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

Culture shocks go both ways

As I write this, I am two weeks into a holiday with the children in my hometown of Hull, in Yorkshire, North England. Beyond it being wonderful to catch up with family and old friends, it has provided interesting opportunity to reflect on a few cultural and social differences between here and Berlin. Now we all know generalisations are just that – so excuse me a few now…

These northern English cities are renowned for their friendliness. Berlin is not. But with time, I have come to realise that Berliners (or to speak more broadly – Germans) are not unfriendly – (in most cases far from it) – rather that they lack the ability of making easy small talk.  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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Put Away Your Checkbook

Of all the things one can miss about a country after departure, the banking system probably shouldn’t be at the top of the list. For this ex-expat, however, it is actually one of the things I miss about Germany. The banking system there has arrived in the digital age, and North America is left in the dust.

For starters: put away the checkbook. Nobody in Germany has written a check in decades. When I arrived in 2000, checks were already obsolete. I was confused at the time: how do you pay individual people when you don’t have cash? The answer: bank transfers. In those dark ages of the internet, you paid others by filling out a paper Überweisung (transfer) slip, and giving it to your bank (possible via drop-box at most branches). Continue reading

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

Homesickness in a Global World

We have now arrived in Toronto and are busy setting up our new house. Like any move, this one has had its share of surprises, including our air freight sitting in Germany for two weeks because the movers forgot about it. Flexibility is key, and a very long fuse… so far I have managed both quite well, and have just a few more days (hopefully!) until our big container arrives with the bulk of our things, including all the furniture.

As we have explored our new city and found our bearings, we have of course scoped out a few locations that make us feel happy and connected to “home”. That has become a relative term for me, as my upbringing was in the Pacific Northwest in the US but my adult life has been spent in Europe. I am a terrible foreigner, I pick and choose all the things I want to retain from my home culture, and I am equally selective about what I integrate from my host culture. I’m definitely not all-or-nothing when adapting, constantly seeking a balance between retaining my own identity – cultural and individual – and blending in with those around me. I never was very good at fitting into a group…
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Auf Wiedersehen

This afternoon a crowd of my in-laws converged on our house for the traditional German Sunday afternoon Kaffee & Kuchen. This doesn’t happen very often, maybe once a year, as they all live over an hour away. Anyone with in-laws will sympathize with the latent stress involved in being so outnumbered in one’s one home, and yet, for the first time in the twelve years I have lived here, I didn’t stress at all: I just enjoyed it.

In just a few weeks, we’re embarking on a new adventure and heading back to North America – specifically, to Canada. Continue reading

Homesick?

As I write this, I am dazed with jet lag. In this haze, the thoughts I had on the airplane for this blog post are distant and somewhat difficult to grasp. The moment we arrived back in Europe, it was as if the trip had never happened. Three weeks of the Great Northwest, soaking in all the local culture, enjoying family and friends and giant parking spaces, all just a dream. I feel homesick for it already.

I love going home, and I love coming back to my home in Germany. One of the strange things that happens when you live in a different culture is that you have selective memory about your home culture. While I am here, I notice all the things that are substandard compared to my home culture; the tight parking spaces, the lack of convenience, the gruff public face so many locals prefer to wear. Continue reading