Here vs. There: What I’m Loving, What I’m Missing

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Knowing that being in the States is temporary, it is easy to enjoy the things that come with this territory. The fact that we chose as a family to leave the US means that there are also things we preferred about living in Germany. Let’s start with the good things about being here:
1. I know what’s going on.  I cannot overstate how good this feels! Once in a while, I still catch myself noticing that I can actually understand the conversation I’m hearing in the background. I can look at the community boards in our library and see what events are happening, and where. I just generally feel much less intimidated about doing something new, since there won’t be a language or culture barrier involved. It’s all just easier.

2. Shopping is easy, relatively affordable, and usually a pleasant experience, aesthetically.  The grocery stores in Germany all felt very warehouse-y. One of the reasons I don’t shop at certain stores in the States is for this very reason– bad lighting, everything really industrial without much regard to being appealing to the senses. Nothing over there felt anything like Trader Joe’s! In our small town, even clothing and home good stores had this same feeling, which really took the fun out of shopping for me– I like to browse and kind of hang out in cool stores– even (and especially) when I am not planning on buying much. Selection is also much, much better, even in a small town like Bend. In Amberg, it didn’t take long for me to realize that all of the clothing stores were selling the same brands and styles as each other! There were about five main brands that were sold in about fifteen stores, and it was very hard to find something unique– and it was inevitably too expensive. While I was there,  I actually bought most of my new clothes on ebay. All of that to say, I am appreciating the shopping here.

I mean, I NEVER would have found a wooly afro hat like this in Amberg!

3. I can drive!!  It turns out that I should also be able to drive in England, no problem (besides the adjustment to being on the other side of the road!)  While it was nice to walk everywhere in Germany, I never got to go to the grocery store by myself– it was always a family event. Plus, I just enjoy driving, and we have a speedy little car while we’re here– too bad I didn’t get to take it for a spin on the autobahn!

4. The restaurants.  I really enjoyed Bavarian food, and was really impressed by the freshness and quality of the meals we ate almost everywhere in Germany. But I eventually got tired of bratwurst and schnitzel. Our little town had some mediocre Asian and Italian restaurants, good Greek places and Turkish fast food. If we wanted a truly good meal, it was always German (sometimes French-infused.)  A fantastic Indian restaurant opened up just before we moved, but it was super expensive anyway. Here, I am loving the options available. We don’t really eat out now (we’d rather use our money for rent) but during our first weeks in Portland, we had to– and Jeff’s company paid for it. We just loved all of the different choices, almost all of it really excellent. Plus, happy hours were such a great value! When we move, we will again have a per diem that is enough for all of us to eat all of our meals out– I keep wishing we could use some of it on this end again!

5. Blending in.  You might think, as I did, that someone of European descent would have blended right in in Germany. Well, not in a small town. Somehow, everyone there knew that I was a novelty, and people stared like crazy. I was used to people staring at me in the Philippines and other countries where light skin is not the norm. I was completely surprised to feel I was being watched all day in Amberg. Having my daughter with me solidified our stranger status, as she spoke English very loudly almost non-stop when we were in public for the first few months. What I soon learned is that people just stare in general– they like to watch. I got used to that, but what I found very unnerving was that, when I met the eyes of someone who was watching me, they didn’t crack a smile or drop their gaze– it felt like people were just glaring at me. People here don’t usually stare, and if you catch them in the act, they usually meet your eyes with a friendly expression. I am more comfortable with that, although I’ve gotten used to being able to look at people for longer without seeming rude– so maybe I seem a little creepy here!

Despite all of the above challenges, I loved living in Germany, and felt like life there agreed with me very much. In fact, most of the difficulties I listed would have mostly disappeared as I stayed longer and became fluent in German, and the shopping and restaurant issues were mostly related to living in such a small town. There is a lot that I miss about my German life.

1. The view. I loved the architecture, so classic and beautiful. Every window I looked out of had a beautiful view, and it was good for my soul. There were lots of parks and sculptures and fountains sprinkled all over the old city. Of course, my apartment was also super cool and it was such a treat to live in a 400 year old building.

The view from my kitchen onto our balcony. I love the roof tiles!

2. Affordable, high-quality food. I cannot exaggerate how happy this made me! Despite the utilitarian quality of the grocery stores, the foods they carried were high-quality and very affordable. I was shocked at times to see just how cheap items were– a bucket of organic yogurt cost less than two euros, for example. I actually shipped myself bags of shredded coconut (less than a dollar for 16 oz!) dark chocolate (the best 77% bars were also about a dollar) and California walnuts (about $2 for 16 oz.)  I shopped in the open market in our town square several times each week, and fresh produce was really, really cheap. I have been so discouraged trying to buy from local farms here: this week, we took $25 to a farmer’s market, and left with feta cheese, leeks, a head of (gorgeous) lettuce, and a one-pound package of grass-fed breakfast sausage. I could have cried! The other big deal about shopping for food in Germany is that felt like most everything available was clean and safe. There are a lot of laws in Germany, and many people chafe against so much governance. However, the general feeling is that the rules are made to protect citizens, rather than corporate interests. I could write a whole post on this, but I will just say that it felt good to be able to buy food without worrying so much about what went into it. We ate extremely well in Germany, and for much less than we are having to spend here. I think about this every day, and trying to feed our family well with little money has been one of the most stressful parts of living here!

The bounty from a trip to our open market.

