It’s Normal

I’ll say it again and again, moving abroad is tough work. It’s much harder than I thought it would be; sure there are still moments where you get swept away with looking at all of the shiny pretty things and differences, and the magic of it still lingers, but that other stuff catches up to you. Sometimes you want to have an English conversation about nothing, or you want your favorite Chinese food from back home, or you wish you could find some of the things you always purchased easily back in America but you’ll never find on the shelves in Germany. It’s about comfort, and moving abroad strips you of that until you feel adjusted and confident again.

Right now, I’m totally stressed. I think its finally caught up to me that I’m in a biracial, bicultural, binational, and bilingual relationship. Whoa! If you are black, and it doesn’t matter if you are a little or a lot, you’re still black, dating someone who isn’t can have its moments. It’s a somewhat different culture, something I’ve always known and every other black person knows. We have our own culture too, that goes along being American, and speaking English. Now, I’m from a mixed background, which means I’m lucky honestly. I can hang out with black people and others just as easily, although there is something comforting about being around other black people. In the end, we’re all Americans. And that shapes us just as much as the color of our skin. We are less patient, more vocal, and we do as we see best. Germans are not this way; their culture is the epitome of patience, they don’t need to fight for what they believe in, although they may, they generally let things go, and they are totally comfortable with their culture. Germans do not praise themselves; it is simply not the way they do things, sure they can be amazing at something, but they won’t tell you about how great they are, they are humble folk. And believe me, these are not generalizations, I’ve spoken to professionals about this, because at first, this was very confusing to me.

You can sit at a table with 5 Germans, all of which speak English (most Germans, especially younger generations have English lessons) well enough to converse with an English speaker, but they will speak German. It is now the English-speaker’s responsibility to learn German, and although that makes complete sense, and it’s not offensive, it is uncomfortable. You literally can sit there for half an hour or more, and no one will speak to you. You can ask a question, and they will answer to someone else and that person is expected to translate that to you. In the end, you feel like a leper, left-out and unwanted. Then you start berating yourself for not trying hard enough; during the day I work on Berlitz cds and books, I read about German, I watch television shows in German just to try to learn something. But it’s not enough, and it won’t be until I can converse in German. Until then, well, I should accept that I will not have a place in Germany.

Not every expat has this experience, I know some expats that came here with their American spouses, so they don’t have to acclimate quite as quickly as someone who came alone or someone who came to be with their German love. The most proactive thing you can do when moving abroad is to know the culture of the people you will live next to, it is their country, their culture, their language and Germans hold that dear to them. They may not be the most patriotic country, but they do value their culture and language, and as an outsider, you should too. But damn it’s stressful. I have so much on my plate; learning the culture, getting my work visa, not having my own income, being in a serious relationship when neither of us have ever been this serious in a relationship before, learning things about myself, viewing the world through Germany, cleaning, cooking, ironing, laundry, reading, shopping, relying, needing new things, adjusting, and learning German. You can see why 3 months just isn’t enough time to know German so well.

I have no doubt that expats can relate, these are universal problems and admittedly, it’s completely normal. It’s just hard work, and like a relationship that you know can and will last the rest of your life, it’s work that is very worth it. I think I can try to be as patient as the Germans, at least when it comes to this.

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2 thoughts on “It’s Normal

  1. I feel you. I still have some of these issues, plus on top of that being able to put aside my panic moments to be able to pass an exam for a degree, and dealing with a break up. As cheesy and as overrated as it sounds, it does get better. One day you will just find yourself in a moment all of a sudden when it clicks. This is harder without the knowledge of the language, but here is my tip. You have to use the German laid-back attitude to your favor. In a big group, sure, they aren’t going to pause mid joke to translate and this is difficult (I do the smile and nod thing and just stick to my beer), but in smaller groups, (i.e. 3 people max) it’s 1) hard to ignore the only other person 2) they will recognise you can’t speak the language and actually talk to you in English, but you must meet them half way. Speak to them in whatever little German you know, ask them to correct you, and by the end of the conversation they will eventually tire of having to speak slowly and speak to you in English for your moment of sanity. The other two things I suggest are find one other person that can’t speak English well and pick up a conversation with them (flatmates help). Actually my first friend here was a girl from Cologne who lived in my dorm, she spoke broken English and I broken German but I literally had tea with her everyday and tried to talk to her, while every other word I looked up in a German phrasebook. You will ask “was ist der wort für__” enough times that vocab will build. AND the best thing you can do is find if there is a school nearby offering German language courses to guest post docs or students or workers, usually the Uni will offer this. Or buy children’s books and start there. Sorry for writing a novel of a comment, but really if there is someone you want to talk to about this hit me up. We are in the same boat, except for the fact that I get my bed to myself lol.

  2. i sooo feel you. Just moved to Bamberg – for my amazing boyfriend. The stress and enormity of it all is overwhelming. Some little things- I curse myself for not remembering the Marshmallow Fluff that I bought to bring here, some big things- not sure about where you are, but the hard water is, well, hard.
    But yeah, the general feeling that I am not from around here, having people constantly tell me I need to learn German (and here it is Fränkish- ugh).
    Came across your blog, and just wanted to tell you- I get it. I hope it´s normal for expats, and also think it is, but yeah….I sooo understand.

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