Christian: Southeast Schnitzel
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Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to the USA, etc.
My name is Christian Höferle (alternative spelling: Hoeferle).
I was born and raised in Weilheim, Germany – a small town of around 21,000 people, 30 miles (50km) south of the Bavarian capitol, Munich. Weilheim is located in the Southeast of Germany.
Since July 2004, my family and I live in Cleveland, TN – another small town of around 40,000 people, 35 miles north of Chattanooga. Cleveland is located in the Southeast of the United States.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started my blog Southeast Schnitzel in 2009, initially as a pet project to document my intercultural experiences, but in recent years it has also become my playground to write about my work as a trainer and consultant.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I wouldn’t say these are my favorites but these are some of the most popular entries on my blog:
- 9 tips on how to better communicate with Americans
- What you should know about Germans before doing business with them
- Global Leadership – what exactly does this mean?
- Why are Americans so…? Why are Germans so…?
- The different cultures of North America
- The one thing too many HR managers misunderstand about cultural training
- To praise or not to praise – it may very well be a cultural question
Tell us about the ways your new life in the USA differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
My initial contact to U.S. culture was as a 17-year-old when a High School exchange program brought me to Minnesota for a year. So the traditional culture shock that many expatriates experience didn’t happen when our family relocated to Tennessee. However, after about two years I lived through something I’d call delayed adjustment issues: While I had been very familiar with most of the differences between Germany and the U.S., I was utterly unprepared for the social dynamics in the Bible belt. In fact, Southeast Tennessee might even be the buckle of the Bible belt. I felt like, in order to fit in and to be successful, I had to “play along” with the social norms of a predominantly church-going community. In doing so I lost myself in the process. It wasn’t until I reminded myself to be myself, regardless of what my environment thought of me, that this discomfort went away.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in the USA? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Yes, we were quite well prepared. We didn’t come to the U.S. as employer-supported expats, though. We moved independently, on our own terms. This meant that all the action steps that come with an international relocation were handled by my wife and I. We didn’t have the privilege of a relocation/destination service provider. The upside: We learnt a lot about how it’s done.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
There have been many in all these years. We call them cultural fool moments. One was that we misjudged the decency standards in the Bible belt: At the public pool we were playing in the water with our then 18-month-old daughter. She only wore her baby bikini bottoms when a lifeguard asked us to put on her top. We were flabbergasted! She was a toddler, aside from her long blond hair nobody was able to tell whether she was a boy or a girl. In Europe this would have never been an issue and we went on to challenge the lifeguard - to no avail. He insisted on the policy of a “family friendly” pool and we begrudgingly complied.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in the USA?
- Before you go: Have an honest conversation with your family (and/or yourself) to determine if you are ready for this. Have your job situation clarified. This includes planning for your return. Get your financial house in order (if you are struggling with money, expatriation will not fix that). Tell your company that you want cultural and language training.
- As you go: Relax, it’ll be fine.
- Once you get there: Keep an open mind. Stay curious. Do not hesitate to make a fool of yourself. Have fun! And TRUST YOUR PROCESS!
How is the expat community in the USA? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
In the beginning (the first 4 years) we had almost no interaction with other expats, since we moved to an area which was then rather untouched by international influence. Since then two German companies launched major investments in our region and we can hear German spoken almost everywhere now. The stores offer most of the comfort foods European expats crave (German bread, Nutella, sparkling water, etc.) and being German is actually considered cool in our neck of the woods – a completely foreign concept for German Generation X-ers who were raised on a strict diet of Third Reich atonement and Holocaust guilt.
How would you summarize your expat life in the USA in a single, catchy sentence?
We made a deliberate choice to live in an environment that sees the glass as being half full, instead of half empty – and we’ve been embracing every moment of it.