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Expat Focus: An American Answers Questions About Living as an Expat in Germany

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Expat Experience Q&A with
Oh God, My Wife Is German.

Interview conducted by Expat Focus
December, 2013

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Who are you?
I am an American expat from Portland, Oregon, now living in Hannover, Germany. I am a freelance graphic designer and copywriter, and an avid blogger of all things humorous (though I most often take aim at subjects like Germany, expat life, culture shock and my beautiful — and unintentionally hilarious — German wife.)

Where, when and why did you move abroad?
I moved to Germany in September of 2012 in order to be with my wife. If she’d been from England, I would have moved to England. Had she come from Italy, I would have moved to Italy. Had she been from Siberia, I would have said, “Sorry honey, but I’m sure there’s a very nice guy for you in Siberia. Probably the quiet type, because he’s frozen to death.”

What challenges did you face during the move?
My wife and I lived together in Portland before we moved to Germany, and in that last year, we were both working full-time jobs, planning our destination wedding, arranging for my wife’s future career in Hannover, and worrying about how I was going to continue my own career in Germany without speaking the language. It was probably the most stressful year of our lives thus far, and we dealt with it by eating cake, pizza and drinking copious amounts of beer. (My wife looked amazing in our wedding pictures. I looked like a bloated veal calf.)

How did you find somewhere to live? (e.g. how did you locate a suitable property? what was the buying/renting process like?)
Our location was determined by my wife’s job; she’s a Gymnasium teacher (and a fantastic one at that), and she landed a job at a school in Hannover. Finding an apartment in any German city can be stressful, and we were prepared to hire a broker if necessary. Luckily, we knew a friend of a friend in Hannover, so we were able to figure out the kind of neighborhood we wanted and what we could afford. But finding an apartment is rarely a pleasant experience, and no matter the country, moving sucks.

Are there many other expats in your area?
Yes, there are actually quite a few expats in Hannover. There is even an expat group called Hannover4EnglishSpeakers, which meets up a few times each month for drinks, sporting activities and to watch movies in English. (I think they even have a group for expat parents, so their little English-speaking trolls can roll around in the mud together and give each other the flu.) There are expat groups like this in every major city in Germany, and they can be very useful for things like making friends, getting recommendations for doctors and dentists, buying and selling furniture, and complaining about how the German language uses gender-based articles. (Seriously. Every noun is either a ‘he,’ ‘she’ or an ‘it.’ (And all added together, between the 4 cases, Germans use a total of 16 definite articles. Sixteen.)

What is your relationship like with the locals?
I work at home in front of the computer all day, which makes me both a geek and a shut-in. And like the rest of my pale-skinned brethren, I only leave my coffin when the bloodlust takes me and I am forced to venture out into the night to feed. Just kidding. We have a lot of friends, and I’m also taking a German language class, so we mingle with the locals quite a bit. (Though never with drunken soccer fans. Those guys are scary.)

What do you like about life where you are?
Germany feels safe. I like the pace of life here. And Hannover is similar to Portland in that it feels like a big, little city. Or a little, big city. However you say that. Also, as an expat, you’re always challenged. The people, the culture, the godforsaken and unnecessarily difficult language — everything is new. You’re like a perpetual student, so there’s no time for boredom or plateau. You gotta get up every day and launch yourself into that alien landscape like an astronaut about to pee in his space suit.

What do you dislike about your expat life?
Having two families on either side of the globe. You’re always bouncing between them for the holidays, and one side always misses you while the other gets to bask in the radiant splendor of your company.

What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
Customer service. In America, strangers are sickeningly sweet to you, especially in places of business or over the phone. Sure, the person being nice to your face might actually loathe you right down to the very marrow in your bones, but at least they ensure a smooth, professional transaction. Not in Germany. Oh no, here, customer service falls into two main categories: standoffish and downright abusive. Naturally there are exceptions to this rule, but even my wife agrees, saying, “Americans are like peaches and Germans are like coconuts. Americans are sweet on the outside but hard on the inside, and Germans are hard on the outside but sweet on the inside.” (While I try not to take offense at the notion of having a foreign object at my center that is stone-like and unfeeling, I think she makes a fine point.)

What do you think of the food in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
Traditional German food is heavy, fatty and served with beer. I love it! I am gleefully eating and drinking my way toward my first heart attack.

Photo by Reiner Kraft (http://www.flickr.com/photos/reiner/)

Photo by Reiner Kraft (http://www.flickr.com/photos/reiner/)

What are your plans for the future?
I plan to ace my B2 level German language exam, which will certify me to work as a graphic designer for a German agency. I will then leave my home office and rejoin the lemmings on their great but inevitable plunge into the quagmire of despair that is working life. I jest, but I will miss making a living in my underwear. (Wait, that made me sound like a stripper, didn’t it.)

