What being an expat really means.

The funny thing about being an expat means that people in your country of choice have false misconceptions about you, as do people back home. On a certain level, my life is exotic, in that this culture I am living in is, and will forever be at least to some extent, foreign to me and certainly foreign to my friends and family at home. Exotic things certainly have their attraction. Why else do people like accents so much or want to travel? And when things get rough, I walk around the pedestrian zone of the medieval city center, look at all the street cafes and think, yep I sure prefer this to automobiles and fast food. Because with little money, I can do something relatively good for myself. I can walk around outdoors, look at the shop windows and spend 3 Euros for a coffee and watch people.

Certainly in the states, one can do the exact same thing, but life without a car, not very feasible, and once you’ve bought that car you take it no matter the distance. There was a survey of how far people are willing to walk on a given day and the average for Americans was about half that of Europeans. Another thing, a few years back, I remember going to a cafe with an old friend visiting me for the day and the chairs were turned to look at the street not at each other and my friend got very upset that I was looking at people, not at her. Certainly I suppose it was bad manners, but I remember being so flabbergasted, like why would we even go to a cafe it not to watch people? I was literally speechless, I turned my chair towards her for the rest of the conversation and she was really a dear friend that I hadn’t seen in ages, but I still remember thinking to myself she didn’t understand European cafe culture whatsoever and I felt like I had to repress my European self to make her happy.

So yes there is something exotic about living here that changes you. I learn something new almost every day. I think that I know how things work, how things are pronounced etc and then suddenly find out I was mistaken or learn an extra detail. That’s the part of life abroad that I have to say makes things the most interesting. Even when it’s something stupid like one word, I just like being surprised on an everyday basis. When you are in your own culture you don’t actively think about the whys and hows, you just roll with it. If anything is surprising, I would say it barely registers, cause somehow you’ve unconsciously picked up on it. That’s what’s different about being an expat. Being fluent in a language does not mean you are fluent in the culture as well.

I don’t have a 6th sense when it comes to language and culture. I might say sentences that are grammatically correct. They might be using words and collocations that fit together but they might not be appropriate for the situation. Or I do everything culturally right, but because I am nervous my words don’t come together the way I like, and even though this can happen to native speakers in their own language too, I will get inordinate amounts of attention for my perceived “language incompetence”.  I am proud to say when it comes to the genders of words in German, I am able to trust my gut. My brain has latched onto the gender of words unconsciously, but when my active brain tries to inflect it for case, that’s when it pops out wrong. Anyway the basics of cultural interactions I can even get right. Sometimes I even prefer the German preferences I know, for the weird dynamics of international interactions, where not knowing what to do and being so de-Americanized in my social habits that I feel completely at a loss and awkward.

But before you go assuming things are black and white here, I’m not saying I prefer German cultural norms either. Going to parties, with couples or alone, or going out grilling with all these weird rules about what you can share and what to bring on your own, or how everything has to be explicitly stated, which no one would dream of saying in an English speaking culture. All these things make me feel very very awkward too. But at least it is an awkwardness that I’ve come to expect and no longer feel obliged to “fix”. When I miss the openness the sharing, the friendliness, the “mi casa es su casa” concept, I go hang out with the Greeks here, and when the chaos and loudness is too much for me, I seek out my quiet orderly Germans spaces and friends.

So is my life exotic? Sure I mean there’s no way around it. Didn’t I just write about jumping in and out of cultures on a whim?  I am an American living, what I guess isn’t an American life. Do I miss American culture? As the Germans say “jein” (Ja=yes, nein=no). Do I miss cars, the junk labeled food, everybody being told how best to market themselves? You know the answer. Do I miss being able to exist without thinking about the meaning behind my word choice and smiling at strangers, without being considered crazy/stupid or a creeper? Hell ya.

If I continue to live here I will never fit in, and that can be good and bad. Bad because when you are busy going about your life in a place you’ve been living in for 4 years, you don’t really have the patience or desire to stop what you are doing and discuss America, just cause someone notices your accent. While you can understand their curiosity, the problem is I don’t know who they are/if they are trying to pick me up/befriend me just because I am American/can help them with your English or are just genuinely being friendly and I’m too jaded to recognize it…. It is tiring being treated like a UFO, by strangers who you can’t take seriously enough to trust.

On the other hand it can be good too, because this culture isn’t my own and I’m ok with that. I won’t be lulled into a false sense of complacency and accept things at face value.

So now I’ll come to something that many of you don’t want to hear: the real work that my life here demands of me. If you would prefer me not to spoil your illusions about what living abroad means, I suggest you stop here. It mostly has to do with money and it ain’t pretty.

Ready? Ok.

Let me put it this way before continuing: If you think you can survive abroad, ask yourself this question: are you willing and prepared to do everything twice? Are you willing to check up on every financial situation affecting you, to make sure people have done their job correctly? Are you willing to put in the legwork and time, so that things get sorted out so that you aren’t faced with fines and penalties from two countries? Are you prepared not to give up when paid government officials lie to you about what can and cannot be done? Are you prepared to call their bluff and be a bitch to get what you need? Are you prepared to tell government officials and accountants that even though you may look dumb and naive you know the rules and they are wrong? And not because you find these rules fascinating mind you, but because it is about your money and you have to know!  Are you prepared for the possibility of bawling your eyes out in an accountant’s office because they lied to you about how much money you would save and now you have to take a chunk out of your savings cause you lived in apartment with no closed-off rooms so you can’t write off a home office? Are you prepared to harass your landlord to pay your down payment back, when he ignores the legal time limit he wrote in his own contract? Are you prepared to bitch out corporate loan drones on the phone when they try to make you feel bad for deferring your loan payments, like some irresponsible freeloader, then slowly explain that you don’t live in the country and their policies have left you with no other choice? Are you prepared to pay an extra hundred Euros for a visa extension, not once but three times, because even though YOU have done all that you feasibly can in a timely manner, they won’t be bothered about it cause they are going on vacation, and you can’t stay legally without one? Are you willing to spend over 1000 Euros every time you want to visit your family (and that’s cheap!)? Are you willing to listen to idiots telling you can’t be right, cause other people aren’t having problems, when you know the reason other people aren’t having problems is because they don’t speak any German and are completely ignorant or purposely choose to ignore things freelance taxes which will cost them thousands of Euros down the road, but only if they are caught?

Bear with me this story will get happier, but it isn’t done yet.

