Becoming Frau Hentschel

I was recently listening to an interview with Michelle Obama about her new book, Becoming Michelle Obama. I was thinking, damn, that must be nice to be at a point in your life when you can write a whole book on how you got to be, fabulous you! Then my thoughts got to swirling and I felt a blog coming on. Becoming Frau Hentschel, an end of year wrap up to my new life as a Hausfrau. Sorry Michelle, if I am stealing your thunder.

Recently, I was doing a little research for a new project and discovered a study that actually took place in Houston, Texas. The study suggests that living abroad enhances the self-concept of clarity. If I can paraphrase, I believe they mean that once you get away from your cultural influences you can find the real you. Maybe the real you is similar to the culture you were born in and perhaps it’s not. For me, it’s been a wonderful time to explore that concept.

I have a strong aversion to conflict. Your thinking, well who likes conflict? No, I avoid it at all costs and usually to a detriment to myself. Now I find myself living in a culture where honesty and bluntness rule. In my son’s kindergarten, it seems I must give a greeting every single morning to every person and it drives me bonkers. American’s are known to be friendly so I find this odd that it drives me crazy but I think in America perhaps it’s less formal? You don’t have to give a greeting to each and every person especially if you don’t know them. (Please correct me if I’m wrong here.) So one day I just smiled at another mom and didn’t give a full greeting. She texted me and asked if I was angry with her. I was first startled that she just put that out there. I think I would have just wondered who pissed in her Cheerios and not given it a second thought. Then I was able to answer her and rectify the situation. I explained that I am often off in Neverland in my head and don’t notice things. Then I had an epiphany, wow that was great that she just put it out there and we resolved a potential misunderstanding. Boom! Frau Hentschel was having some clarity. A couple of weeks later, my son was mean to another child and I marched him over their house to apologize. Marie would have not done this but Frau Hentschel decided to embrace the German way and face it head-on.

Another thing that I have written about before is my feeling constrained in Germany with the rules, complaining and briskness of peoples demeanor. I’m hardly even noticing it now and think I perhaps overreacted at times, just because of the cliche “culture shock”. I was at a school meeting by myself and had to manage the whole meeting in German. The teacher asked me if I had any complaints about communication in the school. Why, yes, as a matter of fact, I wrote a blog about communication in this country being shoddy. I proceeded to tell her in German how I felt the school’s communication could be enhanced through the use of a modern concept called the email system. I had a moment where I thought, look at you Frau Hentschel, complaining in German. The teacher proceeded to tell me because of German data privacy laws (Datenschutz) this was probably not gonna happen. But nonetheless, I had a moment where I felt I had arrived. I even complained at a bakery that their system for lining up was ridiculous, the man behind the counter turned red and said that’s the way it is. I chuckled to myself and thought oh well at least I have found my voice in Germany.

Rules, I find as an American I like to bend the rules and Germany quite frankly startled me with the stringency of rules when I moved here. I am getting more and more used to them and even participating. I was in the grocery store with my husband and he was not following the rules. I snapped at him. “Markus lay the wine bottles down on the conveyor belt or else they might wiggle”. The bottles can’t wiggle! Markus don’t just stand there start self-packing your stuff like a maniac, others are waiting. No time for chit-chat in the German grocery store line, move it buster. When I go home to the United States it is going to freak me out when they want to chat with me and bag my groceries for me, I might just have a panic attack.

So time will still tell on what I discover about myself while here and what aspects of the culture I take home with me. At the moment I am enjoying becoming Frau Hentschel.

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Frau Hentschel being pensive; Lipperland, Germany

Klugscheissen

This blog is going to be a little less about Germany and more about my weaknesses as a human being. Also, I am going to drop the F-Bomb a lot, so if you’re from Texas and think” Well Bless my heart she said FUCK”, then perhaps you should skip this blog.

At a job many moons ago, I had a charismatic boss. One day I corrected him on something and he said: “ Marie I have a story for you”. He proceeded to tell me how he was in a meeting with his boss when he was young and he corrected his boss. His boss said, “ Boy if you know what the Fuck I’m talking about and I know what the Fuck I am talking about, then shut the Fuck up.” Believe it or not, I loved my boss, he had great stories. So that was our motto around the office and for some inane reason I took it on as my personal motto. I even told the story to my daughter Madeline, because I hated being corrected. I think she hated my motto. She would say but” MOM I don’t know what the fuck you are talking about and I think neither do you so we have to clarify”. No, no, no that is not how my motto works. So she suffered through it.