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Learn the language of the county in which you plan to live. I feel so passionate about this, I must repeat myself:

For the love of all that is holy. For the love of God and Jesus H. Christ on rice, learn the language of the foreign country in which you plan to live. Every single word you learn, written or spoken, will make your life easier. Be glad you are starting now, rather than later. Feel angry you weren’t born a native speaker, but be grateful you can learn to become fluent. Learn as much of the language as you can before you get there. Keep on learning while you’re there. If you return to your home country, keep on learning it anyway. Throw yourself into that language like a fat kid at the deep end of the pool.

I took classes, bought books and software programs, practiced with my wife and taught myself as much German as I possibly could before I moved here. This added up to exactly 1.5 years of language training, and I still depended upon my wife to translate any interaction more complex than, “Would you like another beer, Sir?” Answer: “HELL yes.”

If I could download the entire German language into my brain like in The Matrix, but it would cost my entire life’s savings, I would do it. I would do it right now. If I had to pay my entire life savings and then kick a puppy too, I would hand over the cash and punt that little doggie like a football.

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Culture Shock 7: An American Expatriate Answers Questions About Living in Germany

Beer on the Maschsee
Oh God, My Wife Is German is an ostentatious and wildly sarcastic blog highlighting the misadventures and near total communication breakdowns occurring between an expat American husband and his German wife as they adjust to life in Hannover, Germany.

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Interview conducted by The Expat Hub
January, 2013

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Where are you originally from?
I’m from the United States. Portland, Oregon, specifically. This makes me a ‘Portlander,’ though I wish with all my heart we were called Portlandians. Or Portlandites. Or Portlandafarians.

In which country and city are you living now?
I am living in Hannover, Germany, which actually feels a bit like Portland. Probably because it’s a big city with a small town vibe and it has a lot of green spaces. Parks and such. Also because I live in constant fear of being run over by skinny people on bikes.

Market Church, Hannover, Germany

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
I’ve lived in Hannover since September 1st of 2012. I plan on staying until my wife informs me we’re leaving — the same way she informs me it’s time to do the dishes. Or pay the rent. Or take a shower.

Why did you move?
I moved to Germany in order to be with my wife. She’s hilarious, even when she doesn’t mean to be. For the past few years, I’ve been keeping track of all the funny things she says, especially when they involve German words or expressions translated directly into English. We like to call these quotes “Denglish,” or “Deutsch-English.” Here’s an example:

On December 27th, 2012, The Wife and I were preparing for a visit from one of our close friends from Portland. After we finished cleaning our apartment, it was my task to go to Netto for some extra groceries. I put on my coat and headed for the door, saying, “I’m buying eggs. Should I also buy a 6-pack of mineral water?” to which my wife replied:

“That would be, of course, two flies with one slap.”

Fried and mayonnaise with currywurst at Oktoberfest in Germany

What do you enjoy most about living here?
The thing I enjoy most about living in Germany is the fact that I’m always learning new things. Literally everything is new to me here — the language, the culture, the people — so I’m never bored. I’m forced into a perpetual student role, which keeps me engaged and curious. For example, I often find myself wondering why Germans seem to be in such a hurry all the time. What’s the rush? If you take too long in the checkout line at the grocery store, I promise some jerk behind you will sigh audibly, as if you are intentionally destroying his afternoon. If you are running to catch a subway train that has been stopped for longer than 10 seconds — even if the conductor clearly sees your efforts to reach it in time — you will still find the doors closing right in your face. If you find yourself in a car full of Germans (God forbid) and you hit a traffic jam, you can expect them to flip out about it like a bunch of geese fighting over a bag full of smashed bread crumbs.

What has been the hardest aspect of your expat experience so far?
By far, the absolute hardest part of my experience as an expat has been my inability to understand spoken German. I can walk up to German people, sling a few words around, make general statements and ask obvious questions, but I’m totally lost the second they respond. Here’s an interaction I had with a Rossmann drugstore clerk last week, if you were to translate everything directly into English:

ME: “Please excuse me dearly. I look for toothpaste here in this store. In your store, formally speaking.”

CLERK: “Pardon?”

ME: “I would gladly have toothpaste.”

CLERK: “Oh. Go to aisle four. It’s right there past the cosmetics, on your left.”

ME: “My God you talk fast. I am right now, at this very moment, learning German.”

