Rage Against the Host

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.

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Courtesy of Pexels.com

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?

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.

photo courtesy of pexels.com



Frau Hentschel if you’re nasty

I learned something about myself recently at the doctor’s office. Then I started thinking, you know you’ve discovered a lot about yourself since moving overseas. Leaving one’s bubble can open your eyes to many things. So for this blog, I have compiled a list of what I have learned about myself since moving to Germany.

I discovered that I am ridiculously modest. I was at the doctor a couple of weeks ago and he told me to take my shirt off. Now when a United States doctor needs to see you without clothes they hand you a paper robe and ask you to undress while they politely step out of the room. So when the doctor asked me to take my shirt off and just stand there I was confused. I had this momentary panic that I didn’t understand his German correctly and I would be standing there naked for no reason. So I replied, “Really you want my shirt off”. Yes, he answered, shirt off. Right now here in this room? Yes again. I did a quick survey of the room for the lovely little paper robes found in American doctors offices and nothing. I was really startled that it bothered me. I took off my shirt and totally acted like a cool German frau. But I quietly wished I wore a cuter bra.

It seems that I love having a title. In the U.S.A I was rarely called Mrs. Hentschel and if I had been I probably would have scoffed at it and told them to call me Marie.  At the recent doctor visit, I had to deal with the dreaded German office assistant. Sometimes I find the medical assistants more difficult than the dreaded “German cashier”; I was prepared for bitchiness. So I walked in without a smile and said: “Frau Hentschel here”. That was it, no chit-chat nothing. That was hard for me. They treated me perfectly fine and everything was Frau Hentschel this, Frau Hentschel that. But it felt good, I had the power. I sauntered into my waiting room with my noisy kid in tow and my 10 dollar backpack like I owned the place. Oh yes, I could get used to being Frau Hentschel.

I had been spoiled in the U.S and really had no idea. Spoiled right down to my carrots. I used to buy those baby carrots that were pre-peeled and just throw them in a soup or stew. I don’t think they exist in Germany. People peel their own carrots here, can you believe that?  I know my foodie friends are saying hey those baby carrots taste bad but hey I was working full time and had a kid in my late forties, I didn’t have time to peel! The carrots are only the tip of the iceberg on how convenient and spoiled things are in the U.S is but maybe that is another blog.

I hate to admit it but I am loud at times and do love chit-chat. My oldest daughter went to school in London and often said mom people keep complaining that I am loud, am I? I was really puzzled by that and told her of course not, don’t be silly. I am here to say with certain scientific data that Americans are in fact loud. My whole family was here for vacation and we were a traveling rock concert. But you know what, the waitress in the hotel said we were a super joyful family. So I will go with joyful instead of loud.

I realized that I love my country. It’s like the USA is part of me that I can’t ever imagine going away. Every morning I wake up and check the news.  I ache for the cultural and political divide that my country is experiencing. I understand now why immigrants want to keep some of their cultural identity intact. It’s part of my identity and no matter how much fun it is being Frau Hentschel I always will be chatty, joyful Marie from the USA.

Frau Reyer (aka mom) and Frau Hentschel being loud at a German hotel