I do everything twice. Everything I think is done and dusted comes back to bite me in the ass. I’m so sick of it. I’ve been feeling so frustrated, so helpless. I quit my waitressing job, got a job at the Uni, it’s brilliant and it will continue to grow and channel me into new opportunities. But it’s not a lot of money. Then I find out the secretary misunderstood the timing of these two jobs and registered me in the false tax bracket, so I missed out of 80 Euros that I very much need right now. I emailed her to get it corrected, but she didn’t understand it, just directed me to get my envelopes with my pay slip. So the stupid tax office here even got my religion wrong, which I’m obligated to give to the tax office, otherwise, as is my case, they will collect taxes for the evangelical and catholic churches. I then had to go in person to the office and have them correct it all, pick up a new slip and deliver it back to her. The guy in the tax office was nice, but he also informed me that the money wrongly taxed from my 400 Euro paycheck I cannot get back until the end of the year. Bollocks. Oh yeah and that if I do the teaching job I was planning on, I will have to register myself as self-employed/freelance. But he also mentioned my work was obligated to cover my health insurance.

Well upset and still poor, I ask the secretary about more insurance, cue misunderstanding, cause of the damn accommodating Germans in the English department.(Since then I’ve made a point of switching to German). She sends a prompt email about talking to some woman about it. So off I go again, to another bureau to another bureaucrat, who tells me I am mistaken and there’s no insurance for students. I tell her the tax office said all these types of (400 Euro) jobs require the employer to insure their employees she goes off about something not on topic and I leave, upset because I never understand when the answer is no. I know that Germans don’t even understand what they are telling me. And I’m sick of listening to bullshit from people who haven’t heard me speak enough German to believe I can understand the complexities of their ridiculous laws. I am insured btw, it just would have saved me 40 Euros and taken some pressure off me this summer.

Next I write the woman who’d offered me a really great chance to teach 11 year olds for a summer academy to let her know that if I have work freelance I can’t take the job. Why you ask?  Because working freelance is the most ridiculous complicated stupid thing you can do as a foreigner in Germany. Tons of people are doing it, and at least half of them are doing it wrong and most of those are doing it wrong on purpose.

If you work freelance and you are over your 3rd year, where you are still considered building your business, you had better be making shitloads of money or practically none at all. You cannot go to a regular accountant for 80 Euros to look at your receipts understand your situation and file some basic taxes. The tax account Germany has decided the self-employed are allowed to visit will charge you 500 Euros to do a taxes, even after agreeing on 100-200. These are basic taxes for around 20,000 or so of “profit” for your year. You cannot do what other freelancers do, and increase your profit margin etc, all you can do is work more hours and there is a natural limit to that. If you work as a paid employee, you cannot file those taxes separately with a cheap accountant but you have to file them with your self-employed earnings. Most importantly you cannot get any legal advice, and as you are technically considered a German business, potentially a rich one, you will most definitely need legal advice to cover all your tracks here.

My boyfriend and I joke all the time that I have been doing a three year training course to become an accountant. I have had to research and find out all tax and legal advice in a foreign language, many times from people who turned out not to be trustworthy. For the latter two years of my teaching all I wanted was for the freelance nightmare to end. So I wrote this woman and told her under no uncertain terms was I going to inflict this on the first year of my entire stay in Germany after waiting so long and shedding so many tears. And that there had to be some sort of solution as I was a student and it was just two weeks of summer courses. She responded kindly, but was ignorant about it and tried to tell me none of her other teachers have this problem.

The last point is the most frustrating. Many English speakers here in German teaching English do not pay any or all required taxes. This is a pretty ok method if you are planning on leaving Germany in the near future. Some are genuinely ignorant of how much they need to pay. Not speaking the language they miss out on some finer points. Even with speaking the language I overlooked taxes. There’s no how-to for freelance English teaching in Germany. Most people find out from their friends and acquaintances. Many people don’t want to find out. The problem is in Germany ignorance is not bliss. Unwissenheit schützt vor Strafe nicht, as the Germans say. In a culture where you are required to stay informed on your rights and obligations, not knowing means when they catch you, it’s your own fault. People ride in the ubahn without buying a ticket, but whenever they get caught, the whole train enjoys a moment of schadenfreude cause everyone knows the rules and when you flaunt them, you are bound to, and should get caught.

So do I know that most native speakers don’t know what’s up? Yeah, trust me I randomly saw an acquaintance today, asked her about her freelance gigs and taxes, and she proudly told me without hesitation that she has filed not one cent. Well put a fork in me and call me German then. Cause I am done. You shouldn’t be allowed to get work as a foreigner and flaunt tax laws. Fudging is one thing.  But whatever the point is, what other people do is bullshit and none of my business. I am the one who gets to decide if I want to risk getting caught (I don’t! I’m a straight arrow), or if it’s too much money and stress and time for me to deal with.

I was a wreck this week. Didn’t want to get up, bawling, depressed ball of frustration. I will never get ahead financially, cause I hear about all these exceptions, but I am the one who never gets any breaks. I need the money and I wanted the course, but I was willing to stick to my guns. Because I knew it couldn’t be that difficult and I am sick of jumping blindly into a situation, just cause I need to earn money and then pay all the bills I could have avoided later.

For her part, the woman took my advice went to her accountant and found out that as a student I can earn a modest 2,400 a year before I have to register with the tax office. Accountants may be my biggest source of pain, but also my biggest source of clarity and guidance and I knew if there was an easier way they would know it.

I swear it was like finally seeing the sun after months and months of rain. It is exactly the money I need, when I have the time to earn it.

So that’s me right now. I am still fighting, but I am sick of fighting. I am pursuing my goals, but I am exhausted and distracted by having to do everything the hard way cause I am not European. I have edged out over this challenge, but who knows what will happen with the next. I am making my life here as secure as I can and I hope that once I get more established, things will get easier and more lucrative things will come.

I don’t know anyone who works as hard as I do for the little money I get, but whose struggles are met with such disbelief. It’s insulting and demeaning. But we Americans are all supposed to be spoiled and rich, right, so what do I expect? I pity the fool who underestimates me though. All of those people just light the fire under me to never let them be proven right and to stand up when ignorant people try to steamroll me into their misconceptions and misinformation, and trust my gut and my experience over hearsay.

Only the strong survive abroad and I haven’t been beaten just yet.

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A fresh start, natural start, without the stink!

Summer is just around the corner and to fit the changing season there’s a new format to the blog. It’s also a good way to showcase some rotating pics of my latest vacations. Maybe this one will stay around for awhile.

