Entrance to University of Bielefeld Photo: Jay Malone
Jane wrote back in October about the announcement that is still causing jaws to drop from Miami to Maui: the news that Germany, thanks to late arrival Lower Saxony, is now a country free of college tuition. Germany has long been known for its superlative system of higher education, and for many, like myself, the free tuition was just gravy. So for those of us who finished our undergraduate degree in the States, the only question to answer after recognizing the value of this opportunity is what to study. Fortunately, the German university scene is awash in graduate study programs certain to pique myriad interests while opening up future career opportunities in a variety of fields, enough to tempt just about anyone to pick up stakes and catch the first flight to Frankfurt. Here are a few standouts.
After many years here, a theme that always seems to come up for me is that of trust. We Americans are known for being open, especially when it comes to sharing information about our personal lives. We Instagram, we share every minute detail of our lives on Facebook, we tweet. And many of us don’t think about doing so. Even people in their forties and up are sharing their everyday lives on social media. And these are usually attached to our real names (unlike many of my German friends, who use funny half names or split their first name in two, like Ka Te). It may be that we are naive; it may be that we just don’t care who knows all this stuff about us. We are more worried about our kids getting kidnapped off the street in broad daylight (thanks, local news) than we are about someone abusing or using our personal information. What does this say about Americans as a culture?
Once Germans make friends, they do trust you and hold you to your word. PHOTO: iStock/Thinkstock
Our eldest has been in Texas for the past year attending high school, after spending most of her life in Europe – some in Ireland, but mostly in Germany. She is sixteen, and with that comes the sixteen-year-old way of looking at the world. She’s been back for a week, and after announcing that she no longer speaks German, she seems to be settling in okay. And yes, she does still speak German. You can’t lose it that easily!
When she moved to Texas, there were a couple of things that she was worried about. She only knew American high school from movies: cliques, sports, cheerleaders, nerds, etc. German school is just not like that. The stratifications are not so clear, and the groups are not so defined. I told her that it might really be like the movies. And when she started school she said, “It’s like Save the Last Dance!” My daughter is in a high school near Dallas that is very diverse. I think the non-white portion of the school is something like 90%. Heidelberg is also diverse, but not in the same way. She was scared to death of the bus — she told me they called her “Snowflake” — but I think in the end she fits in in a way that she didn’t expect. Growing up in Europe, she didn’t have any experience with American race issues, again except for movies. She didn’t grow up with the stereotypes about black people, or white people, or Mexicans, or whomever. We are pretty liberal in our house politically. I think landing in this school in Texas was a huge shock, but it was also an amazing chance for her. She has friends across all groups of kids, black, white, Christian, Hispanic, straight, and gay. And she is surviving and thriving. Continue reading →
Although we take them very much for granted today, automated cash-dispensing machines have only been common since the late 1970s. Banks introduced the devices first in Europe, then in North America and elsewhere. Today there are an estimated 2 to 3 million ATMs in service around the world, with about 60,000 of them in Germany and 350,000 or so in Western Europe.
The German term for ATM is Geldautomat, but the Austrians and the German Swiss prefer Bancomat/Bankomat. Even in the English-speaking world there are several different expressions for automated teller machines: ATM, ABM (automatic bank machine, Canada), bank machine, cash machine, Cashpoint (actually a trademark), and hole in the wall (UK). ATMs have pretty much eliminated old-fashioned traveler’s checks. Remember those? Continue reading →
A few years ago while chatting with a friend who, like me, has a German spouse, I had a mini-revelation:
“There is no German word for convenient,” I said.
After a pause, my friend the English teacher says, “Well that explains a hell of a lot.”
Both fluent German speakers but without a dictionary in front of us, we racked our brains for a potential German equivalent to the English word convenient. Or convenience. Or conveniently.
Fitting to our search, we brainstormed the antonym: Inconvenient = Umständlich. My go-to translation website leo.org gives this word circuitous, cumbersome, laborious and involved, which are all certainly inconvenient, but it does not mention inconvenient as a translation. This is interesting, and perhaps an example of different usage of the word. Or perhaps an example of misunderstanding by a foreigner! Continue reading →
Galavanting about Europe in my early twenties, I spent a spring holiday in Italy. The journey began in Germany, meandering from Frankfurt down through the Black Forest, into Switzerland and through the Gotthard Tunnel (17 km!) to get to the Italian border. The entire landscape was breathtaking and awe-inducing, and the drive through Switzerland is still one of my favorite stretches of road anywhere. After a lovely week full of Italian food and culture, we headed back toward Germany to return our rental car. Just one little side note: it was my first time actually driving in Germany, and the trip to return the rental car was an hour and a half of Autobahn driving.
The Autobahn is famous worldwide for its seemingly un-German personality: carefree, unlimited, full-force driving. The experience of the Autobahn as a complete novice is something more like white-knuckles, sweaty-palms, full-force nerves. I spent my entire first trip as a solo driver on the Autobahn in a state of complete terror, gripping the steering wheel, following my leading driver, listening to static on the radio the entire trip because I was too afraid to look away from the road to find a new station on an unfamiliar car stereo. In fact, I think my muscles were sore the next day from all the tension. Continue reading →
Both Jane and I have mentioned the concept of the Rabenmutter, which is defined in the Wikidictionary as “A ravenmother, a loveless, heartless, cruel, unnatural, or uncaring mother; a bad mother who does not take good care of her children.” Now no one has dared ever call me that directly, but I have most certainly gotten that vibe off of various mothers in various schools that my children attend, and even from people who themselves aren’t parents! For the most part, I shrug it off. Everyone makes their choices and every person should be able to raise their family the way that works for them. But sometimes, it gets to me.
The last time I got this impression was from a woman in her late fifties that is a sort of acquaintance of mine. A good friend sometimes meets up with other women for a Stammtisch at the Greek restaurant she owns and she often invites me along to spice up the evening (these ladies are not always especially stimulating). This person does work and I am not sure whether she worked when her child(ren) were small, but as soon as I told her about my new job — which I love, by the way, and which is full time — she said, “Was machst Du mit den Kindern?” (What do you do with the kids all day?) That ruffled my feminist feathers. It sounds like I am sending them out into the street while I am being selfish and going off to work.
From the outset, I am going to give you a disclaimer. I don’t profess to know everything about German immigration. But for the past few months, I have been working as a relocation consultant for expats moving to Germany for large multinationals. I accompanied them to the Ausländeramt and filled out any number of forms for them. So here is what I know.
The two situations I have dealt with in recent times are expats moving from countries that do not require a visa for entry into Germany. This applies to Americans, for example, and also to South Koreans (and many more, I am sure). Those people can enter Germany without a visit to the consulate in their home country and without filling out any paperwork. However, in order to work, they need an elektronischer Aufenthaltstitel (eAT). This also applies to people who enter with a visa. I have had transferees from Russia, for example, who required a visa. At home, they have to fill out paperwork to apply for a temporary visa. When they arrive, they have to apply for the eAT as well, and if they are allowed to work, they receive a Fiktionsbescheinigung, which they can hand in at work. Remember, I have only been working with people who are here to work. I can’t vouch for the way this works for others. Continue reading →