The Instant Expat

Because I have to go back to work earlier than anticipated thanks to the recession, we had to think about childcare for the little ones earlier than anticipated. With two kids under three, daycare (Kinderkrippe) was not an option due to the cost involved. Although an earlier attempt with an au pair didn’t work out very well, (too much partying and too little working) we decided to take the plunge and try again.

Our au pair arrived from Canada last week, and it was interesting to see what kinds of questions he asked and what he finds intriguing (yes, he is a guy) about Germany. He’s 18 and has been to Europe before, but not to Germany. I had sent him Hyde’s book before he arrived, so expected some things, but others were a surprise.

The second night he was here, I took him with me to my expat meetup group here in Heidelberg. I had to explain to him beforehand what an expat was. If you have never been one, you most likely haven’t encountered the word! The first person he talked to wasn’t technically an expat either. He asked her where she was from and she said “Bavaria”. He said, “Where’s that?” To him, it sounded like a country, but of course he had never heard of it. She made him feel silly for not knowing that it was a state in Germany. Of course, we’ve all heard the stereotypes about Bavarians being like Texans, wanting to secede from the Union and all. I still felt bad for him. Not very welcoming.

When I first came to Germany, I had a similar experience in the Irish pub with the Aussies and Kiwis, who thought I must be a complete idiot because I couldn’t always understand their terminology or accents. “We can understand your slang, you naive Yank!”. Of course, Hollywood is everywhere. If you grow up in the US, you aren’t exposed to many Aussie or Kiwi accents, or even English ones, so it takes a while to get used to the jargon. I was forever having to defend myself and my ignorance, but eventually they gave up. The problem with this expat thing is, ignorance is part of the experience! No matter how many books you read before you get somewhere, there will always be cultural and practical issues that you will encounter. You will make mistakes and put your foot in it, but it is all part of the fun.

The intrepid au pair has signed up for his first German course at the Volkshochschule. It won’t be long before he starts to understand more of the language, which will help him understand the culture. Luckily he is open to learning and isn’t easily embarrassed. Being open is half the battle. If you move overseas and are unwilling to see the good in the new culture, you may not enjoy your time away, no matter where you are. Acknowledging and relishing the differences make life so much more interesting.

So what was the first word he learned in German besides “Tschüß“? Schnupfen…With a house full of kids, there’s no avoiding that as winter approaches. Let’s hope the next one won’t be Schweinegrippe!