So last week a dear friend sent me the manual “ How to be a German by Adam Fletcher” in response to my last blog. Yes, there is a manual! And this one I am going to read, I promise you this! I have not even read it yet but found a section called Klugscheissen. This literally translates to smart shitting. Another bad word, sorry! I hope I can get the translation right but it has to do with correcting someone no matter how small the inaccuracy is and dumping your facts on them. It was really a light shining down on me moment. It explained my marriage to my German husband and my frustration with living in German; my god that shown light on the last 10 years of my life. Here I am, a person who doesn’t like to be corrected, just wants everyone to deduce what I am talking about, living in Germany. Germany, a country that has derived their own word to describe correcting people, because it is done so frequently that they need a word for it.

You have no idea the countless times I told my husband, you know what I mean please don’t ask for clarification or correct me. The poor thing stares at me blankly and says but Marie you were wrong, the Cowboys play at 6:45 pm not 7pm. You said 7pm , the games always distinctly start at 6:45pm. It has gotten so I won’t give him details unless I am 100% sure of the accuracy. There is no saying it was around $100 dollars in our house. It was $99.59 or $100.00, which one is it Marie? Uggh the details, leave me alone.

So here I am in a world of Klugscheissen and really what should I do? It’s all clear now including my sister in laws endless correcting me. I love my sister in laws, really! They are so good to us and have saved my life here. But sometimes they hand me some Klugscheissen and make my head spin. “Marie, oh my god you went thru the red light. We don’t do that in Germany. What are you thinking, that is strictly forbidden here.” Yes I know, it’s forbidden in every country in the world, I was rushing and misjudged the yellow light. I made a mistake! But I got a fifteen-minute lecture nonetheless. I’m being mansplained by the whole entire country. Even a little kid once told me I needed to lock my bike up. That little shit was right but still!

So I have consulted a team of German experts and asked “Do you mind when you get some Klugscheissen handed to you? Does it offend you? How can I deal?” Here are some answers.

“ Marie I think you really took the word out of context. I mean it’s very complicated to translate, let me try…”

“Why would that offend anyone.”

“ Marie I think your just going to have to accept it.”

And my husbands answer.

“What, you learned that word today.” insert smirk here. “Yeah its fine.” – subject changed quickly.

Case closed I have to put on my big girl panties, speak accurately and if corrected, Shut the Fuck up!

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Koenigsalle, Dusseldorf. Photo creds to me!

Resistance is Futile

I keep complaining that there is no manual for Germany. Or really for any country for that matter. If you are an expat you have to go in and figure out the rules, trial by fire. As a small caveat, I will say Germany does give a mandatory German Integration course. I was kinda avoiding taking it because I mean really I feel like I have been integrating for 10 years now: German husband, German kindergarten in the US, German friends and most importantly, my German sister in laws. And the title German Integration scares me. I mean what will happen in that class? Will I start to smoke and complain about Merkel once I’ve been integrated? Oh boy, no way. So I have somehow flown under the radar and not been forced to take it. (when I eventually get caught, that will be another blog) My reason for mentioning this is perhaps they did pass out a manual and I missed it. So if anyone out there has such a manual, please I will pay you for it.

My daughter, Madeline just finished up school in London and I called her the other day and had this conversation with her as she, also an expat, can relate. I was specifically complaining about Max’s first day at Kindergarten. They didn’t send me an email beforehand welcoming me and explaining everything. I was so nervous about going to school the first day, I felt unprepared without my introductory email. I even mentioned to the teacher, I need a list of your holidays please so I can plan. “Oh, you should be getting your welcome information in the mail soon.” What in the mail? A country that makes me sort my garbage into five recycling bins is going to print out paper and mail me something? Breathe Marie breathe, just put your little event planner self in check and be patient.

Then I went further to complain about an emergency exit I went through accidentally and set off the alarm. Oh man, did I get yelled at for that one. But people, there was no sign! I saw there was no sign restricting me from exiting so I went. Simple.

Then Madeline startled me with an interesting comment. She works in a place in London with a lot of American customers. She remarked that was funny because they have a door at her job in London that is locked to access but every American that comes in thinks its the dressing room and they try to go in. It’s only the American’s that do it, they stand there rattling the locked door. And then they say “well where is the sign?” I was really startled by that. Could social norms dictate my actions so much that I walk thru the wrong doors!( And Madeline you really should put a clear sign on that door at your job, assist the poor people for god’s sake!)