Now we are in the season of avoiding public transport, because deodorant seems to be a hard concept to grasp here. I feel like I’ve outgrown most of my American prude-isms, except for the smell of sweat. Especially the smell of sweat on crowded public transport. Made up my mind to just walk home every afternoon, cause getting my face shoved into the wrong person’s armpit can make the half an hour stroll totally seem worthwhile, even after a long day.

The bf hates this about me. He thinks I am totally stereotyping Europeans and then demands to know if he stinks too. So petulant. Look spray on deodorant only works for a few hours. In America we have deodorant plus anti-perspirant! Sure it might be giving us cancer. The latest research seemed to be undecided. But I for one am proud of our non-stinky ways. I’ll be the first to admit: I am totally German now when it comes to my attitude and aversion to air-conditioners, it’s a way too big change in temperature and totally unnecessary, not to mention borderline unhealthy and I won’t even mention the environmental atrocities committed in their omnipresence.

But when it comes to deodorant look, in the winter I’ll spray on the European nonsense, with a roll of the eyes, but once summer hits, I’ve got my hoard of normal sized stick deodorants from every package my parents send me ever. I can buy the mini size here in Europe, I suppose, but it’s like an American travel size and too much of a joke for me to take seriously.

Why, why do I care? We all have sweat glands. It’s normal, natural the logical German voice inside me argues in vain.  Don’t fight ze nature! he commands. In vain, in vain. I can deal with the fact that other people might stink around, but I’ll never integrate so much to allow my own bodily odors the freedom to harass fellow commuters. I’ve gotten pretty good at holding my breath for the seven minute tram ride and/or only breathing when the doors open.

Leaving that topic aside, that reminds me of another German obsession I simply cannot support. That is their affection for lots of public nudity. Case in point, what do you call a slug in German? A naked snail. (eine Nacktschnecke). I can’t make stuff like this up. My friend told me and I couldn’t take her seriously for half an hour. I’ve now taken the name on step further. The Germans have an abbreviation for when areas are designated as nudist friendly: it’s FKK. (Freikörperkultur: lit. free body culture) This is used as an adjective, like that’s and FKK beach. So now much to my bf’s amusement (and his is really the only one I care about, cause let’s face it, a German would just not get why FKK is so damn funny to foreigners) I call all slugs in German FKKschnecken. Cause I mean what’s the difference between a naked snail and a nudist snail?? This has become so funny to our juvenile sense of humor that now every slug for the last month has had us in stitches.

I will never forget the day I was in east Berlin reading at a lake and this nice looking family came right next to me, before I even realized they were there, they were already all naked, mom pop and the daughters and changing about a foot away from me into their swimsuits. This imagine is ingrained in my memory forever! I tried the German nudist thing, you know to be open-minded and European. I went with a gf to a nudist spa telling her, we might as well go now and be assured of having the best looking bodies there while we still are young. We are still friends, perhaps because of it. At any rate it seemed to cement our friendship in a much quicker way than anything else ever could. But  4 years ago, when I went back to Germany and my Greek co-worker convinced me to go to the gym with her, I was never so relieved to have a friend in the locker room who did not feel the need to approach me drying herself off with a towel between her legs at eye level, like I witnessed by many other friends in this space. No we modestly changed behind our locker doors and left the FKK to the experts.

So you see, despite what family and friends think, I am not actually an all-out Europhile. The American prude in me gets what she wants.

On teaching English again away from the kiddos.

I’ve wanted to start a post nearly everyday since my holidays began, but I’ve been too busy relaxing. Shocking only because with only 8 weeks of classes, a bit of tutoring and a bit of waitressing, I really don’t consider myself stressed and needing a break at all.

Really it’s been very easy-going this first semester. Oh there’s work to be done, but there’s still plenty of time for everything else too. It will get harder and more busier, and I have said no to taking on some lessons, but only because I am not in such desperate need of money that I am willing to sacrifice my time to learn languages. Not when I have waited 3 years for this chance!

On that note, I am being very good at recognizing when people are looking to take advantage of me as a native speaker and not pay me for what I know my knowledge and experience are worth. Oh I am a cold calculating business woman, make no mistake. But Adults and professors are not learning “for fun” and they want to pay as little as possible and then make last-minute demands on my time. I am very comfortable saying no these days. If I don’t stand up for myself, no one else will. And I’m not running a charity organisation for people more than capable of paying.

Ouch this all sounds very harsh. Some examples will help illuminate this. Had a nice doctorate student hiring me to help correct some work for him. He paid very fair and appreciated the work. But then texts started coming to correct work he was supposed to correct himself and then last-minute projects he wanted me to look at quickly. I did look through his corrections but I said no to the last-minute offer and further emailed that last-minute does not work as my schedule is very inflexible now and I’d prefer a week’s notice so I can work it into my week.

It hurts my inner workaholic to turn down money. My schedule is rather fixed, but I can accommodate spontaneous projects from time to time. The problem is, or the question is rather: do my clients respect my time and abilities? Doing a correction in under 24-hours comes in every business with an extra “rush” charge. I could have mentioned that too. But that would have jeopardized our relationship more than flat-out saying no. And boundaries are important to establish, in case they weren’t clear enough before. I am a masters student editing on the side, not someone’s personal native speaker slave.

On the way to class I also got a phone call asking about correcting something by the end of the day, on my busiest day. The first thing that interested them was the price. I scoffed into the phone and said no way. Yeah you poor students are “busy” and “poor”. I bet you knew 6 months in advance when this project was due. I’m not gonna take on work from a lazy ass, disorganised person. No way, and I bet you are still getting “Kindergeld” from mama. I’ve got student loans from America, saved 3 years to go to school and still have to pay my own rent and health insurance. Cry me a river. Then he asked if I knew another English speaker that could do it for him. I said nope, sorry good luck! Wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.

The next example was a professor who emailed in German a very casual weird message about me immediately having a job. I repressed my initial reaction of being flattered and read between the lines. It was written in a hurry it was a mass email, and most worryingly, it contained the phrase “some translating”. I turned him down saying I was too busy but he could check back later if he still needed help. Later from my fellow students I found out that despite their command of German he was pressuring all of them to essentially translate his book for them from German. What a ridiculously cheap, lazy ass professor. And later everywhere, he will be proclaiming about having “written” a book in English. He’s actually a knowledgeable, likable guy, but what a fraud, just write it in German you silly man and pay a translating company. It’s expensive but they have software like that for a reason. Word for word is incredibly hard work. I actually had to coach one of my fellow students working for him to tell him flat-out no, to translating, since she speaks little German, WITHOUT apologizing for something she had already told him once she didn’t feel comfortable doing. And most importantly, not to waste a single second feeling guilty for it! They are all working 15 hours instead of only the five they get paid for. What a joke! He’s not even a professor that can help them later. I dodged a bullet and I have no problem congratulating myself for smelling something afoul from the get-go.

