Green Sauce

Chopping herbs in London

Chopping herbs in London Photo: Chloe Daniel

The origins of Frankfurter Grüne Sosse (green sauce) are not entirely clear. It is largely believed that the Romans brought it from the Near East. But the route the recipe followed from Italy to Hessen (where it is today a celebrated local speciality) is disputed. Some say it was introduced in Hessen by Italian trading families, others that the recipe travelled to France and was later brought to Germany by French Huguenots – a story which makes some sense, given that the second largest settlement of Huguenots in what is now Germany was in Hessen in the late seventeenth century. What I know for sure, however, is that Easter is not Easter in my parents-in-law’s house in Hessen without at least one meal of Grüne SosseContinue 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

German Weddings

Having spent my formative adult years in Germany, I have been to more German weddings than American weddings. There are some striking differences in how each culture approaches the celebration (and paperwork) that accompanies two people committing their lives to each other. As Gina mentioned in her blog post in 2010, weddings in Germany aren’t retail extravaganzas – this is one of the biggest differences. However, there are numerous subtle differences that change the entire experience, and even the symbolism of the ceremony.

Let us begin before the wedding day. There is no such thing as a bridal shower in Germany. Brides-to-be are not showered with gifts in advance of showering them with more gifts, and while wedding plans involve many details, the industry built around them is miniscule compared to the North American version. Bachelor parties, and bachelorette parties, are newer traditions but are increasing in popularity, as young people love an excuse to go out and misbehave. There is no bridal registry, although you can select a number of gift ideas at a local shop and have them displayed at a Hochzeitstisch (wedding table).

In our modern age, you can probably also set up a wishlist on and share it with your guests, if you really want to. The average age of Germans on their wedding day, however, is in the 30-33 year old range. This means that most Germans who are getting married already have everything they need in their home. In fact, most of them have probably lived together for a number of years already and don’t need a new crystal vase or a Crock-pot. Continue reading


I’ve experienced several “American expat in Germany” rites of passage since I first moved to Germany, which was eight years ago: having a German wedding, learning to drive stick in the Swabian Alps, figuring out what goes in the Gelber Sack, pregnancy, giving birth, Kita/Kindi and now Grundschule. Our oldest is a Vorschulkind, or a child on the verge of entering school. She’s participated in special group activities at Kindi as well as attended welcome events at her future school in preparation.

The anticipation and the excitement is the same here as in America. But, the rituals, as ever, seem to be better defined and executed in such a way that really makes you feel like you are preserving a tradition from the same photo from generation to generation. The first one we experienced was the selection and purchase of the Schulranzen or school satchel. I’ve never seen anything like it before moving to Germany. It is a massive, structured square, kind of like a mini suitcase, that the children wear on their backs. 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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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

How being an Expat has made me a better . . . Brit?

A few posts back I wrote about how being an expat has made me a better Canadian. After thinking about it a bit further, I have actually come to realize that being an expat has also made me a better English and Irishwoman. Now I have to admit, I have never been to the UK, nor Ireland, and would never presuppose to be an expert on either place, so this may all sound a bit whacky. But bear with me as I explain how being an expat in German-speaking Europe has helped me to really discover my Irish and English roots.

Growing up in a multicultural country like Canada, we are taught from a young age to appreciate our own unique ethnic backgrounds. There were “Multicultural Day” festivals at school where students were asked to come wearing clothes that represented their families’ ethnic heritage.  Amongst the beautiful traditional Chinese, Aboriginal, Ukrainian, East Indian etc. outfits, I recall going to school on that day wearing a plastic green cap that came as a free gift with a case of beer on St. Patrick’s Day. That was about as close to being “authentically” Irish as my family really was, or so I thought for many years.

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Birthdays and Friends

This year is a momentous one in the eyes of some people, because I am turning forty. I’m turning forty in a new country, and all of my oldest and closest friends live in other ones. But I am not despairing, and I am not ignoring this runden Geburtstag. (A runder Geburtstag is one that ends in a zero.) If I were still in Germany, I would most definitely be having a party. So, we’ll be having one here in Ireland as well, and as expected, many of my German friends have already said they are coming. What a perfect excuse to go on vacation! With 30 days of holidays at their disposal and a booming economy, my German friends can afford to come over to the Emerald Isle.

Ah, but what are friends? Americans seem to call everyone their friends. Facebook has turned even the most distance of acquaintances, from someone you met on the bus yesterday to someone you knew in preschool, into “friends.” One of the first things I discovered when I moved to Germany to be with my future husband, having already lived there for seven years in the previous decade, was the meaning of friends in a German context. Many of his friends have been with him since childhood. Part of that is because people used to grow up in a house and stay in the area. This may not apply as much nowadays, what with Fernbeziehungen and the global economy, but it was still true for my husband, until I dragged him off to Ireland. Continue reading