German compartmentalization comes as a shock to most Americans. This rigid compartmentalization is both physical (floor plans, closed doors) and mental (friends vs acquaintances, business vs pleasure). It is a cultural difference that usually becomes obvious to expats in German-speaking Europe early on. But like many cultural differences, it is one that tends to sink in slowly and involves breaking long-established habits.
I have lived in Germany and visited there often, yet some un-German habits die hard. Like leaving doors open or punching the “1” button for the ground floor. There are many things about daily life in Germany that you can “know” intellectually, yet somehow are slow to be truly absorbed and comprehended.
At various points in an expat’s life there come those certain “aha moments” when you suddenly “get it.” One such aha moment for me came when I was living in Berlin. I was house-sitting for friends who were staying in the US for almost a year. They had a lovely fourth-floor loft apartment with an open, airy, bright floor plan. The only doors are the entrance and two more for the bathroom and a guest toilet/lavatory. The bedroom is set off by a wall without any doors. I loved it. Continue reading →
The big day started at 6:30 a.m. when I suddenly woke up and realized that today, November 27, was the date of my appointment at the Berlin Ausländerbehörde (Aliens Authority) to apply for my long-term residence visa (Aufenthaltstitel, not to be confused with an entry visa). I had made a reservation online and then received a confirmation email for an 8:00 a.m. appointment. That part of this experience had gone smoothly.
Unbelievably, the night before I had gone to bed without even setting my alarm clock! After a recent trip to France to visit my son and his fiancée, it had just plain slipped my mind. Totally weird how I just woke up and – bang! – realized it was visa day. Continue reading →
When I moved to Germany for the first time in 1992, I was 21 and was going to university in Freiburg. I had never worked in an American office for more than the time required to do a temp job over spring break and had spent summers working at McDonald’s. When I was 18, I lived near Geislingen for 8 weeks, staying with the family of an exchange student who had lived with us for six months when I was nine years old. This was my first encounter with a “real” German home and the accompanying culture rules this entails. It was not a very exciting summer for an 18-year-old woman who had just graduated high school and wanted some adventure. I read a lot of Michener (the fattest English novels I could find for the money), listened, but not spoke, a lot of Schwäbisch, and tried not to make any cultural faux pas. Continue reading →