Expattery

Some days I wake up happy, at peace with the world, and some days I want to hop on a plane, move to a deserted island where there will be an adorable little shack on the beach with a Imagebeautifully equipped kitchen (with an AGA!), a cute dog named Bruce (Matilda fans will know why I picked that name), a hammock between two palm trees in my backyard that is really just a wonderful sandy beach, no computers/tv/internet/phone, and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, waiting for me. Doesn’t that sound magical? But alas, I’m in Germany, land o’ people and culture I don’t always understand or appreciate.

I try and sometimes succeed at keeping and maintaining my positive outlook here, but it can be incredibly tough at times. Last week (actually every day I go grocery shopping here) I witness terrible manners. This woman was barreling through the aisles at the grocery store and hit me, which pissed me off because this happens damn near every time I go shopping, but what really got me is that she pushed this little girl learning to walk over in order to pick a container of fresh strawberries. The little girl fell, started crying and the mom didn’t see and went to her kid, while I just stood there death- staring at this 30-something woman who thought that was appropriate. Where are the manners? I don’t speak German well enough to make a scene so I left it alone disgusted. Later that day, I had to go to the Ausländeramt to pick up my new visa (yay!), and as I pulled open the door to exit, two burly men rushed through knocking me against the wall, no thank you’s or excuse me’s….

Maybe it’s a Bavarian thing, which is what I’ve been told, where they think it’s acceptable Imagebehavior to hit you, push you, and ignore your existence when they want something but I’m totally not digging it. The G-Man came home complaining (which is a rare thing for him) that he went to Galeria to buy a suit shirt, and was waiting in line when people just kept pushing him aside to cut him in line. He put up a fight, but I said, imagine how difficult it is for me with my limited German? In Edeka, I was patiently waiting in line when this older gentleman swerved his cart right in front of me. I said in German, “Uhh hello, I’m waiting here!” His response was, “I’m old, and I have things to do.” I replied, “Me too, and I’m a 4 month pregnant lady.” He angrily went to the back of the line. These people, seeing that you are a foreigner, will tell you anything to get one over on you thinking that you won’t do or say anything. But the troubling thing is, I don’t want to have to fight for my space in line or to just follow the rules. I’m really not a fighter, and for goodness sakes, if someone pushes my child in order to get to a thing of strawberries in a more timely manner, I might lose it. I cannot stand bullies and absent-minded unthoughtful people. This place is driving me bonkers!

ImageWhich really leads to my question to you, my audience of expats. Next month will be my 2-year German-niversary. I’ve gone through the ups and downs, and am still going through them, but I’ve adjusted enough to understand not everything can be the way I want it to be or think it should be based on my own cultural projections. But I think I’m going through something. I can’t have my baby shower, I haven’t had a wedding, I won’t see my friends and families for 18 months because I don’t make an income and we just can’t justify a trip home at this time even if it’s a solo trip, I can’t work at this point, I may never find a job in my field here (yes I’m whining!), I look and feel terrible, I’m nervous about the pregnancy, I’m nervous about raising a child in Germany while trying to give them part of the American culture and English language when very few people outside of the G-Man think this is important, I’m totally homesick and have cravings for American food I can’t find here, AND this all amounts to me feeling trapped. You know the stir-crazy and whiny kind of trapped. I don’t handle this well. So my long-winded question to you is; what on earth can I do? Any suggestions? How do I cope? I know all of this isn’t as bad as it seems, but it seems really bad at this moment. I could use some helpful and consoling words. Thanks for reading and not unsubscribing for my complainy-osity.

Thanks!

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21 thoughts on “Expattery

  1. Hi Ellie,

    Sorry to hear you are having such a rough time of it right now and as a former expat (although it was 45 years ago) I can relate to what you are saying. I wrote you a very upbeat email last month and have been hoping to hear from you. Anyway, I have had a few thoughts about your situation and I offer some of them for what they might be worth. My situation was very different from yours. First off, I was a young unmarried man who went to Germany – and most particularly Berlin – at a time when Americans were still regarded as heroes who were keeping Germany – and especially West Berlin – secure from the Communist threat. We were criticized by many young people – especially university students for our involvement in Vietnam, but this even was offset by our military presence.

    Most importantly however, and I tried to emphasize this in my previous email, I am convinced that when you have developed a strong fluency in the German language you will have a much more positive experience with the Germans. They expect people to achieve this. They, like most foreigners don’t take into account that people from continent nations like the US, Australia, and New Zealand don’t have the opportunities for close linguistic interaction such as Europeans do.
    For Europeans learning languages is not just a matter of enrichment, it’s essential in order to get ahead in many jobs and careers, and especially where the English language is concerned. German, French, even Russian don’t begin to have the impact that English does in world communication. Therefore, they are not sympathetic to English speakers’ struggle to learn other languages.

