I am Elizabeth, an American mother of two adult children and wife of a Swabian German whose mother is from northern England. I started learning German in the 8th grade and in 11th grade lived for six months as an exchange student with a wonderful family in Esslingen, Germany, the sister city of my hometown, Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Now I am involved with the Esslingen-Sheboygan exchange programs on the German side and help prepare young Germans for their 3-week or 5-month stay in Wisconsin, as well as for hosting American students. In my free time I like to read, I enjoy cooking with my husband, going for walks, and gathering material and ideas for my blog, and writing – emails, hand-written letters to my kids, blog posts, lists, translations …
Naturally my love for a German man brought me here! My husband and I had been dear friends and soulmates for years before we married in 2006. We lived a long-distance marriage for six years while my children were still in secondary school, and in 2012 I moved to Germany for good. We never considered living in the U.S.. His company is here in a tiny little village in Swabia near the Black Forest, and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I can get to the big city (Stuttgart) within an hour on the train, but our village is quiet and peaceful and the air is clean and fresh on the days when the local farmers are not fertilizing.
What is it that you like/dislike about Germany?
I honestly like nearly everything about Germany, and I had visited often enough prior to moving here that I wasn’t surprised by much. I fit here better than I did in the U.S.. There’s a rhythm here that feels right, the social norms are logical, and things are neat and orderly. That’s something that drives a lot of expats nuts, but it makes sense to me. I like that most people care in a reasonable way about the environment. I like that I can get everywhere I need to go by bus, by train, or on foot. I like that we live right in the middle of history – medieval cities, castles, cobblestone roads, half-timbered houses, churches built in the 13th century…Every city has a story. Our tiny little village was first mentioned in written records in 767AD!
I dislike with the strength of a thousand suns driving in Germany. Streets and roads are narrow, speeds are high, patience among other drivers is lacking, and I hate that there are no shoulders on the sides of roads!
Do you feel integrated?
I do feel integrated. It’s obvious by my accent that I’m American, but my German is tolerable enough that I don’t often have the common expat experience of Germans responding to me in English. When it has happened, I just carry on in German and they switch back.
We live in Swabia, so I do my Kehrwoche, I call Brötchen Weckle, I observe the Mittagsruhe (mid-day quiet hours), and I don’t make false promises. I come from the USA where we could mow our lawn any day of the week and vacuum or do laundry any time of day, but I live here now, and it is not ok to mow on Sundays or disturb the Mittagsruhe. I needed to change some of my habits in order to live peacefully with my German neighbors, not the other way around.
Do you think Germany is a multicultural society?
I think Germany is trying to be multicultural and has made good progress over the years, but there is a long way to go. One of the issues is that Germans already have impressions of and prejudices against their own German neighbors! The Swabians call those in the north “Fischköpfe”, politicians in Berlin make disparaging remarks against Swabians living in Prenzlauer Berg who want to sweep their sidewalks, Bavarians would secede if they could, and let’s not even talk about the Ossies and Wessies, who still have quite strong opinions about each other. When a Hamburger is considered an outsider in Swabia, how can we foreigners hope to be fully accepted? Still, the Germans I know well are welcoming to people of all cultural backgrounds.
What I have seen is that many Germans do not want other cultures and religions to dictate or change their lives in Germany. Let me fabricate an example of Americans moving to Germany and expecting things to change for their benefit. We Americans would never go into a sauna with strangers naked, whether it was single-sex or co-ed. We do not deal well with nudity. In Germany, however, most saunas are Textilfrei – swim suits are not allowed – and most saunas are co-ed. Just because Americans live in Germany, that does not mean that there should be a “swim suits required” day at the local sauna.
Have any of the stereotypes about Germany and Germans been confirmed? 😉
For me it’s been more the opposite. My neighbors are genuinely friendly and generous. My Swabian husband doesn’t consciously waste money, but he is willing to spend a fair amount for an excellent meal and good wine. Just the other day I saw a woman walk across a crosswalk when the Ampelmännchen was still red! I have a real issue with the “Germans have no sense of humor” stereotype. They absolutely do – but in order to get it, you have to be able to laugh at yourself and be at least a bit cynical.
I know Germany isn’t paradise. Every country has its problems and always will. But I love living here and am challenged every day in ways I wasn’t in the U.S.. I think it would be more difficult at this point for me to return to the U.S. and re-assimilate than it was for me to move here to Germany. The paperwork would be a lot easier, though! 😉