Being “Normal”

Tonight I had dinner with a friend who has been living here in Germany for about as long as I have. We first met virtually through a Facebook post of a mutual friend and discovered we were both in Heidelberg. The commonalities continued when we talked on the phone for the first time. She was pregnant with twins and basically immobile, so we had time to chat. She had spent her high school years in my home town, went to the rival high school, attended the same university I did at the same time, and studied at the same university in England at the same time as my best friend. She also had a German husband and her son was close to Olivia’s age. Whenever we meet up, which due to our busy lives is not as often as I would like, it feels a bit like I found someone who “gets” me.

After years and years abroad you tend to forget what it is like to talk to someone with the same or similar background to you, not only in the sense of being American, but also speaking to someone who grew up around the same time and has the same pop cultural references, for example. K. gets the jokes about Sesame Street and Schoolhouse Rock. She knows what a Trapper Keeper is. These may seem like small things, but no matter how long you live in a particular country, you will never have that same history with the people who grew up there.  Continue reading

The Cult of the warmes Mittagessen

I feel like mothers are enslaved here in these provincial parts of southern Germany by what I call the “cult of the warmes Mittagessen” or the cult of the hot lunch. (I’m not even going to try to stretch the truth by saying parents instead of mothers. It’s pretty traditional here, and I don’t think fathers are feeling the same pressure that I’m talking about. If you think I’m wrong, I would love to hear more.) Just in case you don’t know, lunch is the main meal in Germany. Walk through the residential neighborhoods of where I live at noon time, and you’ll detect from several directions that alluring smell of onions sauteing in melted butter, the base to any proper Swabian meal. Expectations are high and this includes having a hot meal ready and waiting for whenever the kiddies come home from school and Kindergarten from noon onwards. Even if a working mother starts her working day at 7:30, trying to have the cheese hot and bubbling on the top of home-made Kaesespaetzle for noon might seem like a heroic effort. As a fellow American mother said to me once, “What’s wrong with a sandwich?” Continue reading


In one my last posts, I mentioned that our family was preparing for my oldest child to start school this year. I know it is a big deal in most countries, but in Germany, I think it is an even bigger deal, partly because the first day is wonderfully ritualized by such things as a special church service, an informal reception at the school during the first graders’ very first hour of school, and a peak inside the classroom and chance to take loads of pictures while the kids are there. It’s usually a family affair in the league of birthdays and holidays including the extended family. Often a special lunch is organized either at home or at a restaurant followed by Kaffee und Kuchen.

Fuss surrounds the new Schulkind (school child) as everyone excitedly files into the church hall or school building for that momentous first day of school. And one of the props in addition to the lovingly selected Schulranzen that crowns this moment is the Schultüte. Loosely translated, a Schultüte is a decorated cone made out of cardboard that is filled with sweets, school supplies, small books and other treats to celebrate the day. First citations of the Schultüte were made from eastern Germany in the early nineteenth century. (Source: Wikipedia) Every picture of a German schoolchild on the first day of school includes her or him proudly holding up a Schultüte.

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Luisa Weiss’ Advice for the Expat in Germany

It’s Monday, but I got to talk to the creator and author behind the popular food blog The Wednesday Chef, Luisa Weiss, last week. She’s also the author of the best-selling memoir, My Berlin Kitchen which came out late last year, and as you may have guessed, she lives in Berlin.

My Berlin Kitchen

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Das Berliner Modell

Now that we are back in Germany, my third child is now attending the same daycare or Kindertagestaette (KITA) as my first two children. This boy from day one has never been sensitive about being left with new people. He was at an in-home daycare in California from age one, where he hardly ever cried when we parted and he always had a great time. In fact, before he started at this daycare, I emailed the caregiver, Amanda, and asked how we should schedule his first week. Could we perhaps do what I did with my first two kids: that I stay with him the first day for most of the morning and leave him for an hour to see how he gets on? Then we would slowly increase the increments that he would be left on his own and how long he would stay at the daycare? She politely wrote back that it would probably be easier if we just spoke on the phone. Continue reading

Moving Back to Germany

I have an announcement to make. We are moving back to Germany next month. The timing of the move was a bit of a surprise, but it was always in the realm of possibility. We were away for two years, and as I’ve started the arduous process of organizing another overseas move now with three small kids, these are my passing Germany Way thoughts on the move: Continue reading

Are German Parents as Superior as French Parents?

The Wall Street Journal published another provocative piece on one certain “ethnic” parenting style superior than the American one. I put ethnic in quotes as I refer first to the Tiger parenting style written and described by Amy Chua early last year. Chua talked about the hardline, rather Spartan style which Chinese parents in particular use to raise their children in her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. She ceded that other ethnicities may adopt this same style, but in Chua’s essay for the Wall Street Journal, she uses the term Chinese mothers to describe the implementers of this take-no-prisoner approach.

Chua posits that the soft approach of Western parents is for wusses. But this month, Pamela Druckerman maintains in this Wall Street Journal excerpt from her book, “Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting” that French parents can also take a firm stance, and it’s the Americans who are getting run over by their kids.

Druckerman refers to a few anecdotes that seemed familiar to me. And as her comparisons continued between French and American parenting styles, some of the themes and observations were ones that I have made during my own recent repatriation from Germany to the US. Continue reading

Living the German Way Part III

I was disappointed to read that my fellow blogger, Sarah Fürstenberger, was leaving our ranks as German Way Co-blogger for the time being. She and I had become friends while recording the same chapter in life as American expats living in Germany through this blog. Coincidentally, she and I also left Germany at the same time this past summer.

Although I was sad to no longer be able to keep up with her American/German family’s new Irish life through her blog posts, I could also understand her sentiment that her heart wasn’t in blogging about the German Way anymore. Often, when my week rolled around to blog, I felt at a loss as to what to blog about. It’s been about eight months since we left Germany, and our lives have significantly changed: our daughters, though still bilingual, speak mostly English now, we start to shiver at 60 degrees F (16 degrees C), our consumption of paper products jumped exponentially when we became members of Costco, and we barely buy or eat cold cuts (Aufschnitt) anymore.

I realized though that despite the dilution of our German-ness, there were beliefs and pursuits of the German Way of Life that I was still committed to. First and foremost on that list has been finding a pediatrician that suited a more typical German parenting philosophy: encouraging play-based learning for under six-year-olds, fostering independence, and choosing the natural alternatives when possible. Continue reading