Expat Life Advice: Fill Your Tank

I have written a few posts about homesickness here at German Way, not because I am constantly homesick, but because it is a major theme in an expat’s life. The first wave of cultural euphoria keeps you riding high in your new surroundings for about 6 weeks, and then you suddenly begin to crave familiar people and places. The valley of your first intense homesickness is usually around 3 months, and by the end of 6 months most people have largely adapted to their new way of life.  The wave continues like a sine curve, its magnitude (and your respective strength of emotion) getting ever smaller. According to the experts, it tends to level out slightly above “normal” for most people. This means that most expats are, on average, happier as a result of going abroad.

In my many years of experience as an expat, the model described above fits remarkably well. Even watching others as they arrive and go through the stages, it is the 6-month mark that is crucial to adapting. Also, beware of going home or receiving visitors during that 3-month valley, or you can set back your own adaptation process and start all over again (so I’m told…)
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Foods that are hard to find in Germany, part 2

Hyde wrote a blog about this topic last year, but here are my thoughts…

I have been living in Germany most of my adult life, and for the most part, I have learned to move past the few foods that I really miss from the US and just simply live without them. I moved here in my early 20s, and to be honest, I really couldn’t cook. At that time, I missed things that I would hardly consider “real food” at this point in my life — things like Kraft macaroni & cheese, frozen ravioli, and Reese’s peanut butter cereal. I still miss the combination of peanut butter and chocolate, and I still crave proper tortilla chips and easy jarred salsa that isn’t full of sugar, but otherwise, I have learned to make do.

So when I am using my American cookbooks, I often have to either substitute or just not make certain recipes because the ingredients are non-existent or very hard to get. Most of these things are convenience foods, or at least canned foods. Here are a few, off the top of my head. Continue reading

Auf Wiedersehen, tschüß, Bis dann!

So goes the life of an expat hockey-wife, I am once again preparing to move to a new land. This move is one like no other as it is taking my husband and me to the most foreign place we will have ever lived: Russia.

After six years in Germany and Switzerland, I really feel like I am leaving a home. Though I have lived in three different cities over that time, the constant German-speaking bubble that I have traveled within has provided me with a level of comfort, continuity, and confidence that I grew very fond of. Now I am again starting at square one. I will once again be the new kid on the block, the one who will need help with everything, who will be nervous and unsure, and at times frustrated and embarrassed. I will once again feel that gut-deep feeling of homesickness, but this time it will be for two homes; one I know I will be returning to as I have each summer, and another, my German-speaking bubble, which I may never return to again.

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Expat Life and Loneliness

One of the most poignant feelings I have experienced as an expat is loneliness. It was an emotion that I knew very little of before I moved abroad. In some sense, I was probably naive in my adventurousness; I wanted to experience things that were new and different, I wanted to absorb another culture. I jumped into expat life without ever reading a book or blog post about what life abroad entails. Had I known anything before I boarded the plane, I might not have gone at all, so it is probably for the best that I was naive.

My first time abroad, studying in England, I had little chance for loneliness. After all, I was still speaking my native language, and in a university town there is no shortage of young people to meet. It was, however, my first experience with what happens when you leave somewhere: Out of Sight, Out of Mind. My friends from university went on with their lives and were unable (or unwilling) to keep in touch. I received occasional emails, dwindling as time progressed. Facebook didn’t exist in those dark ages (perhaps to my benefit, according to my friend Sarah), and airmail was too complicated for my friends back home. They couldn’t figure out the time change, phone calls were expensive, and there was no Skype. Still, I wasn’t lonely. I made new friends, had fantastic times, created new memories, and enjoyed my adventure. It was so addictive, I wasn’t ready to return to the US when the school year was over. I wanted more of this European lifestyle.

And so when I decided to move to Germany, I was unafraid. Continue reading

Beware of the “Mexican” Restaurant

Originating from the west coast of the US, Mexican food has long been a staple in my diet. On my first forays into Europe, I made a few optimistic attempts to find suitable restaurants to satisfy my cravings for chips with salsa, fish tacos, over-sized greasy burritos, and cheesy enchiladas. Just about every single attempt was a complete and utter failure, leaving me homesick and a bit sick in the stomach too.

The first time I tried Mexican across the Atlantic, it was in England. Mind, the English aren’t exactly known for their abundance of spicy food. The salsa was chunky ketchup, the chips oversalted, and the food was unseasoned and tasteless. I was miserable. Continue reading

A bilingual Christmas

“It’s the Christmas Man,” my two-and-a-half-year-old son cheered, pointing to the large inflatable red-clad figure bobbing in the wind outside a men’s clothes shop. In these first unseasonably barmy days of early December, we were yet to talk about the intricacies of Christmas, beyond the odd explanation of holly-bedecked shop windows and the singing reindeer-head installed outside our local shopping centre. The name of the man who would bring presents had certainly not been discussed. So how did he know about Father Christmas, and what was this name the “Christmas Man”?

One of the joys of living in another country and having your children grow up in a bilingual environment spending half, if not more, of their time speaking a language that is not your own is that they are constantly learning things you could not possibly have taught them. The Christmas Man (I should mention at this point that Germans refer to Father Christmas as the Weihnachtsmann – it’s direct translation being, therefore, the Christmas Man) was just one example in a list of many, which includes animals, nursery rhymes, foods and songs. Mostly, these instances delight and intrigue me. My German is good enough to understand the meaning, whilst still being enriched with a whole new level of childhood vocabulary one cannot learn sitting down with a grammar book, or spending a year here as a carefree exchange student.  And beyond the words, I am constantly fascinated by my (and all) children’s outstanding capacity to absorb and manipulate new information minute by minute. Continue reading

Expat children

I am struck, watching my two small children grow up in Berlin, how different their childhood is from mine in England’s industrial north in the 1980s. We are very integrated here – most of our friends are German. the nursery the children go to is German, and the places we frequent are almost completely German. Instinctively, my children say “guck guck” instead of “peepo” and “Aua!” instead of “ouch!”. They drink fruit tea with their afternoon snack and heavy dark bread is nothing unusual. Yes, for now, it would seem that my children are German, with only a streak of English.

I don’t really mind this, though I sometimes feel nostalgic for the things they can’t know: the jangling bells of the ice-cream van on a long summer’s evening; the feeling of a school uniform tie tight around a buttoned up shirt neck; grubbing around the back garden in a private kingdom. They will be city children, who remember going to public spaces to play out their fantasy games (parks and playgrounds), who slouch around grandiose nineteenth century city school buildings in jeans and the latest trainers, and only think of ice-cream as being from the organic ice-cream parlour across the road – if we stay here, that is. Continue reading

Something from home

“Can we bring you anything that you can’t get there?” is a common question our visitors from the UK ask. We usually spend a good ten minutes, both of us running through supermarket shelves in our minds’ eye, but almost always to no avail. Aside from the odd big pack of Yorkshire Tea bags, it would seem we want for nothing.

Does this mean we have become so acclimatised that we no longer dream about products from home? It is true that our habits have altered somewhat over the three years of living here, adapting to local trends and tastes: Nivea creams and cleansers fill our bathroom shelves; quark has become a family staple and these days a potato salad just isn’t quite right without a good share of gherkins. But I’m not sure that is really it: rather, being able to reel off such a short list of these examples seems to me testament to the fact that the vast majority of our consumption – edible and beyond – has remained pretty much the same. Our limited demands have less to do with acclimatisation and far more with globalisation and the ubiquity of internet shopping.  Continue reading