3. Straightforward communication.  Germans don’t mince words much, and I have found this to be a huge relief. I have often been accused of having little tact, and I have made much effort to change my style of communication to be more accommodating to the insecurities and sensitivities of others. (Oh, was it rude to say it that way?!)  However, I would rather prefer the truth, straight-up. It was such a relief to hear people say things to me that others might perceive as rude. Hey, if you think my country’s government is making terrible mistakes, why not just tell me? I can take it! (Oh, and I did!)  I felt very at ease knowing that if I offended someone, they would tell me, and it would be OK to return the favor. It was also really nice to be able to ask questions about culture and to get a very matter-of-fact response that helped me understand the dynamics I was asking about. There is a certain toughness required in these interactions but it went with my natural communication style, so it felt easier.

4. Daily routine/ slower lifestyle. So, this isn’t exclusive to Germany, but it was in Amberg that I first got to live my “ideal” daily life. This included walking my daughter to school in the mornings, having most of the day to focus on my work and enjoy solitude, and walking to the open market and shops for groceries, household items, etc., and picking Amelia up in the afternoon. As much as I’m enjoying driving now, I also loved rarely getting into the car– at times, only once a month. I walked everywhere, and loved it. We didn’t have a busy life, and I enjoyed the slower pace. Although Jeff worked a lot and Amelia was at school for much of the day, we did so much together– it was the perfect blend of time alone, time together as a family, and open schedules.

Everyone’s out shopping in the marktplatz on a Friday morning.

5. Feeling involved. This one really surprised me! Living in a small town, it wasn’t long before we started recognizing recent acquaintances as we walked down the street or ate in local restaurants. The kindergarten Amelia went to had many events that were really integrated into the town’s life, such as singing at the opening of the Christmas market in the town square, in the Christmas service on Christmas Day at St. Martin’s Basilika,  and at an opening for an art exhibit at the city museum, as well as special celebrations of church holidays. There were also lots of fests, special celebrations of church holidays,when the whole town would come out to do extra shopping, eating and enjoying music, etc. These were all great ways to feel involved in the town’s life, and definitely gave me that heart-warming feeling of participation.

Our family is at another crossroads, so this is a good time for us to think about what we want for our lives. While not everything is up to us, it’s good to be able to reflect on what we have loved about living here and there, and what to look for in the future. No place is perfect, but there’s always, always something really wonderful about where you’re at.

What do you love about where you live? What’s on your wishlist?

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9 Responses to Here vs. There: What I’m Loving, What I’m Missing

  1. Great Aunt Gretchen May 30, 2011 at 3:41 am #

    So interesting Ariana!

  2. Nathan May 30, 2011 at 11:22 am #

    I love this kind of information. I’m glad you are willing to go to new places and write about culture and daily life for me. 😉 As I’ve been getting ready to see new places this summer, I’ve been reading CultureSmart books. I was wondering if they have one for England. I really like them, they are small and easy to read quickly.

  3. Frau Haselmayer May 30, 2011 at 11:46 pm #

    I summed up life in Germany so perfectly!!!! It makes we want to move far away INSTANTLY! 😉

    Honestly, I often get angry when reading blogs from people moving to Germany (or having lived here) because they kind of idealize living here. EVERYTHING is so gorgeous and great and amazing…well, of course this has also much to do with me and not being happy to live here ever since and wanting to move so badly…

    I always dreamed of moving to the US but the older I get the more I start to appreciate certain things about living in Germany, like healthcare, the lifestyle, having friends close by,… nevertheless, there’s A LOT I really dislike and I still dream of moving to the US one day.

    And you are SO RIGHT about the shopping. It seems like Germany has the most terrible supermarkets! I always love going to the supermarket in the US and get lost in the isles…and I love Italian, French and Scandinavian supermarkets!

    Too bad we never got to meet while you were still in Amberg! (Btw. can you belive I’ve never been to Amberg even though I live in Nürnberg?)

  4. Ariana May 31, 2011 at 1:04 am #

    Nathan, I’ve never heard of the CultureSmart books– I’ll have to check it out! And I’m glad I can be of service. It’s actually nice to know that other people are interested in the stuff I’m processing.

  5. Ariana May 31, 2011 at 1:11 am #

    Frau, I’m glad you’re not offended that I think German markets leave something to be desired! I don’t think any place is perfect, but I guess that is part of the fun– realizing that every place has something to offer.
    And yes– I’m really surprised you haven’t been to Amberg! It’s a really nice little town!

    Maybe next time we come through Nurnberg I’ll drop you a line, and maybe we can meet. I almost looked for your shop one day that we were there, because my daughter has a gluten allergy, and I was going to get her some lebkuchen!

  6. Natalia Lynn May 31, 2011 at 6:06 am #

    I love this! I found your blog from Circle of Moms and I am an ex-pat too. I live in France with my husband and two boys although we are on ‘vacation’ in the states right now. Can’t wait to follow along. I love meeting people who can understand our lifestyle!

  7. Ariana May 31, 2011 at 5:19 pm #

    Hi Natalia,
    Thanks for stopping by! It is really cool to be able to connect with other people this way, isn’t it? The Top 25 contest has been cool, since I had never seen most of the blogs there! Going to go check your blog now…

  8. Ariana June 1, 2011 at 5:42 pm #

    Hi Natalia,
    Thanks for stopping by! It is really cool to be able to connect with other people this way, isn’t it? The Top 25 contest has been cool, since I had never seen most of the blogs there! Going to go check your blog now…

  9. ShackelMom June 2, 2011 at 10:54 am #

    As for safe food, I guess you left Germany just in time… I read this about the E coli outbreak,
    “Nearly all the sick people either live in Germany or recently traveled there. Two people who were sickened are now in the United States, and both had recently traveled to Hamburg, Germany, where many of the infections occurred. British officials announced four new cases, including three Britons who recently visited Germany and a German person on holiday in England.

    German officials have warned people not to eat lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers.”

    As you said, no place is perfect! 🙂

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