It’s Monday, but I got to talk to the creator and author behind the popular food blog The Wednesday Chef, Luisa Weiss, last week. She’s also the author of the best-selling memoir, My Berlin Kitchen which came out late last year, and as you may have guessed, she lives in Berlin.
Luisa isn’t an expat per se, having been born and raised in the German capital, but she has partly grown up in Boston and attended college in the US. What first made me relate to her as an expat though while reading her book, was when she described struggling to find a J-O-B with her American qualifications back in Berlin shortly after she graduated. It took the tough decision to leave her beloved home city and the love of her life to launch her successful career in the publishing industry in New York. She illustrates in her book the push and pull relationship she has had with the city of her birth throughout her young life, and it wasn’t until she finally realized in her 30s that her heart (and love – it is a love story after all) belonged back in Berlin.
The second part of her book portrays the risk-taking step of moving across an ocean to a different country plus the process of settling in and finding one’s place. In addition to sharing some familiar expat tribulations like missing a favorite food (Tuscan kale in Luisa’s case), needing to make new friends (Luisa’s blog helped facilitate some new friendships) and adjusting to the different expectations that German neighbors might have (like not being able to squirm out of the annual apartment building grill party), Luisa also glorifies some of the unsung heroes of German cuisine such as Holunder Blüten Sirup (elderflower syrup), Zwetschgen (Italian plums), Pfifferlingen (chanterelle mushrooms), white asparagus and Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake) through her descriptions and recipes, which are included in each chapter.
Luisa is also a third culture kid, perhaps like many children of German Way readers. Growing up in Berlin and having an American father and an Italian mother, she comes from two different cultures and lives in a third one. I asked her to share some words of wisdom on the expat experience in Germany from the adult and also grown child’s perspective for German Way readers.
GW: What are the first words of advice to any prospective or current expat in Germany you would give? LW: First of all, be generous. Understand it is a different culture. Many of the things that may seem important to you are not necessarily going to be as important to Germans. Americans especially tend to say ‘I’m sorry’ all the time while those words have much greater meaning to Germans. This could lead to misunderstandings. But after you experience these initial and superficial differences, you’ll learn that we are more similar than different.
GW: What sort of words of wisdom would you share to parents of expat children? Anything that your perspective as a new parent has influenced? LW: It can be a tough experience. One concrete piece of advice I can give is to read the book Third Culture Kids. For me, it was eye-opening in understanding myself and why I am the way I am. It was also helpful for my husband to read – having an empathetic partner is also important. After reading the book, my husband could understand why sometimes I might get that ‘ants in your pants’ feeling. In some ways, we [third culture kids] need a lot of freedom and can’t be boxed in and having an understanding partner avoids a lot of problems. Sometimes this sense of rootlessness can be a burden, but it is a privilege to be able to call so many places home.
GW: On your blog, you write about differences in pregnancy and feeding babies within your different cultures (America, Germany and Italy). Any words of warning you could give new expat mothers in Germany? LW: Not words of warning necessarily. Feeding is taken very seriously here in Germany and as well as taking care of yourself as a pregnant mother. Attitudes between a certain class of Americans and Germans are not so far apart. They both tend to be careful and try to be conscientious. I will say that the amount of care and compassion that I received in the hospital here in Berlin following the birth of my son still brings tears to my eyes and was also meaningful to my husband. I’m a big fan of the German experience.
GW: Would you ever let your child, under the age of twelve, fly transatlantic alone? LW: No way! I don’t think it’s allowed anymore anyway.
GW: Slightly off the expat topic, but your book is also a cookbook after all: In your chapter “I Fell Hard and Fast” you write about how you taught your flatmates when you were first living in New York how to cook some of your favorite recipes. Do you think that young Germans become more independent than their American contemporaries faster? LW: Maybe. But I see this now more as a generational difference rather than a cultural one. From my own readers, I am surprised by the knowledge and experience that a significant number of them have at such a young age, which is quite a change from when we were in our 20s.
GW: Is it Brot for dinner for you and your family? LW: I find it a sweet image to think that German families across the country are sitting down to the same meal for dinner every evening. I usually cook something for dinner, but it certainly is convenient sometimes when a slice of bread, cheese and butter makes a satisfying meal for my husband and me.
GW: So, what’s in your expat suitcase? What are the things that you always stock up on when you fly from the States back to Germany? LW: I stock up on steel cut oats, Better Than Bouillon, vanilla extract, baking soda and powder (I find that I get different results in my American recipes with the German equivalents), pecans, dried chilis such as ancho powder and Orbit chewing gum for my husband (he says it tastes better than the German kind). Luckily in Berlin I can get all of the Asian ingredients I need and most of the Indian ingredients too.
[Author’s Note: For more on my conversation about Korean food in Berlin with Luisa, see my post on expatkimchi.]
GW: Any last thoughts to share to our readers? LW: You should be congratulated if you are brave enough to move to Germany for whatever reason, be it for work, love or family. It’s an incredible experience and a wonderful place to live and have children. The people are lovely. It can sometimes be maddening, but keep an open mind. It’s a special experience to be an expat; it has its challenges, but it is rewarding. And it’s nice to find home where you didn’t expect it.
Vielen Dank, Luisa for sharing your expat perspective with the German Way blog.
If you haven’t yet, go add My Berlin Kitchen to your expat reading list!