications that reminded me of my 7-year friendship with assorted people in my TEFL course. In addition to the solid giggles I got at some of the pictures, it reminded me of just how exhilarating and chaotic those first few weeks were. To pack a suitcase with really no idea of just how long you are really packing for is a pretty wild sensation to say the least, and sometimes I’m still not sure exactly how I did that. But I did, and (mostly) luckily, there is photographic evidence.

To celebrate the occasion, here are a few of my favorite moments through the years. Hopefully these are all never-before-seen (at least, on this blog), so I hope you enjoy!

2009 was the year all this nonsense kicked off, so it gets two pictures. The first was on the first full day in Prague, when I met the first few people from my TEFL course and we set off to explore the snowy city. It is still one of my favorite days ever.

Petrin Hill was cooooold that day.

Petrin Hill was cooooold that day. Jazz hands for warmth!

That year I also had the summer of brothers, where I learned what it would’ve been like to have an older/younger brother. Sorry, Holly, but it was pretty fun. They even accompanied me on a madcap trip to Berlin to pick up my first Czech residence permit when it finally came in. Not that Berlin is a hard sell, but it was in stark contrast to my first solo, anxiety-ridden trip to the city when I had applied for the permit.

Karl (as pictured above) and I wander Berlin.

Karl (as pictured above) and I wander Berlin. Photo courtesy Garth.

2010 was a busy year, and I was fortunate enough to visit a lot of great places. But looking back now, this picture captured a major highlight. In Prague, there is never a shortage of things to do, and occasionally on quiet weekends here I do miss that. This particular evening we gathered to celebrate a small concert and party given  for and by our friend Kyle. This was thenceforth known as the “prom picture.” Easy to see why.

prom pic

What? Your prom wasn’t in a cave? Clearly it wasn’t in Prague then.

The people in these first pictures are now scattered from the States, to Australia, to China, and of course here in Europe. Hopefully one day we may find ourselves in the same places again for a minute or two.

2011 brought a move, but before that, it brought my family. The biggest highlight of the year had to be showing them around the place I had been living, and then giving them a taste of where I was going next on our Czech-German-Austrian circle tour. I think the beer gardens with a view may have helped them to finally get this whole ‘thing’ that I was doing.

There are few bad views in Prague.

There are few bad views in Prague.

2012 was possibly my best year so far where travel is concerned. I went all over Germany, I was in the States, London, Hungary, Greece, Austria, and ended the year in Italy. Not bad, right? Plus, BV and I got together, which has clearly worked out pretty well for both of us. But sorry honey, one of my favorite parts of the year had to be when I finally, finally got Courtney to come over here. Yeah, I had to get her on House Hunters International to do it, but those few days were a total trip. We had a ridiculous amount of fun, and didn’t look too absurd on television, so wins all around!

Just a typical day of getting some B-roll.

Just a typical day of getting some B-roll.

2013 was another busy year with visitors here, and I got to introduce BV to the glory of real burgers in the States. All of those things were great, but one of my favorite things we did that year was our last minute trip to Brussels. It may seem small compared to other trips, but that was exactly why I wanted to move to Europe in the first place. To decide to go to Brussels for a concert on a whim. And it was fantastic.

Lurking outside just before one of the best meals ever.

Lurking outside just before one of the best meals ever.

In 2014 more friends visited! My parents visited! My sister visited!* We got a cat!  We went more places, we did more things. A highlight of the year for me had to be Salzburg though. We had the perfect mix of city visit, beer tastings, and mountain hiking for me. No matter how many times I visit, Salzburg is and always will be one of my favorite cities. It just does it for me.

♥

♥ always.

That brings us to 2015. I just did a recap of the year so regular readers know how sweet it was. My picture for last year is from an indescribably beautiful place. I had zero expectations of South Tyrol before we went, and as I said before… Just go.

sud tirol

All day, every day.

