My name is Kristen, and I’m from the Maryland/Virginia area of the U.S.A. I moved to Germany about three years ago after my (American) husband said he’d been offered a job with a small German company. I was just finishing up a post-graduate degree in teaching, and was looking for a job myself. We weighed the pros and cons, and decided we were up for the adventure!
It was a big move for us and our beagle, but we’ve since come to enjoy the quality of life we have here. I especially love the public transportation system. In the States we had two cars, but here we don’t need them. We go everywhere — to work, around the city, and on vacation — on the trains. I also really like the healthcare system. In the States I had a couple emergencies that sent me to the ER, and even though I had health insurance, I remember paying hundreds of dollars to the various doctors who saw me for months after the event. Here if I’m sick, I can be in and out of the 24-hour clinic in just 45 minutes with nothing more than the cost of a prescription. I just wish I’d studied here, too, and didn’t have my student loan debt!
I have picked up a few German habits, I suppose. Our living space is smaller than in the U.S., and we separate and recycle our trash. In fact, I cringe a bit when I see the all-in-one bins downtown, and will often save any plastic bottles I’ve bought until I can get home and put them in the Gelbe Sack. We shop for groceries daily instead of weekly, and buy more fresh and seasonal produce. And much to my husband’s exasperation, I will not cross a street if the Ampelmann is red. One habit I can’t seem to get used to is not doing my cleaning and laundry on Sundays. I know it’s a quiet day, but we live with a lot of international and young people in our apartment building, and no one really seems to mind.
One thing I do miss about the States is the food. We found a lot of really innovative, local restaurants in Charlottesville and Baltimore, and on our travels to Boston, New Orleans, and Charleston. I haven’t found quite the same “food culture” here in Germany. That’s why I started my blog, in order to document my food travels and to better appreciate what’s in my own backyard, so to speak. I work full-time, though, so my blog is more of a side project that I do for fun.
Unfortunately, I don’t feel as integrated as I would like. Culturally, I haven’t found any problem, and perhaps that’s because my family on both sides is originally from Germany. I fit the German stereotype of being reserved, fiscally conservative, and of being serious and industrious. However, contrary to what I’ve heard (from visiting family members, even!), I don’t find Germans to be unfriendly at all. They just don’t randomly smile as much as Americans do, and don’t care much for small talk with strangers, which is perfectly fine by me.
That said, I’ve found the German language to be extremely difficult to learn. I took French in college and high school, so the gendered nouns are fine, but the different cases have been hard for me to learn. I remember that when I first moved here, one of my biggest blunders was mistaking the “taglich frisch” signs under certain fruits and vegetables at the grocery store to mean they didn’t have a number to punch into the machine for your barcode. Then once at the register, the cashier was asking me for the barcode for my fruit and I kept repeating “taglich frisch” to try to tell her that there was no number! My husband was quick to correct my mistake once I told him my story at home — after he stopped laughing, of course. Now after three years, I know enough to carry on a basic conversation and to get what I need from doctors, restaurants, and stores, but I work in an international school were the lingua franca is English. This makes it hard to practice my German and means that I will never really be fully integrated, I think.
Because I work in an international school, I see Germany as being a very multicultural society. The fact that there are so many international schools in Germany speaks to that! That said, I still see “cultural clashes” daily in my classroom. Because people are raised in very different environments, we come to have different expectations about dealing with other people. And while that’s not to say that a multicultural society can’t function well, it does require an extra bit of patience and understanding. The thing I find really fascinating in my teaching are the kids who don’t really have a nationality, our so-called “third culture kids”, either because they’ve never lived in their parents’ countries of origin or because they’ve spent so much of their lives in various countries that they have no single culture to claim as their own. In this respect, they truly become citizens of the world.
And while I know that some part of me will always be American, I hope that through my travels here in Germany and wherever else we may live as well, that I can also pick up a little bit of their “world spirit”.