The Top 4 German Signs you have gone from Visitor to Resident.

When you move to a new place it takes a while before you start getting the feel of belonging, the sensation that you are on some sort of vacations or just visiting takes some time to start wearing off and in my experience with Germany, this is a job that’s done both by your efforts to establish a routine and get acquainted with the place AND the reaching of certain very German milestones that left you with the feeling they have taken you in, this is it, you made it: Germany is talking to you! Here my top 4 epiphanic moments: Continue reading

Is It True That German Men Can’t Flirt? (Asking for a Friend…)

Not so long ago I had the chance to spend a year surrounded by a large group of twenty-somethings coming from all corners of the world, we were scattered all over Germany and every three months we had to meet up in different cities each time for week-long seminars. The only constant topic of these reunions was “love life.”

Boys were ecstatic, especially Latin ones, because German women found them very attractive and they would get very direct and intense advances quite often without having to do anything aside from standing there being all kinds of hot. Sure this was what they said, and I am neither swearing by it, nor denying it. But hanging out with the guys meant signing up for listening to a mix tape of them gushing about this and wondering if there was something in the water here that suddenly made them appealing to women.

Girls, on the other hand, were quite frustrated because no man would even flirt-smile at them from across the train wagon or eye them up and down while walking down the street, no overly-friendly cashiers or waiters, no swarm of men trying to get their attention at bars or clubs with buying them drinks, stopping by their table to introduce themselves or inviting them to dance. And the ones that had somehow miraculously gone out on a date with a German guy were even more puzzled. Continue reading

Help! The Holy Season is Over but the Cold is Not.

After you dutifully participated at -and maybe even organized, the Christmas celebrations at the office, attended several advent parties, strolled through many Christmas Markets, ate shameful amounts of Plätzchen (X-mas cookies), drank enough hot chocolate to fill your bathtub and got all festive with the fireworks at Silvester; reality hits and it is time to go back to work, the year is over, the holidays are over, the clothes that used to fit are also quite possibly over as well. Ok, we are grown-ups, we can do this. Except that it is really cold outside, the days are absurdly short and dark, it rains most of the days and depending on where you are you will also get your share of snow. Showering is a challenge, going out feels like torture and the gloomy appearance of the streets that are now dark because the shimmering decorations are being removed from all public spaces is not helping you.

What are the social alternatives during the winter in Germany now that all that short-wearing and sausage-grilling is unthinkable and the merry and Glühwein-fueled gatherings are over? I have carefully observed my peers and made a top 5 list: Continue reading

If You’re Happy and You Know It, Make a Demo

One of my first brilliant conclusions almost upon arrival on my first time living in Germany, was that Germans are undeniably active when it comes to politics. Of course all of my appreciations came from what previous first-hand experiences I had had in the past, being a young adult in Mexico, my home country, where it’s perfectly acceptable to simply state that politics bore you and you don’t know anything about it, successfully avoid the topic and nobody bats an eyelash. In Germany, it’s quite normal for most of the population over a certain age to follow what happens in the political scene, and it’s rare that said scene is limited to Germany alone. The intensity of this interest and the understanding of what it entails is, of course quite varied, but six years later, my original conlusions still suffice to sustain my opinion: Politics is definitely a thing in Germany.

When you live in Germany and you don’t like something, you have the option of organizing or taking part in a “Demo” to make your opinion known and spread the discomfort you feel.

That sounds nice, but how to Demo the German Way? (See what I did there?) Well, I first had to forget what I knew about demonstrating because as far as I was concerned, Demos could be done at any time, day or night, and it was enough to get a couple of angry neighbors and some scribbled placards to suddenly close some highway without any hope of finding out what the deal was about and, most important of all, when it would finally be over. To me it’s also an everyday thing to turn on the news some random morning and find out that the central square in the city is now occupied by dozens of camping tents with people who are living there in protest against something, and they will stay for as long as they want. Great. Continue reading

The Good and Fearless Samaritan

I come from Mexico, a place where social initiatives are not that big a thing, mainly because a great deal of the population has barely enough resources to keep their own heads afloat, but also because its mindset is infected with corruption and a cheating culture where you must seek to maximize your personal benefit at whatever the cost. Because everyone does the same, you must also distrust everyone and the more you can cheat, the better. The brilliant principle by which we live and justify whatever fault we consciously commit is: “The one who does not cheat, does not win.” – I rest my case.