Lastly I got an email about needing some English help. It raised further red flags, lots of questions very little info and lots of uncertainty about what she wanted. If I were working full-time, I would meet with her and discuss what goals she was looking to achieve. No problem. But for me at the moment, it seemed like too big of a risk. I only want to take on jobs where I know I will be successful. I want to work with people who have concrete goals. Languages are very personal things. Not being able to express yourself as elegantly as you want to can be embarrassing and unnerving. You are after-all presenting yourself every time you open your mouth, and when they judge your language competence, it feels sometimes like they are judging you. When someone writes and doesn’t know what they want to achieve, how can I be successful? Even if I work my butt off and give it my all, if they expect native level fluency, they will be disappointed with me in the end. That only comes after long hours spent talking with native speakers. No, I have no time to be someone’s psychiatrist as well as teacher. Especially if their questions about payment also make me nervous. They are getting a better deal hiring me privately than they ever would find with a company in a course. And if knowing that makes me a bad person, so be it. I’m not accepting jobs in order to get people to like me.

My favorite thing about Germany is that business and personal lives are expected to be kept separate and compartmentalized. That being said I have 2 permanent clients, one is an 11-year-old boy moving to Africa next year and one is a mother working on an advanced nursing degree from an online school in England. I get on with both of them very much and I look forward to meeting up with them and watching them move closer to their goals. Teaching is still something that fires me up and I guess when it boils down to it, I want to save my energy and brain for the projects that mean something to me and with people who appreciate and respect me.

In fact, going back to the topic of turning down work, without apologizing, it was from a recent conversation with the nursing student when the German expression: Wer sich entschuldigt, klagt sich an, came up. This expression means if you say sorry, you are incriminating yourself. Germans don’t say sorry as a natural reflex. When I say sorry in German, it doesn’t mean oh how nice, I am thinking of the feelings of others, it means I am a huge idiot and have guilty feelings about something. Which would explain why, even despite knowing this, my co-workers at the restaurant still tell me constantly not to apologize and look at me funny when I do. If there is one thing that irritates the hell out of Germans it is incompetence, why the hell else would they make a mandatory 3 year training program to become a flight attendant?!?!? Trust me, you do not want to reveal yourself as incompetent in Germany.

In that respect it’s a bit nerve-wracking still at Uni. I can see how much better my German is than other students here, but I need the vocab and expressions again for being at university. I want my professors to see me as a good student period and not just a native speaker with “ok” German. I’m a perfectionist, I know but I’m enjoying this new challenge.

On the other hand, coming back to my home in Nbg, seeing the kids and being reminded of how competent I was at my job, especially catching up with my boss and hearing from her about everything going on and even discussing helping out over semester break with the kids writing the hardest test, has worked wonders to soothe my feelings of being out-of-place still in Freiburg. Her good opinion means more to me than practically anyone else’s here in Germany and how good it was to think that this chapter of my life isn’t shut forever but rather always open if I choose to make time for it.

And so with that I wish you all health and happiness, success and love in 2013!

 

 

Reasons it’s entertaining being an Ami abroad.

I think it’s a really easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everyone living abroad is something doing something more glamorous, than those at “home”. I think it’s an obvious conclusion to come to, seeing as those who have never lived abroad (really, moved even) can’t understand perhaps the unique challenges and rewards. I think this is true regardless of which country you come from. It’s true for my European friends, as it’s true for me, and even though Germans may not express scorn in public that so many of their compatriots lead lives outside Germany, behind closed doors, I think they are just as skeptical about why someone really wants to leave Germany.

Perhaps the key misinterpretation is that the whole endeavor revolves around leaving and not expanding your horizons

That being said, these last few months have been busy, stressful and full of lots of uncertainty about what the future holds. I’ve had no choice but to make commitments to things before I even know if everything will work out. Every time I think I’ve finally completely taken care of something and cross it off my list, something pops up and it feels like I’m just treading water here and not making any progress.

So I thought instead of focusing on my frustration for once, I’d make a list of all the little things, which are so easy to overlook, but really add up to the reasons I love living abroad.

When I’m stressed I take the scenic Medieval route home. This bridge and tree make every walk home special.

1. The architecture: plain and simple. Nothing beats walking to work surrounded by 1000 years of artistic creations and styles. Or taking a weekend trip and feeling like you’ve suddenly woken up in the 18th century, then going to the next town and seeing only modern creations. I think that’s why I love London and Berlin so much. It’s just centuries and centuries of history existing side by side. One of my favorite shows in Germany is called Rent, Buy, Live. (can’t embed a video here, so you can look at the videos on the station’s website). The real estate agents are sometimes super annoying, but the apartments they show are divine. For a few short weeks I seriously thought, screw languages, I’m gonna study architecture, until I realized I can’t draw and don’t really love math. And I don’t really want to knock America, but with the exception of (by no means small) cities, most of it is really just suburbia, and I never realized how boring it was til I saw the contrast myself.

2. Coffee and cake. Yeah we got muffins and cookies, and pies and donuts America.  Trust me, I love those too! And I must add, my own baking skills are far superior to my European counterparts, simply from my upbringing. We Americans dominate baked goods. In fact now my bf’s family expects me to bring goodies to every holiday get-together. BUT we sometimes just snack mindlessly, cause it’s all around. Here if I want coffee and cake, I go to a restaurant or a bakery and take my time, sit down, talk linger, people-watch, enjoy the little moment and the little luxury. I love the whole afternoon custom and it only costs a few Euros. Unless you are in Switzerland, like my coffee and apple cakes here, in which case tack on another 10.

3. Europe is the best place to be (young and) in love. So I haven’t been to any continents outside North America and Europe, so please take this comment with a (huge) grain of salt. I’ll spare you my opinions of prude Ami-land, and instead share some amusing anecdotes on my “europa-zation” here over the years. When I studied here and left for train trips early in the morning, I’d very often be waiting on the platform surrounded by couples just out of their beds, making out. Usually I’d drift farther and farther away from where I started, not wanting to listen/hear/ see such a spectacle close-up. Fast forward a few years, on the beach in Greece with the bf, a couple not 2 meters away straddling each other, etc etc I start getting really put out. The bf hasn’t noticed a thing, I lean in and in German, try to translate can’t they get a room. Bf, clueless, looks over, what are you talking about? Who needs a room? When I finally point out to him what I meant, he thinks it’s the funniest thing he’s heard in ages. The rest of the trip he peppers me with question if perhaps this couple needs a room, or if that couple over there are still allowed to be out in the open and in love by the grace of miss ami here.