She further added that every American customer wants information. They want to know what is in the product, where it was made. One American complained that they did not have a sign up stating which credit cards were accepted. Yes! These are exactly my complaints here I told her, no information. Could I be an information junky? Am I unable to go about daily life without an instructional email or app for that?

It’s the little things that get you when your an expat! You don’t even know what your social norms are versus theirs until it slaps you in the face. So I don’t think there can be a manual. Maybe I can learn to relax my need for information a little and perhaps I can make a suggestion of a little email action now and again at Max’s kindergarten? Wish me luck with my assimilation, I mean integration.

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photo courtesy of pexels.com

 

 

The kid is alright

Relocating kids to live in another country is not easy. The worst part is the guilt and worry. Is this too hard on them? Will he be in therapy over this in years to come? Will he hate me a little bit? Do the benefits outweigh the downfalls? I think all the answers might be yes.

We moved to Germany in March with my five-year-old son Max. When we got here he was bouncing around the streets like Tigger in Winnie the Pooh, speaking English everywhere we went. I reminded him that he was raised bilingual and could speak German perfectly fine. He turned and looked at me and said “ Really mom do you expect me to speak two languages at once? I have to speak to you in English and the people here in German?” Ah, the guilt. Yes I said, I do expect you to speak two languages at once. I felt really awful, but honestly, it was right after I said that that I noticed things clicking for him in terms of languages.

Now my little Tigger is in the swing of things moving in between the two languages fairly well. I have learned not to rely on him however for translation. He and I locked ourselves out of our house one day and I had to ask the neighbors for help. I couldn’t think of the German phrase for locked out. So I said Max how do I say we are locked out in German? Max smartly replied” Wir sind aus ge-locked”. I don’t know how good your German is but ge-locked is not a word in either language. I went and told my neighbors “I am outside and my keys are inside”, that worked. So he is not the best translator but he is still adorable.

Another time I tried to show off his German prowess to the visa officer I was working with at the town hall. I was trying to cover from my German shortcomings by saying “Oh yes but my son is fluent.” The stodgy worker looked at Max and said really “Wie alt bist du” (how old are you). Max promptly turned to him and gave him a big Raspberry with his tongue—phhhat. Darnit! That man was only in charge of my visa to stay in the country, no big deal. Thank’s a lot Tigger and we have some work to do on your friendliness.

So no translating or showing off my son, lessons learned. But then you start to wonder. Which cultural attributes do I impress on him? My own American ones or the norms of where we are living? We were at the public swimming pool trying out the water slide and the sign says you must wait 2 minutes after every person to use the slide. There is a red light and a green light for when you can go. There was clearly no one on the slide but a woman was waiting for the green light and waiting and waiting. The American in me wanted to say “who cares about the rules just please go”. I politely said “I think we can go no one is on the slide. “She sat and refused to go until the light was green. Rules are rules in Germany. I told Max “ yeah we can ignore the light we are American.” But then I wondered if I should be helping him adjust to Germany by showing him how to be a good rule follower. Oh the horror! I didn’t know if I could bring myself to do it.

Now five months are past and we were back at the same pool. I always make fun of the German lifeguards. They stand around eating, fully dressed. I always thought if a kid needed help we would be in trouble waiting for them to put down their lunch. Then one day we had a lifeguard that had clearly watched too much Baywatch. He was old and overly tan with a big attitude. There were three lifeguards on duty, all eating except the David Hasselhoff look alike. He even fussed at everyone including us. He wouldn’t let Max have a styrofoam pool noodle because he said he needed to have armies on. (even though we have been using the noodles there for six months) I said to Max, you know he is the nasty lifeguard. Max replied, “ No mom I think he is the best lifeguard.” Gosh darn it! It was at that moment that I knew my kid had adjusted to Germany. He is speaking to people in German and he is appreciating rules and rule makers. I wonder if he will dare to slide on the red light in the future, I secretly hope so!

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Max at the lake- Hopfen am See

 

Will run for Broetchen

Recently I have been a bit cynical about my move to Germany. It’s been a bit of a beast after all. Our container left our home on Feburary 19th and has still not arrived. Living out of a suitcase for 10 weeks gets old. And I have had to argue with people in a foreign language about my vagina. Need I say more?

So I thought I would list some things I love about Germany so far!