What? You thought we were going to get through a whole post about the last seven years and you weren’t going to see a mountain picture? Hahahaha. Yeah right. Plus: with this post I have neatly met my yearly quota for pictures of myself. And it’s only January 8th. Good job, self.

I don’t really have anything particularly profound to say on my anniversary this year, possibly because I haven’t had any wine yet.** But on my fifth Euro-versary I wrote a list of things I had learned in the previous five years, and on reading it again, it’s all still true. Especially point one. So I guess that’s just the best advice I can give to anyone contemplating a giant, slightly insane leap of faith. Throw some shit in a bag, and just go. It’ll all sort itself out in the end. And seriously, don’t forget your umbrella.

 

*Not trying to sound jaded here. I know how incredibly lucky I have been to have had so many people able and willing to travel here to visit. Whether they came specifically to see me, or I just got thrown into the mix as part of a larger trip, I’m profoundly grateful for each and every one of them. Not every person who moves half a world away is as fortunate as I am in this regard. Keep on coming, bitte.

**We’re mostly dry this month, so still trying to decide how to celebrate properly sans a nice bottle. If you have any ideas, please let me know.

2015 Recapped

It’s a new year, so that means it must be time to look back on all the things I did the year before. Or as I like to call it, “all the blog fodder that I never got around to posting about, and a few things that I did.” But hey, there’s always the long dark of January/February. No guarantees though. Grab yourselves a cup of something warm (or spiked) and let’s get to the recap!

January:

Some readers may remember that BV and I wanted to get away for NYE 2014, but didn’t manage it as I didn’t have my new residence permit in hand yet. In the end though, we realized we had to get out of Dodge for a minute, and decided to go snowshoeing in the mountains for a few days. We revisited Ettal, one of my favorite little nooks of Germany, and had some fairly entertaining conversations (Snowshoeversations One, and Two). I left with a new appreciation for winter sports, and what a few days of fresh air and vitamin D can do for a person in the long dark of January.

Ettal, I love you so hard.

Ettal, I love you so hard.

February:

It was a good thing that we went away in January, because I’m pretty sure I went into hibernation until about mid-March. And when I did leave the house, it looked like this…

Winter mornings before 8 o'clock should be banned.

Winter mornings before 8 o’clock should be banned.

Don’t think anyone could blame me too much for staying inside trapped under a warm Marry die Katze.

Cats > going out in that crap.

Cats > going out in that crap.

March:

Things warmed up quickly (thank goodness), and in mid-March we headed down to see our villager friends, and celebrate another friend’s birthday with an absolutely enormous bonfire. The enormous bonfire was accompanied by an enormous (aka, American-sized) bottle of Captain Morgan for the birthday girl, so I think you can all figure out how that one ended. No, actually you probably can’t, because it ended with us roasting cocktail shrimp over the giant bonfire and watching the new kittens rocket around us in the darkness.

Not pictured: crazy kittens.

Not pictured: crazy kittens.

April:

Once again we found ourselves yearning for a weekend away. After some debate, we decided a night in Munich in order to try a new burger restaurant was just the ticket for our Easter celebration. Only downside was that both the burger place, AND the magical craft beer hall were my new favorite places… and they are in Munich. So close, and yet so far… and so palace-y!

Schloss Nymphenburg

Schloss Nymphenburg

Of course there are good things here too, and I was reminded of that with an evening at Nürnberg’s own Volksfest, and some more time in the Franconian  Switzerland.

nbg volksfest

May:

The first of May is a holiday here, and I got the idea to invite a friend to go visit Schloss Linderhof with us. She was planning on leaving Germany (which happily, has not come to fruition yet), and had been frustrated by the trickiness of getting to the palace by public transportation. It is doable from here, but it’s basically playing planes, trains, and automobiles. So we cut out the first two parts, and drove down for the day. We enjoyed the colorful tour guide, the equally colorful pint-sized palace, and a slightly damp walk around the sprawling grounds. After that, we headed back into Ettal to see the Kloster, and to revisit the French Onion soup (and other goodies), at a restaurant that we had found on our January visit.

