Peter: Wiesbaden As A Foreign Language
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Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Germany, etc.
I was born in South Africa and until the age of 16 lived in Cape Town. My family moved to Johannesburg in 1985. This was where I went to University, studied Business and Law, and worked. I moved to Germany in 2002 to join my partner in Munich. At the time I was not permitted to work. We moved around Germany a fair about due to my partner’s employment prospects. We lived in Munich, Berlin and Nuremberg. Finding employment has proved very challenging for me in Germany. Between 2004 and 2009 I completed a further two degrees in British Culture and Ancient History. In 2009 I was granted Germany citizenship. I lived in South East of England between 2010 and 2012, finding employment for about 50% of the time. February 2013, saw us returning to Germany, as my partner had been offered a job just outside of Wiesbaden.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I decided to start blogging before I moved back to Germany, but I had been thinking about blogging for a long time before that. My first blog post was at the beginning of July, although I had written the draft several weeks before that. I decided to start blogging firstly to share my experiences, secondly to start producing a body of written work, thirdly to give expression to my need for creativity and finally as marketing tool for myself and to develop a web presence – to be found by the Google Search Engine.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I think my favorite post was my first one. This is probably because it takes a lot of courage to make the first post, especially when you are telling your story to the world. Starting something can be very difficult, as we tend to over think things.
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?
To be fair I no longer consider South Africa my home. I now consider Germany to be my home. But if you want a comparison between the South Africa and Germany then: Germany is safer than South Africa. The standard of living here is far higher and the levels of crime lower. For all that, if I have to generalize it is much easier to make friends in South Africa than in Germany. Having said that, it is as hard to make friends in England as it is in Germany. I would not say that the culture here is welcoming to foreigners, but their importance to the economy is finally being acknowledged. In my experience I found the people in Munich to be the friendliest. There are one or people in Wiesbaden who have been quite friendly so far.
I think I still have challenges with the cultural differences after nearly a decade here. I cannot say that I experienced cultural shock. Stereo types are terrible things, but they can help you to prepare for the differences.
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, I was not fully prepared for life in Germany even though I am someone who plans ahead. I did the usual thing of learning German before moving over here. I also visited for 4 weeks to see what Germany was like. But visiting as a tourist is not the same as living in a place on a daily basis.
In my case, it made little difference anyway, as I was coming to join my partner and that overruled all other considerations. As my settlement Visa prohibited me from working, I was not too concerned about my employment prospects at the time. This has proved to be and remains a significant problem. I think many people believe that they can simply continue to live their lives as before, just in Germany. This is fine is you are here for a year or two, or do not want/need to work. If it is for the long haul and you want to work in Germany. You may need to re-invent yourself. You will need to have specialist job skills required by the German Labor Market. There are too many native (English) speakers hoping to offer language classes in Germany.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
This is one of those stereo type tales. Many years ago we were in the food hall at Karstadt, in Munich. We had three items: a bag of potato crisps (non-Paprika flavor), a bottle of South Africa wine and a Pineapple. The elderly lady in the queue behind asked my partner, “Sind Sie Ausländer?”[Are you a foreigner?]. My partner replied that he was. He then asked her how she knew. And her reply was that Germans did not buy things like that. To give the old lady her due, she did ask if the things we had bought tasted nice.
The second story is even more telling. When we lived in Berlin, we were befriended by a lovely old German couple. They had been married for 65 years at the time, and had lived in the same apartment for as long. One evening over a bottle or two of their excellent wine, Frau J. said the reason she had not learned English was that the English had dropped bombs on their heads. In fact the fourth wing of the apartment block had been destroyed by a bomb. It had never been rebuilt and the space was where the bicycle shed now stood. Sometimes there is nothing you can say.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Germany?
- Learn Germany before you arrive
- Have a specialist job skill if you want to work here
- If you are moving over as a couple, make sure your relationship is very, very strong!
How is the expat community in Germany? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
There are plenty of expats in Germany, but making friends with the locals can be very hard indeed. Yes, I still have a problem meeting like-minded people. Most events are for the more outgoing types. I think like in most things the introverts have an even harder time of it.
How would you summarize your expat life in Germany in a single, catchy sentence?
Very challenging, still working on it, but still here to tell the story.