When you move to a new place it takes a while before you start getting the feel of belonging, the sensation that you are on some sort of vacations or just visiting takes some time to start wearing off and in my experience with Germany, this is a job that’s done both by your efforts to establish a routine and get acquainted with the place AND the reaching of certain very German milestones that left you with the feeling they have taken you in, this is it, you made it: Germany is talking to you! Here my top 4 epiphanic moments: Continue reading
For years as a freelancer, I survived on the bare minimum of private insurance. I am now on public insurance in Germany and taking full advantage. Yearly check-up? Yes please! Eye exam? Why not? And the dentist? Sign me up.
So, clearly, it had been some time since I had any type of dentist visit. And I wasn’t sure what to expect in Germany. I had already been through the initial shock of a doctor’s visit in Germany with its mandatory greetings and brazen nudity, so how painful could a dentist visit be?
I’ll go over what I experienced going to the dentist in Germany, how to find a dentist in Germany, how much dental care costs in Germany, and helpful German vocabulary for the dentist.
In this quiet time after the madness of Fastnacht and before the indulgences of Easter, with the spring flowers popping through the dirt it is an opportune time to think about beginnings. The air will (hopefully) be warming soon and the festival calendar will begin again and whilst Germany is great on your own, it is when you are enjoying it with friends that it really comes alive.
Not speaking German was a huge hurdle to making local friends. Does anyone want to be friends with someone with a toddler like grasp of the local language? Well some people do, but they have to speak and be confident in English (or your native language) until you can catch up, and whilst these special people do exist they can be hard to find. What you need in this situation is an expat friend (maybe *gasp* more than one), believe me that friend is worth their weight in gold.
When I started this chapter of my life in Germany I had no idea –
How long it would last. Almost seven years and counting (and no-one is more surprised about that than me). A word to the wise, when your company sends you to work abroad, talk to people who have done it before. Not that I think I would have done anything massively differently but that perspective would have been very useful. Forewarned is always forearmed.
How many friends I would make. As much as I love my husband and am one of those soppy people who consider him to be a best friend, we both needed someone other than each other to talk to occasionally. Having no family or friends in Germany was quiet but doable to start with, I shared my new life with my friends back in the UK but Skype cannot replace an actual face and my lifestyle had dramatically changed, I needed a face that understood.
How much I needed expat friendship. Finding someone who understands where you are coming from (in the literal sense) is like finding a piece of home abroad. I never felt particularly British before I left the UK, I was just like everybody else. In Germany though, I’m suddenly different. I do things differently, I speak differently. I have never felt so absolutely British and foreign in my entire life.
I have been very lucky in life that I have good friends who I love and appreciate. Childhood friends, music friends, university friends, work friends and all those reprobates who fall in-between. Unfortunately none of them had ever lived abroad for more than a month and only a couple of them had been to Germany (Berlin only, naturally) so I had to find my own answers to all my various questions.
Thankfully the internet is a fantastic place filled with information, forums and people who were or had been in the same boat. Some information, forums and people were more helpful than others. There was one question though that stumped me, I searched high and low and still could not find real milk, yes I know it sounds silly and very small but finding fresh milk was important. I even started blogging about my expat life to share my experiences with other people so that my struggles and stumbles didn’t need to be repeated.
How to find a expat friend
Join a German class – *whispers* It’s where all the other foreigners are. Don’t miss out by only being friends with speakers of your native language, being forced to speak German as your shared language does wonders for your fluency and language retention.
Join a Stammtisch (regulars table) – Plenty of cities have an English, Spanish (insert your native language here) regulars table and it is a great way to connect with other foreigners (sometimes locals too) Nuremberg has a particularly well attended English Stammtisch.
Join an expat group – Your chance to find likeminded people who have also made the move away from their own home countries. Locally I always recommend Stuttgart Expat Meetups for any newcomers. Look out for all the expat species in attendance. Note – These groups sometimes come under the guise of International women’s groups but are (generally) open to everyone.
Connect online – Even before your feet land on German soil you can begin making connections and doing research, there is so much more available now even than there was five years ago. Making new expat connections has never been so simple, utilise that search engine.
