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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Sunday Snapshots: Drying Out in Dresden

Dresden, 2016

Not dry, weather-wise, mind you. But after all those fest-related posts, it’s time for a change. Today’s picture comes from last year’s trip to Chemnitz/Dresden for our anniversary. We stayed in Chemnitz for a few nights, and took the train into Dresden for a day. One day was definitely not enough, and we pretty much just spent the day wandering around the city ogling all the grand architecture, as you can see in the above photo from the Zwinger palace.

The most German part of this picture to me, however, isn’t the palace. It’s the background. Check out all those cranes. Seems that no matter where you go in this country, what city or village you are in, the cranes are everywhere. Building, building, building.

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.

31-Day Challenge: Day 3

I was sitting in my hairdresser’s chair today, enjoying my cup of cappuccino, when I heard her make a familiar phone call. I very often make an appointment for the late morning, or early afternoon, which means that she normally times her lunch to coincide with the thirty minutes or so that it takes for my hair color to process.

No, she doesn’t use an app to order a burger or pizza, she doesn’t even use the newly-popular Foodora to order from various restaurants around town, instead she calls a little place up the street and asks for the daily specials. Then usually right around the time she’s finishing with the foils (or the cut, in today’s case), a waiter from the restaurant comes through the door laden with a dish or two containing her order.

What’s so unusual about this, you may think? To an American who is shocked that people are allowed to drink with glass bottles in public without adult supervision around here, so much.

When I say a dish is delivered, I mean an actual dish. A restaurant plate, sometimes even with a snazzy domed lid, is delivered to her salon. The waiter also collects the plates from the day before, before wishing us both a good afternoon and skipping back up the street. It’s so goddamned civilized I can’t stand it.

Okay, so she has a preexisting relationship with this restaurant, right? They’re both local businesses, she’s a loyal customer, so she gets special treatment. Perhaps. But it’s not the first time I’ve seen such a thing.

Cut to a few years ago, at the fantastically amazing Arezzo antique market. We were wandering through stalls of treasures around lunchtime, when we noticed a curious sight. The vendors at one stand appeared to be getting ready for lunch, but instead of them unpacking wrapped sandwiches, or even pulling paper-wrapped burgers from fast food bags, there was a waiter coming over from a nearby restaurant. But he wasn’t just delivering food. He was delivering plates, cutlery, wine glasses, a tablecloth, napkins (cloth as well, of course)… you get the idea. And in a few minutes, there was a full table setting from the restaurant on this little card table in the midst of the market. Because why take a lunch break when you have treasures to sell?

These things just amaze me, even after all these years. Coming from a place when damn near everything is now served in plastic, where people can’t be trusted with real knives on an airplane or at a picnic table, the fact that people here can act like adults is just so. Nice.

It’s also worth noting that this same principle applies even in motion. Now that fest season here is coming up, I expect to see the usual groups of people in Tracht riding the trains on their way to whatever festival is happening that day. Very often these groups also take the train ride as their opportunity to do some pre-gaming, and once again, they often do it responsibly. Even teenagers can be seen quaffing from wine glasses and sparkling wine flutes in the train. When their stop arrives, the glasses are packed back up into backpacks and handbags, and off they go to their next adventure. Cases of beer are carried on and off trains, stashed in lockers and retrieved (I assume they remember) for the trip home. I’m not saying I never see garbage in the trains, but I ride A LOT of trains, and their cleanliness, and the personal responsibility taken by the passengers never ceases to amaze me.

When Germans laugh that I find this so impressive, I always like to trot out this little anecdote.

Being from Wisconsin, one of the things that I miss the most about the summers is Milwaukee’s Summerfest. It’s a huge festival, sprawling along the lakefront for about two weeks every summer. There are about ten stages and hundreds of acts to see, for only the price of admission. On a warm summer night, there’s nothing better than heading downtown for a show of a one-hit wonder, some festival food, and, (it being Milwaukee), a couple of beers. Those beers are served in plastic cups, and Wisconsinites are world class beer drinkers. That, plus a combination of sheer laziness, hard-to-locate garbage cans, not wanting to lose your seat/standing place, not wanting to lose your friends in the crowd, and American entitlement means that where do those cups go? Wherever you drop them.

USA! USA! USA!

After the last chord sounds, when the police start herding the crowd towards the parking lot, one sound fills the air over the laughter, chatter, and occasional “wooooooo!”

*crunch crunch crunch*

The sounds of thousands upon thousands of feet walking over a carpet of plastic.

Since pulling out my phone to take a picture of the faces of my German students when I finished the story would be weird, here’s a fairly accurate approximation of the usual reaction.

You win this one Germany. And don’t worry about the Americans coming for you, they’re only armed with plastic knives.*

 

*Also, guns. Lots and lots of guns.

Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.

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Sunday Snapshots: Eis Strolls

Franconia, 2014

Nothing says “summer is on its way,” more than walking up into our little town’s center to buy two scoops at our gelato shop, then strolling through this gate and around the castle gardens. It’s a bit under construction at the moment, but rumor has it that the castle will be reopening after a multi-year renovation project sometime soon!

Sunday Snapshots: Out and In

Cologne, 2017

March is a bit thin on the ground when it comes to travel pictures, so instead of delving into the archive today, these photos are from last weekend.

