MahlzeitFor the first time since we moved to Berlin over five years ago, I am required to go (most days, at least) to an office with lots of German people. Up until a few months ago, I’d either worked from home or from a small co-working space. But now, from behind computer screens and over the kettle in the shared kitchen, I see Germans at work – a novel and culturally enlightening experience for many reasons, not least because of “Mahlzeit!”

Have you ever heard a German say “Mahlzeit” and wondered what it meant – sitting down to a meal perhaps or some time around the middle of the day? Why should they be reminding me it’s a mealtime, you might have thought, if you’d understood the word but not really grasped what they were getting at. Continue reading

Bis Bald: 10 Things I Love About Germans

For my last official post as part of the regular writing crew here at The German Way, I’d like to be typically American and end on a positive note. Here are 10 things I love about Germans:

1. Their honesty. You will never doubt the sincerity of a compliment that comes from a German. In my first job in Germany, my boss’ comment at my mid-year review was “I have no complaints.” I am on the cusp of generation-feedback-junkie, and was a little underwhelmed at his comment. He then went on to explain that this was a typically German way of telling me I was doing my job well. Okaaaaay… so when they really compliment you, they must really mean it.

2. Their precision. This goes for all manner of things: conversation, instructions, engineering, … The list is quite possibly endless. Being out of the country, I miss the precision of engineering and design in German appliances. I am lucky to benefit from the engineering and design of the German car I drive. This precision extends to verbal and written instructions, all of which will be conveyed to you when you purchase anything. They care about things working properly, which is good. Continue reading

January 2015 in Germany: New Year, New Laws, New Rules

2015 ushered in new laws and regulations in Germany. Our overview of new things that expats and travelers need to know also reveals a lot about daily life and customs in Germany.

If you drive a car, use public transportation, rent a place, watch TV, take out the trash, get paid in euros, or use the post office in Germany, there are changes that can affect all expats and travelers. We’ll start with one of the more bizarre things that the new year introduced to German law and life (and it’s not the precipitous fall of the euro). Continue reading

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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From Bundesland to Bundesland

I received a reminder in my inbox today from my co-blogger Hyde calling to my attention that I had missed my Monday deadline to post here on the German Way blog. This was another casualty of my most recent move. In case you haven’t been keeping up with my personal expat saga, my family and I just moved to Essen in North Rhine Westphalia having left the small Swabian city, Aalen, where we had lived a total of seven years as a family. Continue reading

A Pseudo-European Teenager Goes to Texas

Our eldest has been in Texas for the past year attending high school, after spending most of her life in Europe – some in Ireland, but mostly in Germany. She is sixteen, and with that comes the sixteen-year-old way of looking at the world.  She’s been back for a week, and after announcing that she no longer speaks German, she seems to be settling in okay. And yes, she does still speak German. You can’t lose it that easily!

When she moved to Texas, there were a couple of things that she was worried about. She only knew American high school from movies: cliques, sports, cheerleaders, nerds, etc. German school is just not like that. The stratifications are not so clear, and the groups are not so defined. I told her that it might really be like the movies. And when she started school she said, “It’s like Save the Last Dance!” My daughter is in a high school near Dallas that is very diverse. I think the non-white portion of the school is something like 90%. Heidelberg is also diverse, but not in the same way. She was scared to death of the bus — she told me they called her “Snowflake” — but I think in the end she fits in in a way that she didn’t expect. Growing up in Europe, she didn’t have any experience with American race issues, again except for movies. She didn’t grow up with the stereotypes about black people, or white people, or Mexicans, or whomever. We are pretty liberal in our house politically. I think landing in this school in Texas was a huge shock, but it was also an amazing chance for her. She has friends across all groups of kids, black, white, Christian,  Hispanic, straight, and gay. And she is surviving and thriving. Continue reading

The Famous Swabian Hausfrau

I was delighted to find an article in the February 1, 2014 edition of The Economist dedicated to the mindset of the Swabian Hausfrau. The article links the economic mindset of this stereotype from Germany’s Southwest to the economic mindset of Germans within Europe. It is a deftly created argument and the article is surprisingly detailed in its research of the origins of the Swabian mindset. Unfortunately they weren’t as thorough in their research into the origins of Maultaschen, and were duly called on their sloppiness two weeks later in the Letters to the Editor.
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How being an Expat has made me Weird

First off, I should probably give myself a break, “weird” may be a bit harsh. What I mean to say is that over these six years living in Germany and Switzerland, with intermittent summer visits home to Canada, I have realized that my social skills have become a little altered, that I have become a bit quieter, which is not the norm for me.  As someone who had the adjective “bubbly” appear on (I’m not even kidding) each and every school report card growing up, it’s odd to have become this lone observer, rather than the joiner. Through reflection I have concluded that my evolution into this type of person is as a result of my time living overseas, that being an expat has in fact, made me a bit weird.

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