Marty: Deutschland Über Elvis
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Munich, etc.
I’m a serial expat. My family moved from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Adelaide South Australia when I was a teenager. Since then, I’ve lived in Melbourne, Tokyo and New York.
I met my (now) husband in Tokyo, and we lived together for a number of years before I was transferred to the USA. Alas, an American citizen who falls in love with a member of his own sex is doomed to heartbreak. One cannot sponsor a same-sex spouse for immigration purposes, unlike a straight couple. After three years of long-distance love, we’d had enough. We both sought a job in a country that recognized gay relationships. The one that came through was my job here in Munich. That was five years ago.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I first started blogging when I lived in New York. My previous blog, High Maintenance Hags, aspired to show Sex and the City from Stanley’s point of view. As a middle-aged gay man, I seemed to attract female friends who found themselves loveless and cynical. The posts were a gentle prod to them. When I moved to Munich, the subject matter naturally shifted, and Deutschland über Elvis was the wittiest spaghetti-Deutsch title I could think of. If I had it to do over again, I would call it That’s Inkrautible. Even better would be Wurstkäse Scenario, but I think it’s taken.
Why do I blog? I’m a grumpy old man, and blogging is like yelling at kids to get off your lawn, when you don’t have a lawn and there are no kids about.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
The racy ones. Notorious among readers is a short piece that compared the towns of Intercourse, Pennsylvania and Fucking, Austria. It took a great deal of restraint, but I only used a vulgarity once in the entire piece. Another post, Chance Encounter with an Old Friend, posed a similar problem of polite language.
My personal favorite tells of an unexpected visit to Ulm, where I sought to understand how Einstein’s birthplace commemorated him.
As well, people seem to appreciate the series Ordnung ist das halbe Leben.
And last, there’s a very gay trip to Dollywood.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Munich differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock? Not sure that I actually have a “home” to compare it to. I’ve lived in several parts of the world and culture shock ceases to shock me. Let’s rather call it culture surprise. And generally, those surprises are pleasant, or at least interesting. Compared to living in Tokyo (or New York, for that matter), Munich is a cinch. I really am scratching my head, trying to think of a way that life in Munich challenges an expat. My greatest culture shock was to discover that not everybody takes credit cards. Many people grouch about the bureaucracy in Germany, and how inflexible it is. My experience is a positive one. There are plenty of rules, but they are enforced efficiently and without undue complexity. Just be prepared to wait. Bring a book to the Amt. On the other hand, some truly shocking discoveries came only came after I integrated a bit. But that’s a discussion for another time and place.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Munich? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
When you move around the world as part of your job, your employer takes responsibility for much of this preparation. Such was the case in my move from Munich to New York, and I remain grateful.
That said, I made two significant mistakes, as a result of poor knowledge.
The first was to opt for private health insurance, rather than the public system. The public system is used by over 90% of Germans, and acts like systems in much of the developed world. Opting out of it—an almost irreversible decision, I later discovered—led to the problems. Americans under private health care know this stuff only too well; high deductibles, rising premiums and surcharges, exclusions for pre-existing conditions, and claims denied on technicalities. Over the years that I’ve lived in Germany, the government noted these routine problems with private insurance, and has sought to bring such practices to heel through regulation.
The second mistake concerns a driver’s license. For many with an Americans, it’s a simple matter of swapping over your US license for a German one. Alas, not with a New York license. I tried to get around the rule by renewing my (swappable) Japanese license on a quick visit. But the authorities reminded me, curtly, that I was trying to get around the rules. During this time my NY license expired, and so I had to go the process of getting a German license from scratch, as I would if I were a novice driver.
That involves a written test of almost a thousand multiple-choice questions, constructed to be unguessable. Dozens of hours of compulsory theory and practical instruction, through a registered driving school. And a tricky, hour-long practical test.
A tip on driver’s licenses for Munich residents. I cannot speak highly enough of Frau Christine Timmer and her multilingual driving school in Schwabing. She and her team will lead you through this frustrating process with grace and good humor. I actually enjoyed doing it.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
This story comes from Tokyo.
We lived next-door to a Shinto shrine, the Atagojinja. Quite a classy congregation—if it were in New York, Atagojinja would be high-church Episcopalian. To celebrate the shrine’s 400th anniversary, they bottled some wine.
I asked the lady selling it at the church what kind of wine it was. She seemed confused, so I clarified the question. “Is it shiraz, or merlot, or cabernet…what variety is it?”
She excused herself to ask a colleague, and returned with the answer. “It’s Suntory wine,” she explained.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Munich?
- Don’t buy a car right away. If you live in central Munich, odds are that you won’t need one.
- Allow some time for a house-hunt. Housing is in high demand, and expensive. Landlords can be choosy. I told a colleague that I was off to look at an apartment, and she asked if I would be changing into a suit, to make a good impression.
- You have a wonderful playground to the south. The German alps are so pretty, you’ll think they’re fake. South Tyrol mixes Austrian culture with Italian dolce vita. And you’re only a half-day train ride from Venice. Make the most of it.
How is the expat community in Munich? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
Munich and I are like-minded, period. Ample high culture. Constant classical music. A visual arts scene that’s second, in Europe, only to Paris. A literary history, celebrated in ample libraries and bookshops. One of the largest student populations in Europe. A respect for working artists. And a stream of visitors from all over the world. Even with a language barrier, there’s so much to dive into. If I can’t find like-minded people, then the problem, surely, is mine.
The expat community in Munich reflects the city’s level of sophistication. Splendid, smart, well-travelled, fun-loving people. It’s easy to meet them at events, open ateliers, pubs, and of course, through InterNations.
A blog is a stealth-weapon for an expat. Deutschland über Elvis acts as my calling card in the expat community, and I’ve made some fantastic connections through locals who read and comment. I would advise any expat to check out expatbloggersingermany.com, and you’ll soon find a pal or two in your area.
Oh, and beer helps. Beer is Friendship Juice.
How would you summarize your expat life in Munich in a single, catchy sentence?