InterNations Featured Blog
Diana: Raising Expats
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Germany, etc.
I’ve always believed that you don’t really know a city, until you’ve lived there. And I’ve lived in many.
I grew up in 3 different cities in Michigan. My parents loved to travel, and by the time I was 18 I had visited 34 of the United States on multiple road-trips. In 34 years, I’ve lived in 2 countries, 6 different states, 1 commonwealth, 1 Bundesland and 12 different cities. I moved to Munich the first time in 2006. After giving birth to my son, I returned back to a small town in Virginia for a year. Living there, I felt like a square peg in a round hole, so when I was given the opportunity to move back to Germany, I jumped on it (after three months of consideration). Within the first month of being back, I got pregnant with my daughter. It must be something in the water here. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
Even though I’ve lived in Munich for almost five years, the longest I’ve lived anywhere since I was a kid, I’m learning new things about it every day.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
Initially I was hesitant about blogging about my life in such a public forum. For the first year, back in 2006, I paid for a private website that was password protected to keep my family and friends back home informed. Sadly, no one could ever remember the password, so that was a failed attempt. When I returned I started a blog through Blogger, so that my family wouldn’t have to remember passwords. While I was pregnant and taking care of my young son, it became an outlet for me to vent and laugh at the craziness of our lives here.
Now I use it to deal with the spectrum of emotions I’m going through with my separation and impending divorce in a foreign country.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
- Reason # 303 Why I Love Munich
- PANIC and running around aimlessly
- Just a Mom
- The Missing Piece
- The Last Love Letter to My Husband
Tell us about the ways your new life in Germany differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Many times when old friends find me on FB, I get the comment, “You live in Germany!? Your life must be so exciting.” My response is usually, “Not really. I still have to clean the toilet.” The truth is, yes, life in Germany in some ways is exciting, or at least not boring. Never boring, because even when you’re dealing with something as simple as finding the service desk at the local Media Markt to get your computer fixed, it’s a challenge. Heck, it was three years living here, before I even realized we had a local Media Markt. If my bus ride home didn’t pass it, as far as I was concerned, it didn’t exist. Before I had a car, I never even saw it. It would have been a whole lot simpler to take a different bus route there than to trek all the way into city center to buy a new computer, though probably not nearly as entertaining.
In a lot of ways we are lucky here. Germany is still a Western culture. Munich is almost sterile, because it is so clean and safe. The quality of life is high. And let’s be honest, the number one reason why some Expats choose to stay is because of the 21 state holidays and 6 weeks of vacation.
Culture shock, yes, I’m still experiencing culture shock. However now I’m just comfortable with the fact that on an almost daily basis, I will be confronted with something unfamiliar, difficult or confusing. I’m used to not being able to communicate in German as well as I can in English. I’m used to not having any cultural memory of what the heck is that holiday called again, Pfingsten? And why do 3 year old children parade around with lanterns around a large bonfire on St. Martin’s Day? Now, the shock is more like a continuous low electric current humming through my body.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Germany? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
No, no way. There is no way to be fully prepared. That is like assuming you can be fully prepared to give birth or raise children. There is nothing that you can do to fully prepare. I wouldn’t change anything though. No, that isn’t true. I wish I would have worked harder at learning the language the first year I was here, when I was pregnant, depressed and living like a hermit. I doubt, though, that my experiences would be nearly as entertaining if I was fluent in German.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Oh, it’s hard to pick just one. My whole life here has been one big hilarious anecdote. This one was originally posted on my blog February 23, 2009.
Goodbye American Modesty
The first time I went to a prenatal appointment in Germany, I was in for a bit of surprise. When I hid behind the curtain to change out of my clothes, I was confused. Where were the customary hospital gowns or at least the paper blanket to cover up?
I peaked back out from behind the curtain, and asked the nurse for something to cover up with. She looked at me funny, and then to my friend Amelie who came along to be my translator. Amelie having been through an OB/GYN appointment in Germany already was quick to explain.
She explained to me, that here they don't provide hospital gowns or paper blankets. I had forgotten how comfortable Germans were with nudity. Well, when in Rome... Anyways, for future appointments, I found a compromise that I was comfortable with. I always wore my longest maternity shirt whenever going to for a prenatal appointment. By the time Max was born, I was comfortable getting undressed without a prenatal gown. And well, after I gave birth to Max, I had completely lost my modesty anyways.
Now when I go to the OB for prenatal appointments, I have no problem getting undressed, though I do find it a bit strange that they still provide you with a curtain to get undressed behind.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Germany?
I can’t speak for all of Germany, but regarding Munich:
- Live as close to city center as you can. You’ll have way more access to all the cool and fun things going on in the city, of which there are many. If you can’t find them, send me a message, and I’ll happily point you in the right direction.
- If you are a stay-at-home parent or spouse, do your best to make friends as quickly as possible to avoid becoming depressed or a hermit. It’s very tempting, believe me. I did it for the first three months of my life here.
- Don’t believe anything anyone says about grumpy Bavarians. It’s all about expectations. See: I love you, and I’m thankful for you.
How is the expat community in Germany? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The expat community is fantastic in Munich. There are multiple online forums to make initial contact with other expats. After I made a few friends, I’ve met many other people through those friends. I consider some of the friends I’ve made in Munich family. We have been through so much together, from giving birth and post partum depression to divorce. The experiences we have gone through together tie us together like a family. These are the people with whom the children and I spend our holidays.
How would you summarize your expat life in Germany in a single, catchy sentence?
The catch phrase on my blog is,”The adventures and misadventures of an American mom raising her two children abroad,” but that is not a complete sentence, so I don’t know if that will make the grade.