The Umsonst-Laden. This particular one is in Hamburg. FOTO: LauraV.

One of the very first things I learned the first time I lived in Germany was that no matter how much I had read and studied about its history, politics and culture, I was still ignorant about what it all really meant in the real world where both the German society and others (like the one I grew up in) coexist. It is true that Germans tend to abide themselves by the rules because they understand rules are the base for everything to work properly –and there’s nothing they like more than things working properly (but honestly, don’t we all?). This is not to say there’s no corruption in Germany, but things are simply different and the citizens still have power as individuals, even if they sometimes fail to appreciate it and what it means, they do. It is very impressive to witness that power for someone who comes from “no man’s land” and where my own brother must leave the house full of fear when he heads to school and nobody can drive him there so he must always be ready with a secret little pocket where he stashes emergency cash and also carries a fake wallet and a fake old mobile phone he can surrender in case of robbery in the bus or while walking down the street; or where people (yes, that famously warm and chirpy Mexican people) are now so rude they won’t even stop if you try to ask them for directions. They are not being rude per se, they are scared because they do not trust their fellow Mexicans, we all know it all is probably a ruse and you will end up kidnapped, attacked or, in the lesser of cases, robbed. Are you following the vicious circle? Continue reading

How to tell when Germans are really being rude versus just being German

If you want to confirm the fact that the internet is not improving people’s IQs, just type “rude Germans” into your favorite search engine. Boom! You’ll get over 1.9 million results, most of which were written by morons. (But “rude French” pulls an amazing 39.1 million results!) Few of these online commentaries run counter to the usual “rude Germans” rant and the negative stereotype that so many Americans, Brits and others have of Germans. Even fewer of these web articles, forum posts and blogs offer any useful, helpful information on the topic of “rude” Germans, French, or other Europeans.

The Rudest Countries
I recently saw a CNN online article that listed the “10 Rudest Countries” in the world. As usual, France took first place in the rudeness race. Germany only came in fourth, right behind the UK. The USA placed seventh. But a survey like this, by the cheap flights travel site, is subject to all sorts of distortion, including cultural biases, language difficulties, personality differences, and ignorance, to name just a few.

What a person perceives as rudeness may only be a cultural misunderstanding. What is considered rude in one country or culture may not be regarded as rude in another. But every culture has people who are rude, no matter which culture it may be. Certain impolite behaviors are unacceptable in almost any culture. Sometimes an expat or traveler is actually right to consider someone rude! Continue reading

3 Ways I Embarrassed Myself at the German Sauna

Photo: Erin Porter

About to get N-A-K-E-D

Don’t worry guys, I brought a towel to sit (and sweat) on in the sauna and didn’t try to wear my swimsuit into the nude areas. I’m not a German sauna newbie. I’ve been once before.

That one time was at touristy Tropical Island. I highly recommend it if you are also a spa novice. It is a full-on water park with slides and waterfalls and artificial beach front. But deep in its center lies an area cloaked in palm trees and signs barring entry for those under 16. We waffled back and forth if we were actually going into this adult-only zone before putting on our big boy pants (or taking them off, in this case) and entering.

As Germans consider regular spa going a part of good health and not a luxury, the average Germ knows what to do in the sauna. Not so for a couple of expats from Seattle. We clumsily felt our way through the process of showering, storing our clothes in a cubby and dramatically dropping the towel to enter a steamy room full of naked Germans. And – no surprise for those who’ve done it before – it wasn’t so bad! We emerged thoroughly moist and with muscles that had deeply relaxed so that we were basically moving puddles. It was fabulous.

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Summer night at the Freiluftkino (open-air cinema)

IMG_4642A couple of weeks ago we had night without children (they were having a sleepover in the KiTa – worthy of another blog post). But what a rarity! Seeing a film was the obvious choice – prior to parenthood we went to the movies all the time. But it had been a beautiful summer’s day and the thought of spending the long light evening in a dark cinema didn’t seem to fit. The answer? Freiluftkino (open-air cinema).

Freiluftkinos barely exist in the UK, I suppose because the weather is too consistently inclement. I do know of one: the central courtyard of Somerset House in the middle of London screens movies for a few weeks in the summer – but that’s just a big screen and lots of people sitting on hard concrete using plastic bags as make-shift groundsheets and tucking into packets of crisps. It simply pales in comparison to the properly established infrastructure of the Freiluftkinos here.  Continue reading