My name is Kathleen Ralf and I teach Humanities and English at an International School near Frankfurt. My family and I have moved to Germany from the United States five years ago with only 5 suitcases. I started writing my blog, Lehrer Werkstatt, last year in an effort to document what I do in the classroom as well as what I learn about life through living and working in a multicultural environment.
The biggest struggle with living in Germany is the language. I work all day in English. When I get home my family speaks in English. Our daughter goes to a German public school in order to have a solid base in German. And she speak German with my husband until I get home. Imagine my frustration at her recent birthday party when trying to keep the kids from jumping on the furniture. When you are stressed out, it is difficult to find the right words. I’m also a funny person and tend to be very sarcastic. This is hard to translate. I’m really only funny in one language.
Is Germany a multicultural country? This is a difficult question for me to answer. I work in a multicultural environment. Only 30 per cent of my students are German, the rest are from just about everywhere. So I am immersed in a multitude of different cultures everyday.
That being said, Germans tend not to reach out to the Auslander. In the US, we like to preach that we are a melting pot of cultures. But this doesn’t mean that America is a happy place for immigrants. Germans are about precision. They don’t want to speak English to you until they feel fluent, even though their English is 10 times better than my German will ever be. They are afraid to talk to you in their “bad English.”
And then there is the relatively low transient population. Germans, for the most part, are born, raised, and live in the same town and don’t move far from their extended family. So for a person to break into a group in a neighbourhood, you are competing with adult relationships that were established in kindergarten. So although we felt welcomed and have German friends, it is difficult to do feel a part of the community sometimes. We have to work at it.
Germany is not for everybody. I love Germany for all of its quirks. I love that waitresses don’t bug me incessantly while I eat. I love that sales people in a store don’t follow me around trying to help. I love the huge amount of public green space to wander about in. I love the various flavors of Germany. Others will struggle here. They will want what they had at home. They will be frustrated with the customer service. They will want help with everything and will not find what they are looking for. They will want people to stop being so honest and sugar coat their criticism.