Who says you have to be young? Rocking the PDA in the city!

He also now knows what PDA and TMI stand for and his favorite joke when we are walking around town is to find an American tour group, get in their line of vision, and start making out. It’s very romantic, esp when he’s got one eye open looking around for the looks of disgust! It’s amusing cause when we’re around his family, he is reluctant to be too affectionate, and only now around his friends is he a bit more relaxed about PDA. But before we headed off to America I gave him the whole  list of things to avoid and esp pointed out that an Americans personal bubble is very large, so err on the side of caution. Sometimes my German friends get too romantic too close to me, and it’s still very awkward for me.

But really it’s fantastic being in love in Europe. We can sit next to each other in a restaurant instead of across, rudely ignoring the waitress, we can stay in a cafe for hours staring deeply at each other and sighing, we can go for walks in the city, holding hands or arms interlaced, we can go round Greece together taking pics of us in the beautiful places, and just be another couple in love, with no one getting disgusted or angry. It’s very very beautiful. Even though he’s a Greek man and definitely macho, he writes me poems and can be romantic while still being a man. I’d take it over backward compliments and kindergarten punches that seemed to comprise Ami men’s entire repertoire any day. I guess it’s a stupid cliché, but it’s true and the only thing in my life that sometimes is as glamorous as it seems.

4. Being American and light years ahead of European race ideas. I just read and article from slate predicting how right extremism is taking over Europe. Look it’s not. It’s just a typical article (from both side of the ocean) wishing the worst for the other to feel better about their poor state of affairs. I try to take it all with a sense of humor. The kids come in and ask me questions like I am the ultimate source of Afro-Americans. I can’t get mad, but tell me how you would react when teenage girls want to know, why all black men only like fat woman? Dude I know I am guilty of a few generalizations or too, but I don’t think, because all the other Germans are too racist to date them, so they have to hook up with poor white women, who get pregnant to get more money from the city and to make sure they permanently tie down the man they are currently sleeping with is the answer that they are looking for. They’d like me to confirm all the racist ideas they get from others, not tell them that they are the racist ones. Or I also love when my seniors tell me, the worst American soldiers in the war were black. Someone I knew saw a man gunning down people from an airplane and he was definitely black. My God. What can I say? Nothing, I just look appalled until she starts backtracking. Or here about a Dutch newspaper publishing an article calling Rihanna the N word. Or my boyfriend saying he thinks all Indians are unattractive. I call him out for it, saying I had numerous crushes on men I’ve met, and find Indian women esp. beautiful for their eyes. But he failed to see how this could be the tiniest bit racist, or how this could harm children growing up in a world, where only the Western standard of beauty is valued.

Only in Germany would a restaurant name their beer this, and not be afraid of a lawsuit.

I could go on and on. My favorite German let’s be oblivious to racism bit, are Asian restaurants. I call it the let’s all stand around a wok and look Asian bit. The owner is not from Asia, but he hires only Asian waitstaff so it looks authentic. I would love for American lawyers to sink their teeth into this lawsuit waiting to happen. As an expat it’s easy to get caught up in the world of generalizations, Germans this and Amis that. I am more than guilty, but I swear it’s no longer amusing to explain to my kids that saying the n word is just never ok in America, despite what gangsta rappers say. And that even though Europe seizes on every news story as proof that Americans have huge race problems still, I know that in America a black man getting on the subway will more often than not, not be stared at intensely as an oddity, nor would a court of law be so quick to uphold the police’s right to ask for the ID of every black passenger travelling on the German train, nor do we need to ask such stupid questions, like my kids do. We’ve had those discussions, we are better for it and it’s interesting living abroad and being able to appreciate just how much the struggles of people before me have done to improve intercultural understanding.

There are more, but these have been on my mind for a while and felt deserved their own post.

A little Euro-work never hurt anybody

Edit

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.

Edit

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.

Little Miss Eco-freak

What I miss from my old xanga account is the ability to insert into the post what I was reading/watching /listening to. It really told the story of my college studies, better than my scattered thoughts ever did.

So in honor of that old habit of mine: I’m currently reading WASTE by Tristram Stuart.   Click on the link if you have even the tiniest inkling of guilt when you throw out food. Cause you should, you really should. Our excess is that bad. BTW all the statistics I’m about to list in this post, can be found, with sources, in this book.

Here are some changes I’ve made in my life in my 3 years of living in Germany:

  • No bagging fruits/veg in plastic at supermarkets.
  • Buying things with less packaging when possibly.
  • Buying organic meat 70% of the time. (Here it’s not about price, it’s more about finding substitutes for the things I’m used to buying)
  • Eating less meat, 1-2x a week.
  • Eating only river fish/fish from sustainable organic fisheries (which is too expensive, so once a year. But gosh darnit, for every fish you eat, another one has been tossed back dead into the ocean. Never mind, the dolphins, sharks and sea turtles)
  • Reusing dried bread. (the bf always wants to know why everything I bake in the oven has dried bits of bread on it, but it gets eaten.)
  • Buying only darker breads: rye/whole grains etc. (I get enough white sugar from the pastries I eat.)
  • Separating all my trash. Including as much compost as I can manage. (Did you know food in garbage dumps is a source of carbon dioxide and contributes to global warming?)
  • Buying organic milk, yogurt, and free range eggs. This here is about taste, and I’ve also got no problem helping small farms stay alive, since milk and eggs are notoriously not something farmers make a profit on.
  • Like it or not: fair trade coffee. There’s no reason families should live in poverty just because I want 2 cups a day. (What’s this about coffee ceasing to exist?)
  • Organic make-up. Who wants cancer from their mascara? And sulfate-free shampoo.
  • Being impossible to feed when I go home to America because of this, oh and this:

There’s more I’d like to do. Wooden toothbrushes are next. I thought that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was full if trash but it’s actually little bits of plastics that can’t be filtered out, no reason for my plastic toothbrushes to kill fish!

Probably will eat a lot more potatoes with peels. Will look for some farmer’s markets where I can cultivate a relationship as the girl that wants to save the ugly bruised fruit from the bin. I’ll probably bring as much cotton bags as I can, so that I don’t get plastic bags everywhere I go. This family is my hero btw.

I tried the whole not washing your hair thing, the verdict’s still out. Also I don’t like drinking out of bottles without knowing if they release hormone like chemicals. See here. But at least they are re-usable and I figure the damage is already done at this point. And hey it’d be cool to get in touch with the German group that scavenges from supermarkets or the group that eschews money and trades instead.