CLERK: “No problem. Aisle four. Right there, where I am pointing.”

ME: “I get the ‘four’ part, but please, just for me, slowly speak.”

CLERK: “Aisle… four.”

ME: (Blinking twice, looking scared and confused) “Absolutely. Thank you. Thank you so hard.” (I then wandered off in the general direction he’d indicated, staggering through the drugstore like an American tourist with blunt force head trauma.)

Hannover Christmas Market in Germany

What advice would you offer to anyone following in your footsteps?
For the love of all that is holy. For the love of God and Jesus H. Christ on rice, learn the language of the foreign country in which you plan to live. Every single word you learn, written or spoken, will make your life easier. Be glad you are starting now, rather than later. Feel angry you weren’t born a native speaker, but be grateful you can learn to become fluent. Learn as much of the language as you can before you get there. Keep on learning while you’re there. If you return to your home country, keep on learning it anyway. Throw yourself into that language like a fat kid at the deep end of the pool.

I took classes, bought books and software programs, practiced with my wife and taught myself as much German as I possibly could before I moved here. This added up to exactly 1.5 years of language training, and I still depend upon my wife to translate any interaction more complex than, “Would you like another beer, Sir?” “HELL yes.”

If I could download the entire German language into my brain like in The Matrix, but it would cost my entire life’s savings, I would do it. I would do it right now. If I had to pay my entire life savings and then kick a puppy too, I would hand over the cash and punt that little doggie like a football.

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Denglish 76: My German Wife Appreciates Complimentary Swag

Back in early 2012, one of my bosses took a trip to Disneyland with his family. When he returned, he gave each employee a giant coffee mug painted in the likeness of a Disney character. He had Tigger from Winnie the Pooh, the Chesire Cat from Alice in Wonderland and Goofy from every Disney cartoon requiring a functionally retarded dog to fall down and say “Ah-hyuck!”

I, however, received Mike Wazowski from Monsters, Inc. I loved it! The giant eyeball was just my kind of creepy, and I liked its sickly shade of green. I liked it so much, in fact, I took it home so I could show it to my wife. “Isn’t this cool?” I exclaimed. “Look at the giant eye and sharp teeth! It’s the perfect mug for me, don’t you think?” To which she replied…

THE WIFE: “I like for-free shit.”

Click here to learn more about the term “Denglish.”

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Denglish 75: My German Wife Explains Urinary Hormone Levels

You already know my wife and I are disgusting. It should come as no surprise we have precious few boundaries where the bathroom is concerned. In general, we won’t walk in on each other when the door is closed. However, last winter, my wife was in the bathroom and the door was slightly ajar. I needed to pluck a nose hair in a big hurry or something, so I busted right on in and went to work. My wife was clearly peeing, as she is wont to do, and I noticed how strongly it stank.

ME: “Your pee smells so strongly.”

THE WIFE: “That’s because the female body has so much Ostesterone.”

Click here to learn more about the term “Denglish.”

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Denglish 74: My German Wife Invents Acrobatic Dried Goods

When The Wife and I go grocery shopping, we always like to shake things up by buying a few items we don’t purchase regularly. Back in February of 2012, we were on some kind of dried goods kick, eating raisins, dried apricots, cashews and other nuts. Our cupboard was pretty well-stocked, but I felt like a snack and couldn’t remember everything we had. When I asked my wife what my options were, she replied:

THE WIFE: “We have almonds and banana flips.”

Click here to learn more about the term “Denglish.”

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Denglish 73: How to Really Listen to Your Spouse, According to My German Wife

As I’ve said half a dozen times before, my wife speaks fantastic English. Better than any other German I’ve met. However, there are times when I am uncertain she truly understands everything I’m saying. I suspect my points are sometimes lost in translation, and other times she is outright ignoring me.

My latter suspicion was plainly the case back in early 2012, when I finished an impassioned monologue concerning the expected advantages of Adobe Creative Suit 6 over version 5.5:

ME: “… and that’s why in CS6 you will be able to… hey, are you even listening to me?”

THE WIFE: “I heard you. What’d you say?”

Click here to learn more about the term “Denglish.”

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Denglish 43: The German’s Got Sunshine On A Cloudy Day

As I’ve said before, my wife has a way of relating feelings like love and happiness in ways so adorable you could just kick a puppy. Kick it right out an open window. But she took things to another level last fall when, speaking to me over the phone from Germany, she described the weather outside her apartment:

THE WIFE: “It looks rainy as fuck… but it’s definitely sunny inside me, so who cares?”

Click here to learn more about the term “Denglish.”

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