Schloss Linderhof

Schloss Linderhof in the rain.

It’s a good thing that May had a lot of holidays, because the month was absolutely action-packed with activities. A long weekend in the middle of the month fell over BV’s birthday, and we packed the car and headed for some hiking in South Tyrol. If you haven’t been there, go put some shit in a bag and go. I fell in love with the place, and not just because of the food… or the lakes… or the mountains…

Chapel over Toblach/Dobbiaco.

Chapel over Toblach/Dobbiaco.

Speaking of love, the last two weekends of May were occupied by weddings, so it was lucky that we had gotten some relaxation time in earlier in the month. Both weddings were fun, lovely, not to mention the first German ones I had attended, but two in two weekends is exhausting. Wedding planners must be off their rockers, that’s all I’m sayin’.

Both photos above are from the first wedding we went to, which took place around Nürnberg. The church was one of the coolest little village churches I’ve seen, with interesting details around every corner, and its own defensive wall surrounding it. The newest thing in there is possibly older than all of America, which is always fun. The reception took place at a teeny tiny “castle” in a random village, because every random village here has a teeny tiny “castle,” or so it seems. Wedding in the Marriott Hotel Ballroom C, it is not.* Again, minor differences.

June:

After all the excitement of May, it was back to business as usual. Juuuuust kidding. It was back to business as usual for about two weeks, after which we set off for Italy again (I know, I know), for our ‘official’ summer vacation. A few days of hiking in Cinque Terre (CT posts here, here, and here), mixed up with sight-seeing and beach-laying, and then a few more days spent around Lake Garda was absolutely magnificent. I still have so, so, so many pictures from the week that I’d love to share, but like I said before… no promises. (Bad blogger. Bad.)

Lake Garda, you are pretty.

Lake Garda, you are pretty.

July:

Our vacation fell in June this year because in July BV was really supposed to get rolling on his thesis project for his Master’s program. The ball got rolling, but it started pretty slowly so at this point, it looks like he’s going to finish a bit later than he had originally planned on. In between work and study, the only thing of note we did in July was drive up to Alzenau with his mom to visit the Bavarian Garden Show for an afternoon.

Why yes, I would like one of these giant chairs to lounge in our garden and read.

Why yes, I would like one of these giant chairs to lounge in our garden and read.

August:

August was mostly about work, and working on some other projects around the house. I finally got cracking on the chair project, and spent several hot afternoons in the yard sanding and painting.

August also brought my birthday, but due to the fact that it fell during the week and sometimes I do have to work, we stayed home for the actual day this year. I dispatched BV to my favorite Asian takeaway place in the city, where he picked up dinner for us, and we spent a quiet night at home. The following weekend we took all the trains and buses humanly possible down to Mittenwald for some hiking, and a slightly late celebration trip. I also got to catch up with one of my old roomies from Prague, who stopped for a night of camping in Nürnberg on her way back from France.

Mittenwalder Hütte, home of crazy noodles.

Mittenwalder Hütte, home of crazy noodles.

September:

Fest season kicked into high gear again with an afternoon at the Nürnberg Volksfest (now with Schanzenbräu!), and a few days in Munich. An old friend from college took a break from her Paris trip to fly in for a few days with her husband, so we took them festing and Munich-touring. Things like that make me appreciate Facebook, because it was a pretty good time. Hopefully they thought so as well!

Post-fest.

Post-fest.

I also wish the Viktualienmarkt was much, much, closer to here.

I also wish the Viktualienmarkt was much, much, closer to here.