Bread. When I was a kid my grandparents would send my teenage aunts out for bagels and hard rolls on Sunday mornings. Those NY hard rolls were actually introduced by German/Austrian immigrants and were the American version of broetchen. Sadly in New York, I think you are hard-pressed to find a good hard roll anymore. (NY peeps please feel free to comment on exact locations of a good crunchy NY hard roll) But Germany has amazing hard rolls! They also have entire shops full of fresh, healthy, reasonably priced bread. I actually have increased my running just so I can eat my fair share of bread guilt free. I even jogged to the bakery last Sunday morning. I must have looked hilarious running home with my hot broetchen tucked safely under my arm.

Niceties. I don’t know if that is a word but things are nice here. I took my son to an Easter event at a local place run mainly by volunteers. They had hot coffee in real mugs out for the parents and homemade Easter bunny yeast buns for the kids. The bunnies even had toasted almond eyes. It was just nice. I am fairly sure if I had been running that event in America I would have bought a carton of Starbucks coffee to go and a Costco coffee cake.

Green stuff. I live in Neuss, a suburb of Dusseldorf. It’s an odd suburban mix where I live: apartment buildings, old houses, schools, and shops. But yesterday we were driving down the street and suddenly we passed a really beautiful pasture with sheep. I also live less than a mile from Schloss Reuschenberg and the KinderBauern Hof. You can see the castle there, a kids farm and endless trails. On one of our walks my son, Max and I discovered a tombstone from 1814 and a waterfall. Sorry to my Texas friends, but I was never in awe of Texas suburban beauty. (All of Austin excluded from this statement).

Adult Beverages. Germany has no shortage of kid’s activities and they seem to also appreciate that adults have needs. At one of the play places I take my son, I can buy a really nice latte or even a great beer. Praise the lord. If I have to sit at a bounce house place for 4 hours then either a stimulant or depressant is required! Thank you, Germany for just being adult about this and letting me have a beer in front of my kid.

I feel better now, that’s a pretty good list of positive things. Next blog I might have to rant. Maybe a long list of complaints to let off some steam? First complaint, European toilet bowls, can we please just put more water in them?

 

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Playground with adult beverages, notice the serenity on my face…

 

 

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Beautiful park near us along the Erft River.

 

 

 

Tower of Babel

A common theme I have heard for years is “everyone speaks English in Germany”. I always quietly pondered that statement when it was said to me. My husband’s family speaks very little English. When I am in his hometown in Germany, I rarely have anyone speak English to me. I have come to a conclusion since living here. When you are American and you fly into Munich, yes, everyone speaks English. When you go to a major train station, yes, they speak English. However, when you are in the trenches and living outside of the city then you may not find that “everyone speaks English”.

Let’s take grocery shopping in Germany as an example. The cashier yells at me in German when she wants me to pack my bags faster. And then there was the time my son left his scooter in the bakery line and someone tripped over it. An old lady behind us took it upon herself to lecture me about my kid and his scooter. She lectured me all in German, not one word of English. Lucky for me I didn’t understand over half of her lecture. I did give her the stink eye though.

I even went to the immigration office for my visa and the caseworker for foreigners that I was assigned did not speak English! That’s fine, I get it, I am in Germany and I have to pull up my big girl panties and get fluent quick. But please don’t tell me everyone speaks English. I’m in the trenches people!

The following week, I had to go down to register as a new immigrant with the city hall, I had my big girl panties on and I was full of confidence. I had to wait in a long line to get a number, then wait in a waiting room for my number to be called. I was freaking out trying to read the signs in German and understand what process was. The sign said to go to room 215 when your number is called. Ok, easy peasy as my son would say. My number was called and I headed to room 215. Oh my god, where is room 215? I went up the elevator, drat it all, I forgot I was in Europe. The floor numbers are different here. I drag my son and his scooter back downstairs. I finally walk into room 215 and find my assigned number, desk 6. I say to the women behind desk 6 with quivering confidence “Anmeldung, Bitte”. And she says in English “Are you American?” Why yes I am! Her English is flawless. Turns out she lived in Virginia for awhile! I almost dropped my head on her desk in appreciation of her flawless English. She and I then chit-chat! I hadn’t chit chatted in three weeks and it felt good. And it turns out her first boyfriend was from New York! I daydreamed about asking her to be my new best friend.She told me I had to come back in a couple of weeks with my son’s passport. She added to come back when they are not busy. I thought perhaps this was code for “come back when I have plenty of time to chit-chat with you” . I was thinking to myself, I might show up next week with some donuts and coffee and wait for desk 6 to be open. Or is that too much? She says on my way out “Good luck and welcome to Germany, I am sure you will manage. Most people speak English after all”. Ughh, no donuts for you desk 6!