Keep your ears open – A German friend mentioned another Brit who had moved into her street and she asked if I wanted an introduction, erm yes! turns out we grew up about 20 miles from each other as kids and had a heap of mutual friends. All three of us have since moved away but our group whatsapp lives one. This leads into one for the brave…
Accosting people in the supermarket – I met one of my best friends in a supermarket, I overheard her speaking to her husband on the phone and introduced myself and asked her if she’d like to get a coffee that week. This woman knew where the real milk was!
Expat friendship has its downsides, of course, naturally expats do their expat thing and move on. The old saying about friends being in your life for a reason, season or a lifetime has always resonated with me when I think about expat friendships. Without these people and their experiences I’d never have discovered the gentlest dentist, which bars give the best measures, just how to get the best deals with airlines and that being with other foreigners makes you feel a little less foreign.
Not so long ago I had the chance to spend a year surrounded by a large group of twenty-somethings coming from all corners of the world, we were scattered all over Germany and every three months we had to meet up in different cities each time for week-long seminars. The only constant topic of these reunions was “love life.”
Boys were ecstatic, especially Latin ones, because German women found them very attractive and they would get very direct and intense advances quite often without having to do anything aside from standing there being all kinds of hot. Sure this was what they said, and I am neither swearing by it, nor denying it. But hanging out with the guys meant signing up for listening to a mix tape of them gushing about this and wondering if there was something in the water here that suddenly made them appealing to women.
Girls, on the other hand, were quite frustrated because no man would even flirt-smile at them from across the train wagon or eye them up and down while walking down the street, no overly-friendly cashiers or waiters, no swarm of men trying to get their attention at bars or clubs with buying them drinks, stopping by their table to introduce themselves or inviting them to dance. And the ones that had somehow miraculously gone out on a date with a German guy were even more puzzled. Continue reading
Coming from a place with pitiful public transport (looking at you Seattle), it took me all of 10 seconds to develop eternal love for Berlin‘s comprehensive public transportation. It only took a few seconds longer for me to have strong opinions on what is and what is not acceptable when riding public transportation in Berlin.
The thing is, everyone rides public transport in Berlin. Unlike more elitist systems in places like New York City, the young, the old, the poor, the well-off, the tourists, and the locals all ride the rails around this massive city. You really don’t need car as you can usually get within a block or two of where you want to go with its elaborate system of buses, trams, U-Bahns (underground), S-Bahns (above ground rail), regional trains, and even ferries. Run by BVG (with some assistance by Deutsche Bahn), it is truly a marvel.
One of my favourite German words is Gemütlichkeit, which has been adopted by the English-speaking world since it can’t be simply translated. Roughly it pertains to the feeling of comfy cosiness when getting together with friends and family, usually with good food and drink thrown in. Think of it as the German version of the famous Scandinavian Hygge.
Besides the Christmas markets, which are of course a lovely festive month of Glühwein (mulled wine) and Wurst (sausage) the rest of the winter can feel, well, lacking in Gemütlichkeit. So I’d like to introduce you to the Besenwirtschaft (broom pub/tavern), the ultimate in winter cosiness that doesn’t involve standing outside in snow. In wine producing areas of Germany this temporary pub is an experience not to be missed. Continue reading
After you dutifully participated at -and maybe even organized, the Christmas celebrations at the office, attended several advent parties, strolled through many Christmas Markets, ate shameful amounts of Plätzchen (X-mas cookies), drank enough hot chocolate to fill your bathtub and got all festive with the fireworks at Silvester; reality hits and it is time to go back to work, the year is over, the holidays are over, the clothes that used to fit are also quite possibly over as well. Ok, we are grown-ups, we can do this. Except that it is really cold outside, the days are absurdly short and dark, it rains most of the days and depending on where you are you will also get your share of snow. Showering is a challenge, going out feels like torture and the gloomy appearance of the streets that are now dark because the shimmering decorations are being removed from all public spaces is not helping you.
What are the social alternatives during the winter in Germany now that all that short-wearing and sausage-grilling is unthinkable and the merry and Glühwein-fueled gatherings are over? I have carefully observed my peers and made a top 5 list: Continue reading
I am fresh off the holidays back in America and along with other oddities of reverse culture shock (how much water is in American toilets!?), I have a new one. Even though all of my experience as a parent is in Germany, I would assume that – as an American native – most of these parenting standards are ingrained and it doesn’t matter if I raise a child in Germany or China or Timbuktu, I would raise my child like an American. However, on this last visit it became clear that I am unfamiliar on what is considered a “normal” distance for your child to be from you in the USA.