I’m so embarrassing, I get it. The bf calls me his little eco-freak. Hah.

I realized though a little while back, a couple things. First: I don’t have much of a political voice, neither as an American expat, nor as a foreigner living in Germany. And that doesn’t bother me so much, because I don’t think the average citizen can really do much to change things drastically in either system. (Cynic til I die!)

The second thing I realized was: the thing that every single person in the world it seems, wants from me, from the US Student loan agencies to the German gov’t, from travel agencies to the waitress at my favorite pub, is my money. So I figure it’s the only way I have to express my opinion and thus I’ll use every single chance I can to vote with my money.

Maybe someday I can figure a way to do more, and despite the list I just presented, I don’t really think I do too much to inconvenience myself. I’m pretty much the same over-consumer I’ve always been. Goodness knows in the long run, my small decisions will have no impact, (except on my bf’s sanity perhaps..) Half of the species in the ocean might go extinct in 50 years. The rainforest might turn into a desert. And even if none of that happens and we find renewable energy sources eventually our sun will burn out and whatever life that’s on the planet will die. Ha.

Where ever you look there’s a negative side. Sometimes I wonder if life is just a never ending decision between the lesser of two evils.

Anyway now that I’ve depressed myself a bit, on a happier note, I’ve had a lovely 2 weeks relaxing at home and reading and knitting like crazy. Met some of the bf’s close friends yesterday and while they were catching up and being Greek and cool and bored, I whipped out my knitting and this time they were wondering if this grandma was good enough for their pal.

I’ve got work on Monday and I am absolutely dreading it, but I’ve got two things to keep my spirits up: Easter Break is the beginning of April and I’m absolutely travelling one way or another. The second is I’ve done more research on the Master’s program and now I’m even more interested in it. Also after I contacted the university about requirements, the very helpful woman told me I didn’t have to take an extra German test! I’m so relieved cause I just don’t have time for that.

So on that note, I’m out.

Beautiful Fall

I love fall in Germany. It’s gorgeous out and warm, no actually it’s hot, hotter even than it was this summer.

What’s even better is that this Monday, I have a day off. So since the weather will hold out til then, we’re heading to a small little village here to look at this historical old cottages/museum and also to go to a thermal baths.

Looks pretty nice, huh. It’s actually a salt water pool they made with the hot springs. I’m so excited. I know it’s a pastime for old people, but I love hot springs!

Anyway here are some snaps of things that have made me happy recently.

the bf, in between his car parked in backwards and the sign forbidding him from doing so. He has no shame.

Proof of the bf dancing

This is blurry, but I don't care. Here we have proof of the bf dancing.

This sign was outside the main square's crepe shop. You can get a bottle of champagne here with 4 glasses. Or even better, if a gooey nuttella-banana crepe is just what you crave when you are wearing an expensive white gown, come here for breakfast and get a glass of champagne free! WOW.

She is 70, in love, rocking leather leggings and she doesn't care what her parents think about it!

Fall in my park, on my way home. I certainly have a nice commute.

Beautiful architecture around where I live.

Lovely. So much nicer than identical square houses.

Yay for fall.

The trees don't look so yellow here, but trust me yellow leaves are everywhere.

Hot water bottle ueber-cute! This must be a European thing, I never had a hot water bottle growing up. We had a bag of rice we microwaved. Anyway, this is cuter and in a sort of traditional Alp theme that's getting more and more popular in Germany.

Luggage tag!! It says "good luck" somehow appropriate in this day and age.

got the Greece painting from Mama nicely framed. I didn't know it'd turn out so nice.

This one will go up in my classroom for the kiddies to enjoy.

Fall flowers! My grocery store has the best flower arrangements.

Go poinsettia go! Currently conducting an experiment to see if I can get it to bloom red again in time for Xmas. This has been the easiest plant ever by the way. It grows like crazy and in September I took a whole branch off cause it was crowding itself and it's still happy.

My fantasy collection finally comes home. I've gotten rid of all my other books and dumped a whole bunch of college books at home this summer, but my dragon books are here to stay. Thank you.

Our sheep Sieggi has a new home. He had some separation anxiety in the plane, but don't worry Becky, we are looking after him.

So I’m off to enjoy the sun while it lasts.

Another long, drawn-out cultural rant brought on by my students

Some days it seems like all I do is constantly defend one nationality from another. With my Greek kids I try to tell them that the Germans aren’t all cold and cruel and racist. With my German seniors I have to say that Greeks aren’t at all out to steal Germany’s money. Etc, etc, etc…

I don’t know why I do it. Maybe it’s some weird American hang-up of mine to try and promote multiculturalism whereever I go. And I guess after all those school and college years spent listening to white people telling me it’s the bee’s knees, I’ve turned into a little melting pot evangelist.

Maybe it’s cause I’m slightly possessive and protective of my classes. They are my responsibility after all, plus I don’t like something that I’ve seen the vulnerable side of being attacked in any way.

(Oh man just had to do a quick preposition check just now. My poor brain is awash in a sea of languages and doesn’t know what sounds right anymore. Is it vulnerable side to or of?  HA!)

Thursday, wow. I jumped right in with my seniors this week. They were grumbling and negative, but I care about them and teaching them a second year requires less prep work. On Wednesday we had a smaller class than normal and we had a rambling discussion about European politics, the housing market, the Euro vs. the DMark, humidity, September 11th, Germany’s former territory in Poland and then the War: the one and only that matters here.

I can’t describe it in a paragraph. I need pages and pages to tell you about the depth of my feelings when it comes to WWII and Germany. They don’t want to bring it up, they are tired of being told they’re Nazis. They were children during the war for the most part, and they are tired of being told they knew, and they are tired of having to pretend the trauma of their childhood doesn’t count for anything, because they weren’t Jews. And if we were in Berlin, many of them would hide a rape or two at the hands of the Russian soldiers.

I watched Inglourious Basterds and I expected to like it. But I hated it. It was like some glorified WWII video game; like you could just prance into a situation and it would be crystal clear, without a doubt what’s right of wrong. I turned it off after Diane Kruger shot the Nazi dad. I love Tarantino. I just wish he had chosen any other topic. It could never be a lighthearted flick for me. As if history is that simple; as if everything is so black and white. As if no one suffered anything but those deserving it. As if American soldiers didn’t go AWOL like cowards after they found a new European mistress. As if many good ol’ country boys didn’t go back home leaving bastard children to grow up without fathers. As if America didn’t follow the same old tired politics of only taking action when there’s enough popular movement not to rule out a re-election.