    But having said all that, I still cannot emphasize enough that you must put forth maximum effort to get a handle on the German language if you intend to live there – and as quickly as possible!

    I WOULD REALLY APPRECIATE HEARING FROM YOU DIRECTLY. All the best, Jim Cloud

  2. Not that it’s easy to do, but do try to be mindful of that fact that as an expat one is often looking to blame anything noticeable – good, bad, whatever, including people being dicks – on the country you’re in. There are dicks in stores EVERYWHERE. I think we just sense things in the world more when we move somewhere really different.
    Also remember that hormones are hijacking your feelings right now. This sounds like a write-off (“you’re just hormonal”) but that’s not it at all – hormones are fucking serious business and can completely alter one’s personality and worldview.
    For us it’s always gone in cycles – everything’s great for a while, everything’s crap for a while, everything’s just ho-hum for a while. If I start to feel negative about where I am I try to compensate by thinking about negative things about the other places I could be (like the US). That’s probably not the smartest thing (may be more healthy to compensate by thinking about the positives about where you are) but it does help me remember – shit is shit everywhere. The US is not happy sparkle perfect lala land and Germany is not asshole city. That’s just reality.
    One day at a time. Just think about making today comfortable and good and productive in whatever way necessary.

    1. The US is no better than Germany, and somewhere in my mind I completely know that fact, it’s just that I know the US. I am hormonal and more sensitive than I’d like at the moment, but I can’t take it out on Germany! Thanks for your advice, you are right. I got to get some perspective.

  3. I am very sorry you are having such a bad time in Germany. I have been reading your blog posts every now: although you are struggeling bravely to find positive aspects of your expat environment a lot of your experiences or interpretations of things you see and go through seem to end up in a negative “spiral of thoughts” (->direct Translation of a German Expression, I hope it works in English ;-). Please try to seperate important things from the less important things. You are mixing shopping experiences (not important) with beeing nervous about your pregancy (important). I know you do this to outline that your expat live meets difficulties on so many different levels but it will simply be more difficult to experience happyness if you do not learn to leave behind the less important negative experiences quickly. I had to learn that myself and it is possible. If you cannot work in your original field of work maybe you can find out if there is any other possibilty for you to work you might be able to do and like. Even if it is a little under your qualifications or badly paid (or unpaid) it might still be of benefit for your progress in language and it could be a Chance to meet poeple. Or you can join a Club/Verein doing something you can enjoy (German-American Friendship Clubs, sports Club, choir, church, charity, cooking …). Some activities might not be possible because of your pregancy, but even the fact that you are pregnant might set free a whole set of acitivities (Geburtsvorbereitungskurs, Schwangerschaftsyoga …). Try to meet Americans to be able to complain about the Germans and walk home lightheartedly and meet Germans to learn and understand the culture – it is not all that bad ;-). Your are probably nervous about your pregnancy because there is no one (like Family or older friends) you can turn to for questions and your husband is of no help as beeing pregnant is as new to him as it is to you. But you will (both) do fine. There are professional organisations (like “pro familia”) you can turn to with your questions and unsecurities. Please, do not let negative thoughts rule your life – it will endanger your health in the long run and it´s simply not worth it. Concentrate on the important things, try to make Little changes, even if it needs big efforts to do so. Don´t be shy to ask for Support. I am German, so please excuse my English. I have some expat esperiences myself (Italy, Spain) and I live in a binational realtionship so I do share some of your experiences 🙂

    1. You are very right! I can’t let the negativity get me down. Thanks for your advice, I should be more active in the community and get myself out there more. Thanks again for your comment, it gave me a lot to think about.

  4. For me, blogging kept me sane! I had to start seeing some humour in the horrendous rudeness of everyone around me or I would probably have gone on a killing spree. There are probably like-minded people not very far from you! I found some in Latvia! Oh, and get a care package sent over from the States!

    1. Thanks!! Blogging does help, even if things are going well, I’m not a sugar-coater but I could do better by finding the humor of it all. And maybe I can try to hit someone up for a care package, they all just seem so busy at the moment. And already texted!

