Are Home Appliances Boring?

… if so, you must have the wrong brand. Moving from Germany back to North America, it has become painfully evident to me that the German obsession with perfection in engineering doesn’t translate across the Atlantic. In multiple rented spaces, I have made do with a substandard dishwasher, with clothes washers that don’t really get the clothes clean, and with vacuum cleaners that make noise but are low on suction. Each of them was a North American brand, probably manufactured elsewhere.

To be fair, I haven’t always had luxury appliances in Germany either. It was only after our appliances began breaking that I started to take an interest in the market – and as a working mom with two small children, functional household appliances are elevated to a new level of desirability! Continue reading

Gone Fishin’

Recently we spent a long weekend on the shores of one of the thousands of lakes that dot Ontario. The weather was fantastic, so we spent lots of time paddling, in canoes and in the pool. Most of the time, however, we spent fishing. The kids had a fantastic time trying out different bait and lures, finding the perfect combination for catching the little sunfish and bass lurking in the water under the dock. A simple hook with a worm did the trick.

Fishing with my kids reminded me of my own childhood, fishing with my parents at similar lakes, or in rivers, anywhere we wanted. When my oldest received a fishing pole as a birthday gift a few years ago, however, we were a bit lost in Germany: where can we go fishing? We ended up at a nearby trout farm, pulling bored fish out of unsanitary-looking ponds. It was unsatisfying to say the least. Continue reading

Incorporating a New Worldview, Into Your Old Life

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?

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Germans, the notoriously direct

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.

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Expatriates and the cost of living in A, D, CH

Expatriates don’t always have a choice of where they’re assigned to work, but they definitely need to know the cost of living in their assignment location. If your salary is paid by a US company, for example, that salary might put you at a huge disadvantage if you are working and living in Tokyo, Japan, which happens to be the most expensive city in the world for expats. (The news for Germany is much better.)

Companies with employees assigned to overseas locations usually offer some sort of cost-of-living allowance to supplement the increased costs. So even if you are going to an overseas location by your own choice, without company support, you need to know how the cost of living there compares to your current or home location. But how do you get that information? One excellent source is the website, from which we derived the rankings discussed here.

It may surprise you to learn that, except for New York City, Honolulu, Anchorage, San Jose and San Francisco, most cities in the United States of America have a far lower cost of living than places in Asia, Europe, Africa, South America – and even Canada! My own hometown of Reno, Nevada ranks 455th out of 780. Most places in the southern states of the US rank much lower than that. Continue reading

How being an Expat has made me a better . . . Brit?

A few posts back I wrote about how being an expat has made me a better Canadian. After thinking about it a bit further, I have actually come to realize that being an expat has also made me a better English and Irishwoman. Now I have to admit, I have never been to the UK, nor Ireland, and would never presuppose to be an expert on either place, so this may all sound a bit whacky. But bear with me as I explain how being an expat in German-speaking Europe has helped me to really discover my Irish and English roots.

Growing up in a multicultural country like Canada, we are taught from a young age to appreciate our own unique ethnic backgrounds. There were “Multicultural Day” festivals at school where students were asked to come wearing clothes that represented their families’ ethnic heritage.  Amongst the beautiful traditional Chinese, Aboriginal, Ukrainian, East Indian etc. outfits, I recall going to school on that day wearing a plastic green cap that came as a free gift with a case of beer on St. Patrick’s Day. That was about as close to being “authentically” Irish as my family really was, or so I thought for many years.

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What Makes You Happy?

About a year ago, I was on a walk in Germany with another expat. We were exchanging experiences and advice on living with the natives and dealing with German spouses, and comparing life in Germany to life elsewhere. Inevitably, the question came up: “Do you think you’ll stay here forever?”

I’ve never been very good at answering that question, mostly because I didn’t have an answer. We had hoped to move abroad* for some time, but have no idea where we’ll end up long-term. Life happens, adventure is always just around the corner… unless you have a couple of kids and a mortgage. Then it becomes a little more complicated. At any rate, my friend really wanted to answer the question with “No”, but because of jobs and responsibilities, had to answer “Yes”.  So then we dwelled for a while on what could possibly be wrong with living in Germany forever. It is a beautiful country, the food is fantastic, crime is low, people are healthy and wealthy, and everything works. Trains run on time, public services are good, parks are clean and widely accessible. There is culture in the cities and adventure in the outdoors. And yet, we agreed on the sense that people in Germany are not happy, despite everything wonderful in their country. And this sense of constant dissatisfaction, that people in Germany aren’t Happy, this was the main factor for my friend in not wanting to stay. Now that I’m back in North America, having returned to my own continent and reintegrated into my home culture, I have a different view on that discussion from a year ago. At the time, I accepted this idea that Germans aren’t happy as a society.

I was wrong. Continue reading

How being an Expat has made me a Better Canadian

It seems that every year, as I am doing the last minute prepping for our upcoming move back to Europe (Hamburg, Germany this time around), I get that same sad, longing feeling.  Over the years of my on-again-off-again expat life, I have grown ever more fond of my home country, Canada, making leaving it each summer for the next hockey season, harder and harder. This is not to say that I am not also in love with life in Germany and Switzerland, but more so that being an expat has really made me appreciate being Canadian.

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