Nowadays, there are many cheap and easy ways to keep in touch with friends and family at home when you are an expat in Germany. When I first moved here in 1992, I was only really able to call my parents from a pay phone outside my dorm, and I could talk for about 5 minutes for 5 DM (€2.50 or so nowadays). There were fancy phone cards that you could buy from the Post Office so you could use the fancy pay phones that didn’t take coins, but that was it. No bargains to be had. And you are almost hard pressed to find a phone booth around here due to the fact that even the majority of 7-year-olds have mobile phones!
Nowadays, I can use Skype (free), call from my home phone (flatrate of €3.95 through Telekom, called Country Select), or call from my mobile with prepaid (€0.09/minute), and chatting on Facebook or Google Chat (both free, and both also work on my phone). It certainly makes things easy, and I do appreciate it, because with lots of kids in the house, I need to talk to my mom a lot for a number of reasons, including general moral support, advice on cooking recipes that she used to make, advice on unruly/rude teenagers, sympathy with the many illnesses this family seems to be getting and of course, bragging about the kids and letting them talk to her (and the rest of the family).
And then there is e-mail. I don’t actually e-mail my parents that often, because my mom most certainly does not check hers every day, and if calls are almost free, I usually choose that method. I e-mail my sister because she has a Blackberry and sees the mail right away, which means I don’t have to pay to text her. She doesn’t have an international plan or a landline, so I usually call her. This isn’t free, because Telekom at some point figured out that they could charge more to call US mobiles, but there are lots of nifty predials to cut down costs. I usually pay about €0.02 minute to call her on her mobile with a predial (01067). If you Google “billiger telefonieren” you will find any number of predials and their prices. But if you have cable internet and telephone this might not work. They used to block the predial numbers.
E-mail is a great way to keep in touch, and it is also a great way to ensure that your kids can write some form of English, even if it is really bad phonetic English, despite the fact that they are going to German schools. I still have some of Emma’s first e-mails to my mom about “eis-skayding”. They will also give everyone a good laugh later when the kids finally do learn to write somewhat proper English. I also use e-mail to quickly post pictures of the kids to those who are not on Facebook. That being said, both of my parents are on Facebook now, due to the fact that they figured out the pictures and videos went there first, and also because we set up a fan page for Livi’s really funny version of English/German, called “Your Daily Livi Deutsch”. I also sometimes write my own blog to keep them updated, which is what a lot of my friends do that have kids and whose parents are far away.
So what is the “best” way to keep in touch? It depends…as you can see, on what you like and what you want to achieve. We actually use Skype and Facebook the most, but we sometimes get frustrated with Skype and use it for video while using the actual phone for voice. Even our 18-month-old prefers Skype to the regular phone, because he can actually see Oma. And last Christmas, I asked Olivia if she wanted to write Santa a letter. “No,” she said, “let’s call him on Skype!”.