Jessica L. Scott-Reid is a freelance writer from Canada. She has lived in Germany and Switzerland from 2007-2013, with her husband who is a professional ice hockey player. Over that time, Jessica completed a master of arts degree in cultural studies, and has become a popular lifestyle and culture writer and blogger.
So goes the life of an expat hockey-wife, I am once again preparing to move to a new land. This move is one like no other as it is taking my husband and me to the most foreign place we will have ever lived: Russia.
After six years in Germany and Switzerland, I really feel like I am leaving a home. Though I have lived in three different cities over that time, the constant German-speaking bubble that I have traveled within has provided me with a level of comfort, continuity, and confidence that I grew very fond of. Now I am again starting at square one. I will once again be the new kid on the block, the one who will need help with everything, who will be nervous and unsure, and at times frustrated and embarrassed. I will once again feel that gut-deep feeling of homesickness, but this time it will be for two homes; one I know I will be returning to as I have each summer, and another, my German-speaking bubble, which I may never return to again.
Admittedly, after six years I felt pretty savvy with the whole expat thing. I had lived in two major German cities (Dusseldorf, Hamburg), spent two years living near Zurich, Switzerland, and had travelled to ten other European countries. I even felt comfortable go at it alone, having hiked nearly twenty Swiss Alpine peaks, solo. I offered newbies advice on how to adapt and stay safe, and had loads of tips and tricks for them, requested or not. I even wrote about expat life here on this blog. Oh yeah, I was a real pro.
And then, it happened. I was ultimately humbled in the most direct, even cliché-like, manner. Like some common tourist, I was pickpocketed on the Reeperbahn in Hamburg.
First off, I should probably give myself a break, “weird” may be a bit harsh. What I mean to say is that over these six years living in Germany and Switzerland, with intermittent summer visits home to Canada, I have realized that my social skills have become a little altered, that I have become a bit quieter, which is not the norm for me. As someone who had the adjective “bubbly” appear on (I’m not even kidding) each and every school report card growing up, it’s odd to have become this lone observer, rather than the joiner. Through reflection I have concluded that my evolution into this type of person is as a result of my time living overseas, that being an expat has in fact, made me a bit weird.
It’s fairly common to feel like an alien at times, while living in a foreign country. But now, when I come home to Canada for my regular summer visits, I often feel like a bit of an alien here too. In recent conversations with family and friends at home, I am finding that my opinions and perspectives about both everyday and fundamental issues are differing from theirs, sometimes to the extreme. This has made me stop to consider how my expat life has changed my views on certain issues, and how it may be affecting my various relationships. Being “worldly” and “cultured” are often touted as beneficial, but how does one learn to incorporate such qualities into relationships with those who have lived their entire lives in the land you left?
It seems that I have blogged quite a bit about dogs, here at The German Way Expat Blog (There’s a Dog in the Pub and Moving with Max). The reason for this is because my evolution as an expat in German-speaking Europe has coincided with my evolution as a dog owner. This is no surprise of course, seeing as how Germany is about as dog friendly a country as you will ever find. But as I have learned, due to very comprehensive federal policies, and thus high cultural standards regarding pets, being a pet owner in German-speaking Europe comes with more responsibility than many North American (or other) expats may be used to. As with all other rules, regulations, and cultural norms, it’s important to make yourself aware of the “German way” (or Swiss or Austrian), if you plan to partake in the world of expat pet ownership.
I pissed off a German today. Such an occurrence is not uncommon. Whether it’s my barking dog, my driving skills, or how I maintain my yard, it seems that on a regular basis I am being told that I’m doing something wrong. In a blog post from years ago (“There’s a dog in the pub!”), which detailed my first experience with the notoriously direct Germans, I told the story of being confronted by a neighbor for doing something he didn’t like, and ending up in tears. At that time, I had only been in Germany for a couple months, and being from Canada, a nation known as the nice guys that say sorry for everything, being confronted in such a way was not only shocking, but very upsetting.
Now, over five years later, I have since grown the thick skin and the understanding necessary for dealing with the authoritative German people, without the tears. But, though being scorned may not affect me as personally anymore, I must admit that learning to essentially tell people to (politely) “screw off”, has not been easy.
It’s hard to believe that I have been living in Europe for nearly six hockey seasons. Though, when I think back to my first year in Germany, and how much I have changed since then, it feels like it could be much longer. Of course making the nearly-spontaneous decision to move to Germany was exciting, but that first year abroad was equally as difficult as it was enjoyable.
Aside from learning how to adapt to a new culture and language, it was the change in lifestyle that really took the most adjustment. I had been employed, to some degree, since I was 12 years old. I didn’t know life without work. Just before moving with my then-new boyfriend, to this foreign place called Dusseldorf, I had taken on a great new job; the career kind. I had moved out of my best friend’s basement and got a little house all my own. I bought a brand new car, and everything seemed to be heading in the right direction for me. Little did I know then that within only a matter of months I would quit that job, rent out that house, and tarp up that car on my mom’s driveway. I wasn’t aware of the term at the time, but I was about to become what is known as the “trailing spouse”.
My first trip to Hamburg’s famous Reeperbahn was a bit of shock. I think I can more accurately call it culture shock now though, as I look back at my reaction to the “sinful mile”. Having only been in Hamburg for a few days, after spending the summer in Canada and living the previous two years in Switzerland, the large German city certainly took some getting used to. Specifically the Reeperbahn, with its boldly lit sex shops and strip clubs, mixed in with typical touristy pubs, theaters, and a cop shop; at first glance it was all both amusing, but also confusing. Amusing were the map wielding, walking-shoe adorned tourists, departing from their musical matinee, gasping at the sight of shop windows decked out with ball-gagging manikins. Confusing were the young women lining the side street across from the police station, each placed perfectly six feet from each other, dressed in hot pink and sporting fanny-packs. “Promo girls?” I asked my husband, assuming they were part of some street marketing team. “Not quite” he replied. No, they weren’t in fact selling any products, they were selling themselves. “Hookers” he explained, “sorry, prostitutes.”