A little Euro-work never hurt anybody


Re-reading this again, it seems that I think only European women are capable of being catty. That is not my opinion at all. It’s just an example of how my normal American strategy of being nice no matter what, is ridiculous here. If I’m nice, I’m a pushover, and possibly incompetent as well. My teaching can speak for itself, but if I want to be respected as a person, I need to vocalize my observations in a way that as an American I would normally try to avoid at all costs. Nor am I trying to put a value judgement on either case. Both of these systems have their merits. I simply  wanted to remark on how behavior as an ex-pat changes little by little.


One thing that is certainly different from life in America vs in Europe, is compliments and advice. Both are doled out with a bit more forethought than in America.

There are times certainly when I miss the easy-going exchange of compliments between acquaintances. Usually a quick, hey, nice dress! makes the day just a little bit more pleasant.

On the other hand when you are on the receiving end of them here, it certainly means more.

The other day I got a compliment from the maths teacher at the Greek school. I’ve been doing my best recently to say a few things whenever I see him, cause the first year we just awkwardly greeted each other since his English is non-existant , and he’s friends with my bf’s friends. I also hate when I’m causing something to be awkward, but also he really gives a lot of himself for the kids and I respect that, as well as in the beginning we both laughed about our language struggles: my Greek and his German. Maybe for that reason he would always listen patiently and speak slowly, which God knows is rare enough with the Greeks

At any rate while copying, he told me: Your Greek is perfect! I remember when you came here, you couldn’t speak one word.

Ok so the Greeks use perfect to mean wonderful, wicked, fantastic, but it’s still feels great to hear it!  And I could read the alphabet and order in a restaurant/cafe two years ago. So it wasn’t nothing. But he’s right, it wasn’t that much either.

But I knew he wasn’t just saying that from our stilted conversations. He’s been listening to the kids speak to me in rapid-fire Greek when the door is open, and he’s been listening to what the students tell him (Goodness knows they never shut up with their gossip).

I don’t want to be dramatic, but I’ve been working towards that compliment since I started. So that at the end of 3 years, I can look back and say look how far I’ve come. I didn’t even say thank you, my brain was working so hard to think of something correct to respond with.

I’m such a perfectionist. I mean here I am chatting and communicating, however imperfectly with the bf’s parents and friends and my co-workers and kids, and meanwhile I’m still beating myself up for my Greek.

This stage is the hardest stage to realize I think. You’ve been learning and learning and listening and listening, and even once you’ve grasped all those grammar concepts you’ve still got a long road ahead of you memorizing all those verb forms. And a few embarrassing mistakes keep your mouth glued shut, but despite all that, one day you realize that coming out of your mouth is a string of words, that actually make sense and no one is laughing at you. Suddenly you’re singing along to the Greek songs without realizing you know all the words.

I suppose very soon I’ll stop ending every Greek sentence to my bf with, that was correct, right? and kicking my feet with glee.

Anyway that little well-timed compliment breathed more motivation into my Greek studies and just made my whole week a little bit nicer.

It’s funny how with some people you don’t really need to say a lot to know that you respect each other and that you’re on the same page.

It’s totally not that way with my other co-worker. I won’t waste too much time except to say two things: one, she is completely unobservant at work. At the beginning of the year, she wasn’t sure if I spoke any German. I’m not expecting her to memorize my major, but dear God I speak it with all the classes we share, and in front of her all the time. Secondly, she’s incapable of seeing her own mistakes.

So I’m only mentioning this to get to a story about my very European, sometimes more catty than I’d like, work-life.

Good we share classes, and in every class, we mark down, what has been done and what the homework is for the next lesson. I’d have enough money for a weekend-trip if I got a Euro every time my lovely coworker, forgot to either write a page number down, grade the vocab, print out copies, at times, lose the whole sheet, misplace the notebooks, etc,etc.

The first year, probably because I made such an effort to be friendly looking back now, she just didn’t respect me. But fine I’m younger and she doesn’t think I know my own grammar, like other native speakers.

The second year I tried to joke about her tendency to lose things. She looked at me like I was a UFO. After my blood pressure sank again, I decided I was going to go about this differently.

My first instinct was to go to my boss, but that wouldn’t fly, and I’d be an idiot to jeopardize the respect my boss has for me. The nice American needed to be suppressed. So I just verbally expressed my irritation when her poor work performance affected me, called her out for losing things and ignored her look of surprise, stopped saying sorry, or please, or thank you and just in general let her know that I saw her mistakes and it was irritating me. Because it was.

See, for better or worse, in America I’d be nice. I don’t like being catty. I don’t like stupid passive-aggressive notes that the Germans all seem to be experts at, because none of them are EVER wrong EVER.

I got a little too wound up, by her behavior and she definitely made the connection that I was irritated in her presence. So I snapped out of it. It’s not healthy. Everyone makes mistakes. I love what she does for the kids. I think she’s a great role model. I think she speaks great English and I would have liked to be more friendly with her.

BUT this week written in my course sheet, I see the note, pls write everything done in lesson.

So I can’t just read it and say nothing. I ask what I missed. Just 2 activities on a page, whoops mistakes happen. If she’s gonna to write notes like a child *ahem* German adult, she’ll have to deal with my reaction too. I can’t take it lying down, or we’ll be back to her not respecting me anymore. We American women really need some extra prep lessons, should we ever chose to live abroad.

Then today, I asked for my notebook for my next class, which she had been keeping in her room, I get it, glance at it, it looks fine, but once the lesson starts, it becomes clear that she has merely written arbitrary numbers on this sheet. Not having the chance to look at it any earlier, and not being able to recognize that book revision had been completed last time, I was unable to make the revision copies that we actually needed for the lesson, which was her job anyway.

Look the kids think it’s weird, they would like me to be totally confused and not check any homework, but I’m an old pro now. It’s no big deal. I’d rather just ignore this, sweep it under the rug, we all make mistakes. But that’s the thing: in my co-worker’s mind, I make mistakes, she doesn’t see hers.

So I write a note and loathe myself at the same time for doing it. On the way out, I confirm that I’ll need another lesson book for my early extra class tomorrow, so I’m not stuck, locked out of her room and improvising. Meanwhile she let’s me know I have writing to look forward to. She doesn’t want to admit it, but she can’t grade writing that quickly, which I think is normal and have told her she’s welcome to give me extra writings on occasion, but she can’t admit that, so instead practically every single class and every single unit, I am doing the writing. Joy.

Case in point, this is my work life in Europe, and dare I say it, but we are pretty much getting along even. I don’t like being so petty. But I’ve got the more experience, plus it is my native language, so I had darn well get some respect, at least for not losing everything I take home.

By the time I get to my 30’s, compared to my American counterparts, I am really going to be a piece of work.

You know all the things I would do in America, that to me mean absolutely nothing, except, hey we’re sharing the same room at the moment, let’s make it pleasant, can be too much here. I mention something to my boss, and she’s known me for awhile, but if it is even leaning in the direction of maybe being about my personal life, she dismisses me and ends the conversation.

It’s not like I’m finding out about this for the first time, but really it does surprise me, how much I constantly have to repress in emails and phone calls and classes, because no one wants to hear it.

However, were you as a woman to wear, what some would consider, an inappropriate shoe choice, you will be stared up and down all day, followed by a scowl, a smirk, or an eye-roll and I tell you, as an American if that isn’t more personal and more offensive than telling your boss the name of the town you visited on holiday, I don’t know what is.

Oh but hey, it’s their country and I’m just living in it. I’ll take the good, ignore the bad, and ain’t nobody better underestimate this face of mine as being young and a pushover.


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