I visited some friends last April who, like myself, have a multicultural family. She is American and her husband is Austrian. After living for almost twenty years in Austria she called in her “marker” that she could someday return to the USA. So, they packed up the family and left fabulous Austria behind for Texas. My situation is similar in that I am American but moved to Germany with my German husband. I asked her Austrian husband, now living in Texas, how his adjustment has been. He mentioned that he has had to do some soul searching in order not to be angry at America. Wait! He was angry with America? How could he be angry with America if I was angry with Europe? Wasn’t Germany to blame for all my frustrations and America perfect?
He helped me realize that maybe sometimes Expats have some displaced anger. It is not easy to learn a new culture by any means. The little things can set you off. I remember one day feeling particularly annoyed at the lack of a line system in a bakery. For a country with so many processes and rules, how can Germans not know how to queue up properly? I was feeling empowered and gave the twenty-year-old bakery guy my philosophy on queuing up! He looked very embarrassed and didn’t seem to know what to do with me and replied: “that’s the way it is”. Then that got me started on a whole new annoyance, the lack of customer service in my host country. I walked away, grumbling about Germany under my breath.
So, I have come up with some simple ideas for overcoming “Rage Against your Host” (country). Foremost, figure out what you are personally angry about. Is it the queue at the bakery, or are you angry that you followed a partner on an adventure that is less adventure and somewhat stressful? Either way, all expats should be on this journey to learn about other cultures and learn about ourselves in the process. I apparently like a good clear queue/line.
Don’t forget to smile! I was lost and upset on the train system last week and was exiting the train looking at the train schedule on my phone, hesitating about what I should do. An old man got quite snippy with me. He sneered at me “Are you getting on or off the train”. I was late for a class and frustrated and I turned around and started yelling at him in German “You know you could be nicer”. It must have really startled the poor guy to be confronted in public by an American. (yes, my accent is undeniable) But then I stopped to think, am I the one not being nice by confronting him? So, I took a deep breath and reminded myself about the phenomena of Rage Against Your Host. The next week, I ever so slightly bumped into a woman and she gave me the German death stare. I smiled at her and completely disarmed her! I am here to say, it worked much better than confronting unsuspecting victims.
Learn the language. My German is pretty kick-ass, but I still get myself in difficult situations where I think I understand but completely do not! I get frustrated and angry but after some introspection I believe I am angrier at myself for not studying more, not listening to German TV and using the translate button on Google Chrome way too often.
So, breathe and give it a try! No country is perfect, learning a little patience might be helpful for us all.
Anyone interested in Guest Blogging? Especially those with the other perspective? i.e. you moved from Europe to the USA?
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!