A few years ago our co-blogger Geoff wrote about two types of expats: integrated and non-integrated. Those who adapt and blend in, and those who don’t. And for the point he was trying to make that was quite adequate. But in the meantime I have discovered a much wider scope of types or subspecies under the species we shall call Expaticus germanicus, aka the expat in Germany.
Of course there are as many kinds of expats in German-speaking Europe as there are expats. Every expat situation is unique. However, that won’t stop me from identifying various types of English-speaking expats in Germany by various characteristics. But before I begin, I want to quote one of my favorite German authors, the Berlin-born satirist Kurt Tucholsky (1890-1935):
“Neben den Menschen gibt es noch Sachsen und Amerikaner, aber die haben wir noch nicht gehabt und bekommen Zoologie erst in der nächsten Klasse.” (“Besides human beings, there are Saxons and Americans, but we haven’t had them yet. We won’t cover zoology until the next grade level.”) – from “Der Mensch” (1931)
Tucholsky wrote “Der Mensch” as a schoolboy’s essay that begins: “Der Mensch hat zwei Beine und zwei Überzeugungen: eine, wenns ihm gut geht, und eine, wenns ihm schlecht geht. Die letztere heißt Religion.” (“Man has two legs and two convictions: one when things are going well, and one when things are going badly. The latter is called religion.”) For some reason this short essay by Tucholsky popped into my head when I began to try to classify expats. Unfortunately, I’m not as good a writer as Tucholsky, but I’ll do my best.
See if you recognize yourself or some other expats in our Expat Species Catalog:
Expaticus germanicus temporarius
This expat species knows that its assignment is temporary, maybe one or two years tops. Knowing that puts one’s expat life in a completely different light from that of Expaticus germanicus sempiternus (the “lifer”), a different species we shall discuss below. The temporary expat type falls into two very different main subspecies: Expaticus germanicus temporarius dijunctus (disconnected, non-involved) and Expaticus germanicus temporarius enthusiasticus (enthusiastic, involved). Dijunctus says: “I’m just passing through and I really don’t need to bother with all that adapting stuff.” This subspecies rarely, if ever, utters more than a few basic German phrases, and only watches German TV if there is absolutely no alternative (BBC, CNN, DVDs, etc.). This type will return home without even being able to order wine or a beer in German. I know a lady who spent two years in France as a trailing spouse. She came back to the US barely able to order a croissant in French! Her interaction with the French was almost zero. On the other hand, Expaticus germanicus temporarius enthusiasticus cheerfully participates in almost any aspect of German culture and language, diving in and trying to get the most out of its stay in Germany. Enthusiasticus has even been known to watch “Deutschland sucht den Superstar” and “Wetten, dass…?” This expat type truly gets into the German version of joie de vivre, realizing that life is short and that even a temporary expat assignment can offer life-changing opportunities.
Expaticus germanicus sempiternus
The permanent-expat species, also known as a “lifer,” is usually married to a German, with or without children, and plans to live and work in Germany pretty much forever. The sempiternus species is a true expatriate, stress on the “ex.” It sometimes returns to the States, the UK or other ex-homeland for family visits, but “home” is now pretty much Deutschland forever. By nature, the sempiternus puts down deep roots, speaks the language, and is fully integrated into German social norms. That is not to say it does not sometimes feel as if it will never fully understand certain German ways of doing things, but unlike Expaticus germanicus querulus (the complaining expat; see below), sempiternus just accepts Germans as they are, generally without rolling its eyes. When asked where home is, sempiternus replies: “Deutschland.”
Expaticus germanicus enthusiasticus
Not to be confused with Expaticus germanicus temporarius enthusiasticus above, this species is usually an American male who has moved to Germany because the Germans can do no wrong, and Germany is the promised land! Expaticus germanicus enthusiasticus has found the USA lacking, and now wants to buy a residence in some German city and live happily ever after – and be more German than the Germans. Sometimes this actually works out, but not always. Enthusiasticus usually has some German heritage, but also has some blind spots that can get it into trouble.
Expaticus germanicus querulus
Most other expat species avoid this subspecies like the plague. This type of expat is the exact opposite of Expaticus germanicus enthusiasticus, virtually unable to see anything positive about Germany or the Germans. Spending time with a querulus can plunge even a cockeyed optimist into depression in minutes. This moaner-and-groaner expat variety makes people wonder why it’s still in Germany – and wishing it weren’t. Other expat species may also have querulus tendencies, but rarely to the bitching and complaining degree of a purebred querulus.
Expaticus germanicus professionalis vagabundus
Also referred to as the “nomad” or “wandering” professional expat, this species generally works for some international, global firm that stations a few key employees all over the globe. Professionalis vagabundus happens to be in Germany now, following assignments in Singapore, London and Dubai. The next expat assignment is coming up in a couple of years, but who knows where. The company’s official language is English, so professionalis vagabundus has minimal German skills, but maximum business skills. Some members of this species do attempt to integrate into the culture, but with varying degrees of success. Because of its elite statutus and higher income, few other expat species cross paths with professionalis vagabundus. Sightings are extremely rare.
Expaticus germanicus vagabundus
Similar in some ways to the business nomad above, this species can be anything from an aging hippie to an eternal student, or anyone who wanders the globe in search of… something. Depending on how long it stays in one place, Expaticus germanicus vagabundus can be surprisingly good at learning the language and culture, but when it tires of a place, it moves on to another.
I realize our catalog is not yet complete, but that is all the time we have for today. If you have suggestions for expat species we may have left out, please let me know. Until next time…