And we did good things in the war and we certainly sped up the process from the previous drawn-out hellhole that was WWI and brave men died far away from home.

But simple? No. Good vs. Bad? No. All Germans were Nazis? No.

And I ask myself why I get so worked up. I ask myself why I get so annoyed when I hear Americans talking about the war like it was yesterday. I ask myself why it’s so important that they see Germany is so much more than Nazis and Hitler.

But I’m convinced that this matters. I’m convinced that blurring the humanity of the Germans is dangerous. I’m worried that we’ve been able to glorify war to a dangerous level by always having them on foreign soil and leaving the mess for someone else to deal with. Why are all these men coming back from Iraq and not getting the psychological help they need? And then they go out shooting civilians and we ask why. And Vietnam vets? How did they fare?

I didn’t say anything like that to my seniors. Oh, I behave myself very well! My bf doesn’t always believe it, but as much as I can talk when you get me going, as a teacher my job is to guide the conversation, not dominate it. I only said the bit about how the American who come here for WWII have their eyes closed to everything else Germany has to offer.

The relief in their eyes, after I said that, after it was clear that I wasn’t looking at them with judging eyes I think I will always treasure. Pain is pain. It doesn’t equal holocaust atrocities. But I think the Germans have been working a long time on how to be honest and come to terms with their past. I love that about them. We will forget, us Americans, the real story first, because we won’t need to remember the little bits about taking a train to strangers to escape the bombs or eating chocolate from an American GI. We’ll forget the little details because we don’t to constantly ask ourselves what happened, who did what, what can we do now?

Later on my advanced class had to consider what would happen to society if we all lived to be 100. Needless to say, before I knew it, the class dissolved into German bashing and how German seniors citizens suck and are selfish. Of course Greek grandparents are better.

SIGH

This is my life people. I try to put them all in each other’s shoes. I can’t help it. I am a frickin bleeding heart. I poked holes in their arguments. I called the out for being selfish too. I asked them to imagine being old and lonely with no close family nearby. I considered the serious arguments they offered me and asked them why, why, why?

I know one reason why the last class passed proficiency. I taught them critical thinking. That’s my thing. Cause they absolutely need that in the Speaking and Writing part. You can’t be wishy-washy with such complicated topics.

My advanced kids were happy to come in today, they gave me big smiles and I was a bit taken aback. I want it to be a safe place, where they can state they opinion as long as they have the ability to provide some logical justification when it’s too out there. They ought to question what they hear and check what people tell them. Luckily I can cut through their b.s. With the seniors, out of respect I ignore a lot of crazy statements.

I can already see these year coming to a close and I will once again have done practically nothing in terms of my personal language studies because I will have given all my energy and effort, love and patience to the kids and seniors.

Please forgive this moment of ego. I’ve worked really hard at this and I know I’m a good teacher. Not perfect, competent. Coming soon I’ll have another class to prepare for the proficiency test and I’m so excited.

There’s more that could be said. But I’ll leave you with some classroom pics. Maybe sometime I can take some individual pics of the stories students have written that I have on my door and post them here too.

I made this little photo collage of scenes from the Rocky Mountain National Park that I took when I went hiking back with my family in August. It's a little blurrier here than I thought. I kept glancing at it all day today and it brought my mood up in an instant. The girls from the last class gathered round it at the end to look at my boyfriend and inform me he's Greek looking.

I constantly refer to my map of US states. We either talk about the size of things or I try to point out where things are located and that the US is very, very big. Now I've got a new addition of which state names come from Indian languages, because there's always some smart aleck who hopes asking my why it's called Mississippi will distract me from the lesson.

Here's my somewhat messy desk, with my new photo addition. I was too exhausted to deal with all of today's vocab and put stickers on their little notebooks, so all this is waiting for me tomorrow!

little compare and contrast

Finally home. Seems like I’ve lost 2 full days to travel and exhaustion. But we are here despite some minor airport rescheduling and 8 hours later, so were our bags.

It’s much better than being stuck an extra day in America and me panicking about making it to work on Monday morning on time. That being said I hated having to talk to all the airline employees and try to sort everything out and knowing that depending on their mood and my approach determines which rules they are willing to follow and bend. But it’s not worth getting into, I’ve traveled a lot and I know when to call bull on their little game of pass-the-problem onto the customer.

The important thing is to make sure you ask for what you want and make it clear when things are not appropriate. Like when you go to Starbucks and you ask for no whipped cream and they give you whipped cream, to ask them to make it again. I’ve lived up to the part I’m responsible for and it doesn’t make me a bad person to ask for what I ordered.

Ahh in America I’m a bit rude and demanding from time to time. I’ve lost the saccharine waitressing crap I never liked anyway, but in Germany I’m still a bit of a pushover. But especially if it comes to things I’m consuming and things I’ve been looking forward to, if I am going to consume and pay for it, it has to be worth it.

Things that were tough in America this trip is a tiny little list, but includes:

  • translating everything, over and over for the bf, essentially having many conversations twice
  • being responsible for any issues that involve extensive talking, like what directions the person gave or what the rental car guy said i.e. things that I’ve gotten used to the bf doing here, so it’s only fair anyways
  • finding things that I wanted to eat, that didn’t have added sugars, that didn’t have chicken, that didn’t have pork, (or at least non organic meat) that included some veggies, that didn’t have corn syrup (practically nothing). It was easier in Colorado, for sure. I still gained weight which was the reverse of what my body was doing in Greece. But it’s hard to control all that when you aren’t making all the meal decisions. This is a rant for another day though and something I knew I was getting myself into and deal with every time I go to America.
  • not getting enough time to read
  • no sparkling water

Things that I enjoyed back in America:

  • Family and friends, duh
  • driving again
  • orange and cranberry juice
  • pumpkin in food and coffee
  • Kind Coffee and dunkin donuts
  • Estes Park and the mountains and wide open spaces
  • FREE PUBLIC RESTROOMS (I have sprinted around so much holding it in Europe. I almost always have to plan my shopping around a bathroom break. It’s alright, but I love going into practically any store and knowing it’s there if I need it).
  • Books in English, duh
  • Steaks- Had the best filet ever with dad at a trying-to-be-eco-friendly steakhouse. I don’t like anything about how they raise/slaughter animals in the USA. (read Eating Animals by Jonathon Safron Foer.) I made a compromise for steak/beef  this trip, might not make it again next time. Time will tell.
  • The friendliness and smiles and being able to talk easily and pleasantly to strangers, with the added bonus of not thinking about grammar rules while doing so.
  • Corn on the cob
  • Colorado beer
  • oh yeah and reunions with lots of people after 4 long years

On Monday it’s back to school and back to work and back to the daily grind, but I’m lucky to live in a place where vacations are accepted as necessary! So that’s all tonight, time to reset my body clock.

