House Hunters in Germany

Flipping through the myriad of cable channels the other evening, I landed upon House Hunters International, a staged-reality show where buyers are shown three homes and have to pick one of them to buy or rent. I say “staged-reality” because this isn’t a true reality show. As far as I have understood, it is made to look like a reality show but behind the scenes, the final decision has already been made, the documents signed, and thus the drama and conflict in the show are contrived.

All that is neither here nor there, however, because the location of this particular episode was in Würzburg, Germany, and I found myself staying up long past my bedtime in order to watch fake reality TV.

The rewards were plentiful: stereotypical German realtor, stereotypical American expectations, stunted and parallel communication, and cookie-cutter German apartments. Continue reading

Inverse Customs: When Germans Do Precisely the Opposite

Expats in Germany and the other German-speaking countries are often surprised by a type of culture shock I call “inverse customs.” These are practices that are either the exact opposite of, or extremely different from the same custom in the US. Expats quickly learn this fact of life abroad: There is always more than one way to do things, and sometimes it’s the opposite way!

No, I’m not talking about the usual German cultural oddities such as the “killer draft” or not mowing your lawn on Sunday. Those may be odd, but we want to address German customs that are either the polar opposite of similar conventions in the English-speaking universe, or at the least veer severely into left field (or right rather than left, in the case of wedding rings).

A prime “inverse custom” example, and one that affects most expats directly, is the German custom of the birthday person throwing his or her own party, even providing the cake and refreshments! This particular inverse custom usually takes place in the workplace, much to the amazement of most English-speaking expats. So much for surprise parties, Ami! We expect YOU to throw your own birthday party! 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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Dealing with the Germans

This topic has the potential to be divisive and insulting. I will tread lightly. A year ago, a friend of mine celebrated her last few days of singledom with a bachelorette party in France. Unable to attend, I sent along an “Instruction Guide to a German Husband”, a somewhat tongue-in-cheek list of Do’s and Don’ts for foreign wives of German husbands.

And sitting down to write about how to deal with Germans, I find myself thinking: 11 years of marriage to a German, countless hours and festivities with German in-laws, 11 years of living in the country and speaking the language… do I really know how to deal with Germans? Only sometimes. I think I’ve got things figured out and then some Amt throws a spanner in the works, or I attend a party where I’m the only foreigner and come away feeling fresh off the boat, a complete outsider. Continue reading

German Cuisine: a Comforting Constant

One of the small things that charmed me about our San Diego neighborhood when I first visited it, was the presence of a small, independent used cookbook store. Sadly, it’s closing this Christmas. The owner explained to me that she can make more money working less hours by selling rarer cookbooks from home on the internet in four hours than working full-time running her shop. That’s what’s happening in America right now.

Sad as it is to lose another bookstore, let alone an independent one specializing in one of my favorite pastimes, I’ve managed to make up for lost time by visiting frequently and taking advantage of the sell-out prices. I picked up four vegetarian cookbooks for the price of $13. My German husband was not as enthusiastic as I was about these particular meatless bargain purchases. The next time I stopped by to browse, I couldn’t resist a ’70s relic which was a fondue and chafing dish cookbook. And last week, while I was waiting for my children to finish their music class around the corner, I wandered back in and succumbed to making some more unessential yet irresistible purchases: two German cookbooks. There was a third one but even I had to admit at that point that a third would have been excessive. Especially as I realized, the main point of this post, that the culinary styles of all three books were all the same. The same despite the fact that one was published in the ’60s, another in the ’70s and the last in the ’80s. On two of the covers: meat, sauce, and veggies. Exotically, at least I think to an American crowd, one of the veggies is fennel.

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Lernen, Studieren and German as a Foreign Language

I consider myself rather lucky. I’m an American, I speak English which is the international business language, and I moved to a country that has a relatively strong English-speaking background. The part of Germany that I live in, Bavaria, was (still kind of is) occupied by the Americans after the war. This means that along with the German requirement that students learn English in school because it’s the ‘international language’, the people of this region got to practice it because of the troops that were stationed in the area.

So I understand that just about everyone my age (I’m 29) around here knows at least a decent amount of English words, even if they are scared to use them.

I’m an English teacher here. And let’s be obvious, that’s pretty much the ONLY thing I can do as a Beruf until my German is pretty flawless, which it is not. I’m a high level 2, an intermediate, but as I said in an earlier post, I didn’t learn Yoga or Graphic Design German in my integration course. Continue reading

Watching German TV in the USA and Canada

When it comes to television in the USA and Germany, I’m not sure which is worse. Germany has copied from US TV (judge shows in German, dubbed crime series, late-night talk) and vice versa (some reality and quiz shows). Daytime TV in either country is a big waste of time. Late night TV in Germany, with its more titillating offerings, can be a shock for Americans. The German commercial channels (RTL, ProSieben) can be more ad-riddled than anything you’ll ever see in the US.

But we former Germany expats can get a bit homesick for German Fernsehen, especially in the realm of news. While we may have once used German TV for help with conquering the language, now we’d like to get a taste of it back in North America.

I once thought that satellite reception would be the solution to this problem, but it turns out that Continue reading

The Voices in the TV

One of the things that I absolutely was not prepared for when I moved here was the television. I knew that Germany had a lot of American shows on the television; I knew that they were definitely not in English, but I didn’t realize what that meant. I’m going to chalk that up to that blissful pre-move state we all get into: we know we’re doing something awesome and huge, but aren’t thinking about the little things, like how to get a job in a land that speaks another language, where we’ll go grocery shopping, etc.

You know, the small but actually really important things. The ones that help you survive and/or feel comfortable.

About 11 months ago, I thought I’d never get used to the voices. The Americans in Germany know what I mean: the voice actors. I didn’t realize what a huge deal voice acting was over here… I also didn’t realize what a hold American TV has on the international market. I imagined before moving that I’d get addicted to some random German TV shows that would be obscure to my American friends.

Wrong. I get to watch the same shows over here that I did over there (although sometimes a season later, because of the voice-acting). I have tried, really hard to enjoy actual German television and I haven’t found anything that I like yet, although I have to say I really enjoy the German non-biased reporting style for the news and documentaries. Continue reading