  5. Hi Ellie! I like your blog a lot because you tell it like it is. I am probably in a similar situation to you..from the U.S., engaged to a German, in my mid-to-upper twenties and living here for about three years now. I have to say..the pushing thing that the Germans do–I think they do this everywhere in Germany hard-core. It really got to me for a long time and actually made me cry at a Christmas market when a man knocked me over so he could buy a bratwurst before me. Finally, I decided to play by the German rules. The next week, I got on an ICE train to Hamburg and as many Germans sat with their elbows hanging in the aisles, I rammed myself quickly through the train cars, ramming everyones arms with my rolling luggage and shoving people left and right (without any achtung, vorsicht or Sorry!) That was really great and I think I finally got past it soon after. A few months later when I landed in Atlanta I accidently cut a line in the woman’s bathroom because I thought they were talking and not waiting. Then I realized that the German ways are catching up.

    I relate a lot to your feelings. I went through many changes of thought while living here as I have been working full-time and living with my German guy and haven’t ever had a friend circle or people I could really count on. For a while I debated going back to the U.S., but everytime I visited, I also felt foreign there, too. I went through phases where I was crying many nights here, phases where I turned to food, phases where I just slept. I think the cultural adjustment is sometimes mistaken as a first-year thing, but in my opinion it takes a long time and a strong person–which you certainly are! I have to admit, I also romanticized European living with traveling, wearing fancy clothes, meeting tons of cool people and hanging out in street cafes. Wow, it could not be further from the truth. Nonetheless, I realize that this is real-life now and it is also good and inspiring. Hope you keep writing and know that you are not alone! Love your blog 🙂 And congrats on the baby!!!!

    1. Thank you very much! I’m somewhat afraid of adapting to the pushiness, I know that if I do that back in the US I will not hear the end of it. But back in America I feel a bit foreign too in a way now, so I kinda feel like there is no real place for me, you know what I mean? I did romanticize a lot about European life, and maybe that happens for some people but it hasn’t happened to me. Thanks for your advice, I really appreciate it!

  6. Hey hey. I just discovered your blog, so yey for that. Not so much yey for how you’re feeling right now. I feel like being pregnant is one of those times when this shit seems even more intolerable/worse/totally unacceptable…at least it was for me. The pushing doesn’t bother me, but when I was pregnant, yey, that was the time when I was having the most of this brand of thoughts.

    Either way! Hey! Some stuff is awesome! The way I look at it is this: there is awesome stuff and shitty stuff in every single country and city. Hopefully you can find enough joy in the awesome stuff to eventually fade out your annoyance at the irritating stuff.

    Best of luck!

    1. I definitely agree with you there, pregnancy is another state of being. I’m way more sensitive (which is bad because I’m normally sensitive anyway), and I find so many things unacceptable and intolerable that I even had to block facebook on my computer because I was getting so mad about it! I’m going to try being more active, talking to people, and looking for the positive instead of letting the negative get to me. Thanks for reading and thanks for the advice!

  7. We lived in Germany for 11 years and the pushing-in-line thing is not just Bavarian. It happens in B-W, too, and German friends tell us it’s a national trait. The same sweet little old lady who smiles and says “Morgen” to you on the street (we lived in a village) will cut you off in line at Aldi. When we ask our friends about, they just shrug in a German way.
    Love your blog. Reminds us of our early days in Germany. You crave American food now, but if you stay there long enough, you’ll be hunting for an Aldi in the US and stocking up on their German specials in the fall. It’s not unusual for us to walk out of Aldi with a dozen boxes of Lebkuchen and a half dozen Stollen at Christmas.

    1. Yeah, these older people here are the worst with pushing, as another commenter said below. I think they feel it is their right to do that, and there is nothing you can do about it! Thanks for reading the blog, I’m glad you can relate. I do miss some American foods, namely the ones no one can even send here, but I think that’s just my state of being at the moment too. I know if I ever moved back to America, I would miss the bread and pretzels the most.

  8. Get someone to send you a care package! Seriously… products from home instantly make everything look brighter!

    ALDI is awful for people pushing in. I mean, it happens in other shops as well but nowhere near as much as in ALDI. And old people are the absolute worst!! Try going a bit later in the day when there are less old people around.

    1. Yeah… I wish someone would send me a care package like right now!! I hope someone will.
      Maybe going later will help with the pushiness, I just feel a bit vulnerable with the pregnancy and that sets off my anger, lol. That pushy thing is just so strange, I hope to never find that acceptable behavior. Thanks for the advice!

  9. Hi Ellie,

    I looked for your email address because I wanted to send you a little message/a supportive wave over from the back arse of beyond in Bayern where I currently live for, you guessed it, love. What is the best way to contact you?

    Liv

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