My last year in photos

Ahh I started looking around on other expat blogs here. So cute! So interesting to read about how other people made the same decisions I have. Whenever I travel somewhere and notice other Americans that clearly live abroad, I always want to ask how it came about and how they like it, but I’m always too shy.

I also suppose I’m held back by the fact that sometimes I know I’m too busy running around to take the time for curious questions. Maybe people left America and they’re happy not to have to talk to strangers about their personal life. I know sometimes I am. Besides mostly I hear people on the street and it’s a bit awkward to run after them saying “hey do you live here/abroad too?!” 

I’m too eingedeutscht. (germanized) What can I say? Here anyone that addresses you on the street that isn’t lost, is generally up to no good. At least around here. It’s a bit different in Berlin and other cities and in the countryside too I think.

Anyway after I looked at all the pretty set-ups, I dinked around with mine for a bit. I don’t think mine will ever be a mostly photo blog, but then again I’d rather use this than fb for friends/family, so I thought I’d try it out today for the first time.

So the highlights from last year are:

July 2010

An old elementary, middle school, high school Omaha friend, comes to visit. From German to band, we spent several years sitting in class writing notes to each other and then hours after-school on aim chatting to each other.

Little bro came for a visit. There were so many great photos. We had so much fun going out and having him try new things. The best part was every morning he’d run next door to the grocery store and buy fresh rolls while I was still clutching my coffee. Here he is with a Radler (shandy) and massive schnitzel. Both of which were too much for him this day. Wheat beer and sausage were what he liked.

In Wheelers, back in our Erlangen with bff. This pub opened during our study abroad there and was the headquarters for all the mischief the English speaking community got up to. The end of an era.

August

My bday in the village on the 14th, right before the big Panagiri on the 15th of August (with my bff and fam) She’s another girl I met in Germany when a classmate of mine said to her, “Hey you’re Greek. That’s cool. This girl (me) likes Greek things.” Not really, but it did the trick.

the bf and I in Skiathos. He’s was so happy to be back on a beach.

The thing that keeps me coming back to Greece, despite all nonsense I’ve dealt with over the years. Let me tell you the restaurants were expensive and rubbish, but when you have an oven, you eat like a king for pennies. The highlight of our stay here was the local butcher, who always “freshly froze” her fresh meat that morning. Yes, it was so frozen that we had to wait 2 hours for it to thaw enough to cut it. Very fresh.

The beach on Skiathos had the clearest, most comfortable water. I never wanted to stop swimming.

September

Back home and back to work!

Oktober

Up in the Bavarian forest right near the Czech Border. It was basically a little ski town and dead, but the area had lots of zoos and nature preserves and it was fall break and I wanted a change of scenery.

November

Birthday steaks for the birthday boy. Sometimes he really loves dating an Ami.

December

1st Glühwein of the season. Man once they open up the Christmas market, I am just loving life! Nowhere else beats the festive atmosphere here during the holiday season.

Another old Omaha classmate, comes to visit. She’s living in Germany now toob (small world), and teaching at a kindergarten.

The bf had ear surgery in Dec. while I had loads of guests. I brought an old Michigan friend  to visit him and get fed. She’s also a priest kid, as we’re called, s we’ve got a very sisterly relationship. She had finally gotten over to Spain to study and was travelling around before going home.

Love this pic of Lorenzkirche. We got so much snow. It was a slushy nightmare, but after a couple winters without any snow, this CO snow bunny was very happy.

Gone to Berlin for NYE. My thing I guess is to spend this holiday in new cities: London, Berlin, Cologne, New York, so far. Even though I actually don’t really get what all the fuss is about. Berlin was by far the best. Amazing, long firework show that you could see from all over the city.

January

Driving a Trabi at the Eastern Germany Museum, my normal museum-hater loved all the hands-on stuff here. Definitely go if you get the chance.

Visiting my German gf in Trier and helping her move in. It was so nasskalt (bone-chillingly) cold there when I went because it’s in a valley and gets gusts of wind with the damp, that I swore I’d never visit again in winter. BUT I’m looking forward to going this summer and trying out the wine.

February

All these years of living abroad and my parents finally come for the first time, for a measly 2 weeks. This was taken on a somewhat pleasant day, but the rest of the time, I’m afraid they spent walking around freezing (I thought it was normal, but they’re spoiled living in the dry air of CO). What can I say, I warned them about February, at least there was no precipitation.

Here we are in Dürer Platz. Poor mom had just had foot surgery and went walking all over town on these medieval cobblestones. All in all, made February go by much faster than normal!

March

Altdorf, took a day-trip somewhere new, but there was nothing to do here, or any small village in Germany on a Sunday, so we went left fot our favorite brewpub

April

After a whole winter without our two favorite people, we went over to visit their new set-up and my Easter break coincided with this royal wedding event. My bff’s bf, being the patriotic Englishman he is, was determined not to miss a chance to see the Queen. Despite my reservations it ended up being an all-around wonderful experience and we saw the queen mum and happy couple 3 times, not 20 meters away.

And that’s what we saw.

May

Spent an afternoon in Cambridge together before flying back. How can you not love this town, I was ready to send in my application, tuition be damned!?!

June

Nothing like the Erlangen Beer fest to bring people together and give faraway friends the excuse to return. My study abroad experience has introduced so many people into my life and kept us all close and connected as well.

The middle bro came to visit and kick off his college opera tour in Germany. Guess who got to feed to hungry men. Hahah.

Bayreuth was super cool. The rain was miserable at first, but when it let up, we had tons of fun. And get there quickly, they’ve got a pretty unique all wooden (read: firehazard) Opera house, which will be closed for 5,6, maybe even 7 years for a complete renovation. But it, and the Italian palace were pretty cool.

So there’s a short look into my last year. Can’t complain. I’ve got to see some cool things, but even better, I had a lot of long awaited visitors.

For me, since I’ve never really stayed in one place too long anyway, it’s not like all my friends are in the same place back home. I mean, no matter where I lived, I’d be apart from the people. That’s what I enjoy the most living abroad, taking people around and showing them the sights.

When you live and work somewhere, everything begins to get old and you take it all for granted so it’s always wonderful when someone see it for the first time and makes you stop and appreciate how cool it is to live somewhere that for your friends is so picturesque and interesting.