A Hockey Wife in German-Speaking Europe

Most would imagine that being the partner of a professional athlete would be quite glamorous. Some imagine it as a life full of designer handbags, contract bonuses, nannies, and lots and lots of leisure time. But as the fiancée of a professional hockey player here in Europe, I have to tell you, my life looks quite different.

People back in Canada often ask me, “Wow, how did you end up in Germany? Was Brandon not quite good enough for the NHL?” The reality is, he was in the NHL, and their farm league, the AHL. But like so many players in the same position, being sent up and down between leagues, never knowing where you will live next week, or what your paycheck will look like at the end of the month, they are now figuring out that European hockey leagues have a lot to offer. The German Elite League, or the DEL, offers eleven spots per team for import players. Along with tax-free income, players from outside of the country are provided with free furnished housing and a free new vehicle. Even better though, players are offered stability. Player trades and buy-outs are rare in the DEL, and so players with wives and kids can feel secure that when they set up shop, they will likely be there for at least a full season. With eleven imports per team, those new to Germany, or even Europe in general, have such great resources to aid in the transition into this very different culture.

My culture shock, coming from Winnipeg, a Canadian city of 700,000 and one major highway, lasted a good two months. While initially, giving up my career was the most difficult part of the move, soon, living somewhere I couldn’t easily talk to and meet people became the most frustrating thing. In Canada I was just starting a promising new career in public relations and corporate event planning when I met my fiance. My world revolved around talking to people. Trying to decipher what meat was what, what a blinking yellow light at an intersection meant, and of course what garbage goes where, was beyond difficult having no one on hand to ask. Thankfully, the small bubble of North American, veteran “hockey-wives” whom I lived amongst were able to point me in the direction of the chicken, and let me know that paper garbage goes out on the curb on Sundays.

Now, over three years later, just when I thought I had the language, the culture, even the people somewhat figured out, my fiance and I are back to being the new, clueless imports once again. I imagined that since Switzerland is a German speaking country, our move to Rapperswil, in the Lake Zurich region, wouldn’t be as much of a shock this time around. I was wrong. But while the language is most certainly different from that spoken in Germany, and the people even more so, I do feel now that I have the tools of adaptation. I have the courage to ask, in whatever broken terms I can manage, “Is this beef or horse?” I also have the open mind needed to become friends with people outside of the hockey world bubble, and that has proven essential.

Being a “hockey wife” in Europe certainly has its challenges, but funny enough, I now feel more culture shock when I return home to Canada in the off-seasons.

Jessica (GW guest blogger)