It’s a matter of trust

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?

Trusting hands

Once Germans make friends, they do trust you and hold you to your word. PHOTO: iStock/Thinkstock

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Essential Oils and German Sales

For a while now, I have been using essential oils around the house in place of OTC remedies. I got into them through my sister in the US, who was selling them as a sort of side venture. She teaches yoga as her main job. After talking about the oils to all and sundry, and having friends and strangers ask me how they could get them, I decided that I might as well try to make a bit of money to cover my oil “habit.” I have had some success, but I have also learned a lot about how Germans view money, sales, and commitments over the past few months.

I had assumed it would be really easy to get the oils business moving here. People are very open to alternative, natural treatments. My regular GP often offers me homeopathic and plant-based remedies before she gives me the “real” drugs. And it is true, most Germans that I know are very interested in essential oils, especially when they see how well they are working for us. When my older girls had issues with ADD and concentration years ago here in Germany, the therapist (and psychiatrist) quickly offered them various versions of ritalin, which surprised me. We were sort of desparate at the time, but the medicine was not a great choice for either of them. Now we are battling those issues with an oil mixture. I have had huge problems with sleeping in the past year or two. In Ireland the first thing they did was offer me sleeping pills. Here we tried all sorts of other approaches first. When it all failed, I finally was able to get a prescription for Ambien, but only if I promised to take it no more than once a week. I get it. I don’t want to fill my body with chemicals and I certainly don’t want to do the same with my kids. So I am trying something else. And I was never a believer in the homeopathic remedies, for example.  Continue reading

Online Lifelines

Remember that time not long ago when long-distance phone calls were reserved for special occasions? Your uncle on the other side of the country would get a nice three minute phone call on his birthday, and your grandmother across the ocean could expect a quick “Merry Christmas” once a year.  Oh how far we have come.  Now with new cable and internet technologies, long distance communication is no longer the family-gathered-’round-the-phone occasion it once was.

Yesterday, as my mother walked me through how to prepare the perfect Easter ham from her respective kitchen miles and miles away via Skype, I considered what it must have been like for expats living so far from their family and friends, just a couple decades ago, before the internet, email, and social media.

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Cultural Differences, re: Japan

I’ve been majorly annoyed lately. Mostly because of Facebook, which is my ‘keeping in touch with contacts in the US’ weapon of choice. Maybe it’s because I’ve got friends and family in Japan, maybe it’s because I read the news too much, I don’t know. But it’s been killing me the past few weeks, reading the banal and often unnecessary status updates about the bowel movements of my ‘friends’’ kids, or their upcoming concerts, or what they’re listening to. I actually quit Twitter because of this, even though that was a long time coming. I simply can’t believe that so many people have moved on so quickly after the Japan happenings. Continue reading

Germany vs The Internet

Lots of ruckus has been made over the past few months, including here on this blog, about Europe’s reaction to Facebook, Google Streetview and the like.  It finally took a self-promotional e-mail from a professional acquaintance  to get my ire up enough to actually write about it.

The ire inducing part didn’t have much to do with my acquaintance directly.  It was that the “people who you might know” section along the bottom which is designed to get us connected was eerily accurate.  All but one were, in fact, people I knew.

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Expat, Phone Home

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). Continue reading