Side note regarding the above Oktoberfest photo: now normally I try not to post photos of random people because Germans on the whole are a little nuts about privacy laws. But I only took three photos during our trip to the Wiesn this year, and I didn’t even really notice this one until several days later, and then I could not stop laughing at it. So what do we think… do those two know each other? Is he just pining for a cute girl in a Dirndl? Is she actively ignoring her date? Isn’t this picture an exacting snapshot of life in 2015 (minus the Tracht, that is)?

We almost didn’t make it to Oktoberfest though, because a few days before that, BV and I took his brother M for a (difficult and pain-inducing) last hiking trip to the Tegernseer Hütte. The hiking trip was preceded by a night of poker (and whiskey) with the Villagers… not our best-laid plan, in retrospect. That hiking trip was rough, but gorgeous, and most definitely deserves its own post. It’s good to have goals, right?

En route to the Tegernseer Hütte.

En route to the Tegernseer Hütte in the mist and gathering dark.

October:

I’m pretty sure I went back into hibernation after a few months of way too much excitement. Beyond that, we did drive up north to spend a night with BV’s grandma, as we had missed her birthday party when we were both sick. Too much excitement, like I said. We also checked out the first exhibition of photos from Instagram in Nürnberg, which was pretty cool to see.

nbg instagram

November:

At the end of October, BV declared that he needed a few days away, and since he had to use the last of his holiday days, we headed down to Reit im Winkl for a perfect last (really this time) hike of the year.

After that, November was back to work, a little more work, and trying to plan our Thanksgiving that was so impossible to schedule this year, I started to wonder if people got food poisoning the year before and just didn’t want to tell me. Mostly joking there, but due to a bunch of inconvenient factors, we ended up hosting the fourth annual Thanksgiving dinner in…

December:

Since my last post was a December thus far post (and includes said turkey), feel free to just hop over to that one

As for the rest of the month, we got our things together for Christmas with one last pleasant day in sunny Nürnberg, which also included some Feuerzangenbowle (of course), and seeing Star Wars with friends.

Then it was on to the official Christmas celebrations, which kicked off here with BV’s parents on the 24th. On the 25th, we headed to his dad’s for a duck dinner with his little brother M, as well. As per usual, it was way too much food, but what’s Christmas without entirely overdoing it? No fun, that’s what.

Another positive note: I have proof this year that I do in fact have the capacity to learn, because on New Year’s Day the last two years, I have had to make an emergency run to the Shell station, which wasn’t even open by the time I got there last year. This year, BV and I stocked up for a few days at home in advance, and even remembered an industrial-sized bottle of Coke Light, and chips. We weren’t even planning on going for Greek this year, but better safe than sorry. First we wanted to go away for NYE, but nothing super appealing was still available, there’s not much snow in the mountains so snowshoeing was out, and then we just got tired of talking about it, haha. We had a few invitations but in the end, pajama pants and staying home won out.

So last night here we were, and we had a lovely evening with movies, games, a nice chat with my parents on FaceTime, and an absolutely enormous Raclette feast. We didn’t even get to the dessert course, so you know if we opted out of chocolate, it was a lot of food.

Overall though, it was the perfect way to end the year… and not just because I was wearing pants with an elastic waist. It was relaxed, it was fun, and that’s what we’ve been trying to shoot for over here. Less stress, less worry, (less wearing of pants), and maybe even a little productivity. Sometimes.

To wrap it up, I’d just like to share one last picture, and that’s my top nine pictures of the year from Instagram. I think it’s a pretty good representation of the year, especially reading back over this post. 🙂

2015bestnine

Thanks again to all of you for reading, and I hope you all had a safe, fun, and festive slide into the New Year. Happy 2016!

 

P.S. – Like last year, I’ll throw in a shameless plug for my sister Holly’s blog, which you can find here. More readers may mean more posts, or at the very least, more pictures of crazy shit in Korea.** Go visit her!

*Not that there’s anything wrong with having a wedding in a hotel ballroom. Whatever trips your trigger… not trying to offend anyone here.