An old friend of mine from college was traveling through France and Belgium with her mom, and she was lovely enough to work a day in Cologne into their short trip. BV and I doubled down for the trip, and stopped by his grandma’s for a visit before heading to Cologne on Saturday night.

The only other time I had been in Cologne, it absolutely poured rain. That theme continued on this trip, with a *slightly stressful* drive into the city in the midst of a spring storm. We arrived much later than planned, ran out into the deluge to try to find a restaurant that would still serve us dinner, and were rewarded by both a silent city and an epic view of the Kölner Dom* lit up at night.

Thankfully by the next morning the rain had passed and we had blue skies for the majority of the day with my old friend. We took advantage of the weather to explore more of the old city center, the lovely walk along the Rhine, and a short dip into the cathedral itself. Sunday is not the best day to visit if you want to see the entirety of the church, but at least we got in the door. Besides, if they’re traveling through France, they’ll be cathedral-ed out in a day or two anyway, right?

*Cologne Cathedral

A Few Thoughts Around the Playground

I’m currently between some classes and have had much more free time for long, meandering walks around the village. On most of my walks, I end up going past the playground of the elementary school in the neighboring village. I have a major love for most of the German playgrounds I’ve seen, and this one is no exception.

I grew  up going to a school that had a pretty epic playground. It was mostly built out of wood and old tires, and thus is one of the many playground that has now been deemed a complete deathtrap. Most of the places I see now in my friends’ Facebook feeds are 100% plastic, or whatever other artificial material is now deemed a ‘must-have,’ lest the Kinder injure themselves on anything natural. Splinters, run away!

The playground that I walk past laughs at such notions. Behold, one small corner….

So many rough edges!

So many rough edges!

In addition to being covered in trees, brush, stones, steps, and all manner of tripping hazards, there is at least one small pond with a railing-free bridge, and one of these bad boys…

Yep, an insect hotel. Can’t imagine too many public schools in the U.S. with open water on campus, or ones that encourage bugs to shack up.

But up until last week, these were just idle thoughts. Then I saw other things.

Thing Number One: a mom (who I had seen earlier on my walk, pushing her stroller with two twin girls all dressed in pink), holding her girls balanced on the ledge of the tower in the above picture. They weren’t infants, but they were certainly big enough to squirm the wrong way and fall out of the tower easily. Why were they up there, you might ask? Well the train was coming through, and they wanted to wave, of course! I thought it was cute, but since parents in the States can’t let their kids play in their own backyards unattended, it looked like something that CPS might get a call about if we were in a different country.

Thing Number Two: next to the elementary school there is a smaller building that houses a Kita, or nursery school. They also have a sweet little playground full of wooden toys, and yes, more water. There’s also a nice terrace and last summer I often saw the kids playing or snacking outside. Last week we had a few relatively nice days (nice for February, that is), and on one of them, I came around the corner and saw something funny out on the terrace. At first I thought it was just a big basket, but then I got closer. Not just one basket, but three, and two large pillows next to them. They were full of blankets, and yep…. sleeping kids. Five kids, napping away in what appeared to be dog beds out on the terrace.

For the record, I’m on board with this. It was a warmish day, the kids were piled up with coziness, and let’s be honest… who hasn’t looked at their dog or cat curled up in their bed and thought, ‘damn, that looks cozy!?’ But the part of me that has read far too many STFU Parents columns immediately thought… a Sanctimommy would lose. her. shit. if her Child (capital C) had to sleep in a bed for a DOG. If the kid climbed into the dog’s bed in the house? Oh so funny! Put a whole album of it on Facebook immediately! But if the school that she PAYS forces her Child to sleep in a Dog Bed! Aw, hell no.

I have no idea if this is standard practice at the average Kita, but I do love how much time the kids around here seem to spend outside. They run, they play, they get dirty. Heck, some friends even sent their kids to a so-called ‘Forest Kindergarten,’ where they spend the entire day outside, rain or shine. They did have a small shelter in the woods, but according to VillageGal, she only saw it in use once, when there was a freezing rain thunderstorm. It all just seems so much healthier, and less sterilized than so much of what school in the U.S. seems to have become.*

 

Editor’s Note: shortly after I published this post, I saw this article pop up in my New York Times feed. It is completely relevant to what I wrote here. Enjoy.

 

*Disclaimer: I am not a parent, I do not want to pass judgement on how people choose to raise their kids, these are just some observations I have had recently.

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Sunday Snapshots: Changing Days

23streitberg

Burgruine Neideck*, Upper Franconia 2012

Every fall, pictures of pumpkin patches and apple orchards flood the internet along with countless Instagrams of pumpkin-spiced beverages. But for me, one of the best things about the fall is the constantly changing light.

On this day, we hiked from one castle ruin to another, and flipping through the album I couldn’t believe that we had encountered so many seasons in just one day, and one valley at that. When we started in the morning there was snow on top of the hills, but the stones were sun-warmed by the late afternoon. Just shows that even when the days are short, there is no end to the variety.

*Look familiar?

Sunday Snapshots: Perfection

Berchtesgaden, 2012

Berchtesgaden, 2012

Every time I see this picture I question why I am still not living in it. Then I remember that whenever we see real estate ads when we are in the mountains I almost pass out from sticker shock. If my family came (at one point in time, many, many years ago) from the area around Garmisch-Partenkirchen, shouldn’t I just be able to go there and lay claim to some land or something?