My name is Jim Geren. I moved to Germany in 2013 from Colorado Springs, CO, U.S.A. with my then girlfriend (now wife) Eve, and our two dogs, Buster and Wilson”.
What brought you to Germany?
Not wanting to live in the forest. Okay, that is certainly a weird answer that only begs more questions, so let me clarify: My wife is originally from the town where we live, Bad Mergentheim. We visited her family in December of 2012 and I, as a wide-eyed American who hadn’t yet been to Europe, immediately fell in love. On the plane ride home, we talked about the benefits of moving: The better German healthcare system, starting a family where the kid can experience famous and historical sites without a passport, and, of course, Lederhosen. I love my Lederhosen. Even though most people only wear theirs at Volksfests, I wear mine almost constantly. When Eve is asked, ‘Why is your husband wearing Lederhosen in December…at a wedding?’, her reply is, ‘He’s American’. Luckily for me, this seems to explain not only this, but every other strange thing that I do. Anyway, we put our house on the market one week after returning and it sold three days later. So you can see, we had to move. Had we not, we would have been forced from our house and would have been, in effect, homeless and would have had to live in the forest. I am just not cut out for that. I am always slightly shocked by people that go camping. These people actually pay money to sleep on the ground. No thanks. I prefer to pay money so I don’t have to.
What were the biggest struggles for you when you moved?
Living in the forest. No, really, it was making friends due to the language. Shortly after you move, even if you are lucky enough to find someone who speaks English, there is still a good chance that you won’t understand each other. German grammar and phrases are completely different than in English. Like most people who don’t have a grasp of a language, they will often translate word-for-word from their native language which will leave the other person scratching their head. For example, if your almost new friend is having trouble keeping up with your English, instead of saying ‘Sorry, my English is very bad. I didn’t understand anything’, their response might be ‘Sorry, my English is under all pig. I understand only train station’. If you are an English speaker, you are standing there, right now, mouth agape in bewildered shock as only a crazy person would say such a thing. It actually means the same thing, but you could have no way of knowing that. Unfortunately for you, your response of a blank-eyed stare will cause your almost new friend to think that you are a bit daft. And just like that, a friendship has ended before it even began. Come to think of it, not learning the language may also cause you to sleep in the forest as it’s probably difficult to find a job in Germany if you can’t speak German. No job means no house and no house means you will be living in the forest. I hope that you enjoy mosquitoes.
Likes/dislikes in Germany and about Germans?
The likes are difficult because there are so many, so I will narrow it down to one; the history. In America, we just don’t have many structures older than those built in the 1800’s (let alone Medieval castles), and even those are few and far between. This is probably why you see school field-trips in the U.S. to places like a McDonald’s that was built in the 1950’s or, as I like to call it, the American Medieval Period. I assume that Ronald was once the court Jester for the Burger King before being banished for scaring the hell out of children. Have you ever realized how much he looks like the clown from Stephen King’s ‘It’? Thanks to that literary nightmare, I only use the drive-thru at McDonald’s so I can make a speedy getaway should I glimpse an evil clown.
The only dislike that I can think of is that people in Germany have a penchant for staring. This may be a ‘German’ thing or it may only be ‘why is that guy in Lederhosen gawking at that building’ thing. I have a tendency to marvel at any building built in the 1500’s or earlier, which is pretty much all of them.
What is multiculturalism for you? Is Germany a multicultural society?
I’ll answer the second question first. (1). Yes, Germany is a multicultural society because (2). We have Döner. Döner is the delicious Turkish sandwich-thing that is sold on almost every corner in every city in Germany. In a country that sees more than the average amount of immigrants from the Middle East, I see the popularity of Döner as evidence of Germany’s multicultural leanings. Everyone loves Döner, probably even the far-right types. I hope that I see a skin-head eating one sometime just so I can gleefully point out their hypocrisy.
But seriously, multiculturalism is where a society not only accommodates different cultures, but welcomes them as well. Thanks to their social policies, Germany certainly fits that bill.
Can multiculturalism result in a country losing its identity?
I don’t think so. Whereas some in other countries still view other cultures as a threat to their identity, the ‘melting pot’ of the U.S. is the national identity. I think that the problem is when you have some people who choose not to integrate into their new country. Most people that emigrate, both to the U.S. and Germany, do so to become a part of that society; to work hard and provide a better future for themselves and their families. Lack of understanding, and therefore animosity and distrust, come when people not only refuse to become a part of their new society, but also force their beliefs and culture on others. This comes from both sides, however, in the form of fundamentalism or extremism. I subscribe to the ‘live and let live’ philosophy of acceptance and tolerance. Accepting other cultures, as long as everyone follows the laws of their adopted country, only enriches a nation. The rejection of other cultures, regardless of the country that it’s practiced in, is tyranny.
What is typically German for you? 😉
Have I mentioned Lederhosen?
What’s the most common stereotype about your home country you came to notice in Germany?
That Americans are all social conservatives. It’s true that the US right-wingers get a lot news publicity here in Europe due to the crazy things they say, but most people that I know are actually quite liberal, myself included. It’s quite funny when I talk to a German about my social and political views. Their reaction is almost always, ‘My goodness, you’re like a German‘! I’m originally from Vermont and for those that don’t know it, Vermont is really a European country that is only masquerading as a US state. Shhhh; Don’t tell Texas.
Any cross-cultural blunder/mistake comes to mind?
Ah, the questions have finally turned to beer. The first time that I went to the Cannstatter Wasen in Stuttgart, I was fed one liter mugs (Maß) of very strong beer and was forced to dance on benches. These two things rarely mix. Luckily, my repeated falls were cushioned by the other Americans in attendance who were kind enough to pass out on the floor beneath me. I would never have fallen on a German as they essentially invented beer and can certainly hold their liquor. Because of one guy’s dapper Euro-style side-slick hairdo, I thought that I had fallen on one at one point until he uttered, ‘Dude, get off me’. Everyone knows that Germans do not say ‘dude’. They, of course, say ‘düde’.
If you had to choose to live in one German city/town, what would it be?
Not to suck up to my home town, but Bad Mergentheim. Having visited quite a few towns and cities here in Germany, Bad Mergentheim is perfect. It’s not only incredibly beautiful, it’s small enough to feel cozy yet big enough that it offers all of the accoutrements of a larger city. Oops. I’ve said too much. Now a bunch of English speakers are going to move here. There goes the neighborhood.
What German food tastes better than it looks?
All of them. To Americans who are used to food being either low-brow and fried (Ooooo!) or all high-brow and fancy (Ahhhh!), German cuisine is, at least in appearance, solidly middle-class. It looks like the meals that I grew up with: Meat. Potatoes. Veggies. Punkt. And, like its American counterpart, I find German cuisine to be exceptionally delicious. Sure, you can buy a wheelbarrow full of fried food for a dollar, but you will also weigh five-hundred pounds. Or you can fork over one hundred dollars for a delightfully arranged spoonful of something fancy and, because you are starving, weigh fifty. Either option isn’t good for you. You can keep your fried twinkles and salmon-mousse. Give me a plate of Sauerbraten with Kartoffeln and Rotkohl any day. Not only will I have spent a mere ten dollars, I will also be healthy and therefore won’t drag down the healthcare system.
What questions would you ask to other expats coming to Germany?
I would ask only one question: Have you learned German? If their answer is ‘Yes’, I would wish them Viel Glück with a wink and a smile. If they answer ‘No’, I would grab them by the shoulders and shake them until they learn German. This will make learning the language difficult because of all of the head-bobbing, but so be it. Seriously, learn German! It will make your life in Germany SO much easier. That is, unless you like not having friends. And like living in the forest.