**Crazy shit in Korea = pretty much everything in Korea, it seems.

Nemo Killed Halloween

Alright, this is perhaps going to be a controversial opinion, and it may make me a pariah among American expats but I have to get this off my chest…

“Hi, my name is Heather and I give exactly zero fucks about missing Halloween.”

There. I said it.

Honestly, I’ve never been all that crazy about Halloween. When I was a kid of course I enjoyed trick-or-treating and feasting on all that candy, but that was about it. In college, I reluctantly dressed up and went to parties but I was never really that into it. If it wasn’t a costume I could fashion out of stuff I already had, it wasn’t happening. I was endlessly impressed by some friends and their commitment levels to crazily elaborate costumes (for ex: recreating the entire cast of Anchorman, which was fantastic), but digging through the local Goodwill was never my thing.

Nor was I into buying one of those pre-made costumes that come in a bag and usually (if you’re a lady), should include the word “slutty” right in the description. I think this aversion to cheaply-made costumes comes from my parents, who were always very adamant that we didn’t need them. That meant being slightly jealous of my friends who had shiny new costumes every year, while I wore my two costumes from dance classes until I was far too big for them, or something that came out of our “dress-up” box.

The last time I wore a costume was to work back in 2007. The museum I worked at was having an event  for the holiday so I dressed as Tonks from the Harry Potter series mostly because the only thing I had to buy was the spray-on hair color.

tonks costume1Yes, my costume consisted of: my winter coat (very practical, as I had to be outside a lot for the event),  one of my sister’s emo kid hoodies, a cat toy stick as a wand, a stuffed owl, and purple spray that 1) barely colored my hair and 2) made it impossible to brush. Fun!

The weekend after this photo was taken, some friends of mine were coming to Milwaukee to go out for a few nights. I remember that we briefly discussed if we should dress up in costumes, but I figured, “hey, we aren’t in college anymore, who’s going to be dressed up in Halloween costumes in downtown Milwaukee?”

The answer? Everyone. We were literally the only four people not in costume and it was on that night that Halloween officially died for me.

We were out in a bar that was stuffed to bursting, including an entire horde of guys dressed as Roman soldiers. You couldn’t order a drink without being whacked by a shield, or having your foot stepped on by some chick in stripper heels, but that wasn’t the worst of them… that honor went to Slutty Nemo.

Yes, Slutty Nemo. How can Nemo be slutty, you might ask?

Answer: black tank top, black underwear, black fishnet tights, black heels, and a stuffed Nemo hat.

That was the last straw, as far as I was concerned.

Now that I live here, I quite enjoy not having to bother with Halloween. Of course, every year there is a round of parties, events, blah blah blah, to cater to the expat community, but I have zero interest in anything that involves a costume or a cover charge. The last two years, BV and I have bought one bag of candy for any possible trick-or-treaters, but there were none to be seen and we then feasted on tiny Snickers bars.

Call me a party pooper if you will, but judging from my FB newsfeed, Halloween is basically a month-long event now in the States. That is absurdly long. Most of my friends have kids now, and most of those kids seem to have been in costume 95% of the month. There are school parties, family events, and trick-or-treating on multiple days in multiple neighborhoods. This is especially perplexing as it seems that most of those kids don’t even get to eat all that candy. So what is the point?? And if they aren’t in a costume, then they’re in festive orange pumpkin sweatshirts to sit in the pumpkin patch for FB photoshoots. (Because if it doesn’t go on FB, what’s the point?)

And while some expats here are bemoaning the fact that the Germans haven’t wholeheartedly adopted the festivity of the season, I’m enjoying their steadfast refusal to care about Halloween. Besides, Carnival starts next month, so they’ll have their chance to put their costumes on then. So there.

I enjoy fall, I do. I like the colors, I like eating squash in various forms, I like getting out my scarves and boots, but Halloween? Meh.

So… anyone else not care about Halloween? Or do you want to pelt me with fun-sized candies? Leave it in the comments…