As an expat, there are a few consistent questions people from “back home” tend to always ask. When you first move somewhere new, it’s easy to understand where they’re coming from, and I cheerily answered in the first few years I lived in Germany. At some point though, some switch flipped, and my mental eye roll became uncontrollable anytime someone looked at me with their face all contorted like I have three eyeballs and a couple antennae shooting out my head as they ask gravely one of three questions they must consider to be the most critical consideration for evaluating my existence in a foreign land.
I caught myself recently mid-eye roll. Why had I gone from eagerly awaiting friends and family enquiring about my adventure to dreading it like one dreads contracting malaria on holiday? I mean, I am still guilty of making never-left-my-own-backyard-naive level gaffes. While complaining about all the construction shenanigans around our house, I told a friend who lives in Beirut most of the year that I no longer felt very secure in my home. She didn’t directly point out how privileged and ridiculous I sounded, but I felt the sting nonetheless.
- So, can, you like, speak the language?
- Are all the people there really rude?
- Do you eat pretzels and bratwurst and drink beer all the time?
Yes, after 6 years, I can hold my own speaking German. Is my grammar perfect? Not by a long shot! Do I have most conversations with friends in German? You bet I do. Are there still times when I randomly insert a spanish word into my sentence and not even realise it? Possibly, but obviously I just said I don’t realise it. Are there plenty of times when people laugh because I’ve misspoken? No doubt – BUT (a big one) that is true in every language I know, including english and emoji. Especially emoji, in fact. I am still working on my petition to properly rename the “hugging face” emoji to what it really is and how I have always used it (and will continue to). Anyone with sense could translate it properly as the “jazz hands emoji,” because if someone came at you with their hands like that for a hug, well, there’d likely be some potential assault charges.
When you act like a d***, yes, people here generally do respond with a commensurate level of rudeness. Is there a higher frequency of assholeosity in certain sectors, e.g. government offices (always go to the Rathaus with your gameface on people), bus drivers, grocery store checkout clerks. Now, what did you notice in that list? Same kinds of people that tend to be jackholes where you live, right? To be fair, I could surmise one of two things – either those people become like that because of the volume of idiocy and sheer wickedness they must deal with on the daily or those types of jobs attract sadistic personalities and like tends to hire like. Either way, I can definitively say all the people here (being that they’re humans and whatnot) have capacity to be rude at some point, but I’m really not convinced they are collectively ruder 100% of the time than say, people in NYC or LA. When the time comes to find a new place to hang my dirty joke hat, I will miss quite a few folks here – maybe even ones that haven’t made anything exactly easy for me (stereotypes abound on both sides).
Sadly, I found out early on that soft, salty pretzels are actually kind of a regional thing, and I do not live in said region. Much how I spent my formative years, I live in the middle. What that tends to mean is that we are not particularly fervent and only even notice a very few of the traditions so highly recognised outside of the country. Karneval is celebrated in our little city, but only modestly, and mostly only by kiddies, uni students, and gym rats. Almost no one here wears Lederhosen or Dirndls for Oktoberfest, save for drunken uni students and tourists. I have never once seen a cuckoo clock on the wall of any of my friends’ humble half-timbre abodes.
Bratwurst and beer though? Those are the staples of every celebration worth celebrating. Just got married? Celebrate with a bratwurst and a beer for every year it took you before you proposed. Your graduation? Celebrate with a bratwurst and a beer for every year it took you to complete your degree. New baby? Celebrate with a bratwurst and a beer for every year you’re not going to get to go out with your mates for bratwurst and beers. Christmas? Don’t be a damn animal, get a hot mug of Glühwein, and a couple of brats to keep up your “winter layer” that you’ll undoubtedly have to work off before the summer festival season when you will need to consume copious amounts of beer and brats, but in far less concealing clothing.
There you have it. If you’ve got friends or family living in Germany, you’ll never have to ask these questions again. Instead you can come up with far more interesting ones, such as: “do guys really have to pee sitting down,” or “why do Germans eat breakfast twice a day?”
If you happen to be one of my fellow expats here in Germany, the next time someone asks you the questions above, you can just send them a link to this post and nod solemnly as they read it. Then flash them those snazzy jazz hands.