I’ve started a new section of the blog called “Interview with an Expat.” This way, you can hear more perspectives on expat life than just my own.
My first subject is a handsome fellow from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who just spent 5 months in Belgium and Germany and is currently on a whirlwind trip around the US. You guessed it! It’s my husband Craig, the proud subject of my Craig’s Quandaries posts!
Here’s what he had to say during his first trip home:
Why did you decide to become an expat?:
It was less that I decided to become an expat as it was something that just sort of…happened. I had interviewed with several different companies, including for a couple of positions with my current employer. At the end of one of the interviews, I was told that I’d be a perfect fit for positions that had just opened up in Italy and Germany. I had never imagined living abroad, so I initially brushed it off, but the idea grew on me. The job is exciting and high profile within the company, they have been generous in helping get us setup in Germany, and it’s a great opportunity to travel throughout Europe (which I had only been to once before).
What has been surprisingly hard/surprisingly easy about adjusting to life abroad?:
The hardest part has clearly been being away from my beautiful, caring wife (yes, I realize I’m pandering to the author). Other than that, I’ve found most parts of daily life aren’t all that different than in the US, except for the obvious challenge that has been the language barrier. It seems that only about 30% of people in Leipzig speak some English, so I’ve frequently resorted to charades and pointing. The more common thing that happens when I approach a store clerk is that I will think of what I need to say and manage to get out a fragment of a German sentence. The clerk will understand me and respond with a simple question or command, and I will end up just staring at them with a confused/surprised look on my face. I think that’s been the biggest adjustment – the fact that I routinely make a complete fool out of myself. And by routinely, I mean 4-5 times per day.
The surprisingly easy adjustment to life in German has been the driving, which was one of my biggest worries before moving. Most of the traffic flow and signs are either similar to the US or intuitive enough to not be a problem. The only exception is the German rule that the person to the right always has priority at an intersection when there are no lights or stop signs (with some exceptions that I won’t bore you with).
How does a typical day abroad differ from a day in your home country?:
As I mentioned, most parts of my day in Germany are about the same as in the US. I wake up and get ready, drive to work, work at the hospital during the day, drive home, then make dinner and relax. One big difference I’ve found is that I constantly have to plan ahead a few days. For example, almost all stores are closed on Sundays, so I need to plan my meals out to make sure I can eat on Sunday. Also, I can’t do laundry in the evenings after 8 pm or on Sundays due to quiet rules, so I have to make sure I do my laundry all day on Saturday (since each load takes 2 hours in both the washer and dryer).
The other main difference is transportation. While I do have a car and drive to work, I don’t drive much otherwise. Parking is extremely limited within the city, and most people walk, bike, or take public transportation to get around. I find myself walking to the grocery store, restaurants, the bank, and the post office because they are all within 5-10 minutes of our apartment.
Did you experience any reverse culture shock when you returned to the US? Describe what that was like:
I have only been away from the US for about 5 months, so didn’t expect things to be too different when I got back. However, I did have two moments last week that made me think. The first was right when I landed at the Boston airport. I queued up behind a line of 20 people to get a taxi, and I overheard a couple in front of me talking about the woman’s business trip. At first it didn’t mean anything to me, but then I realized that this was the first time I’ve been able to actually understand the people around me in several months. It was a strangely profound moment.
The second “shocking” moment came the next morning when I went to lunch with a colleague. To preface this, I have to add that in Europe, restaurants don’t typically have hosts/hostesses, so you have to search the restaurant and find your own seat. So when we walked into the Boston pub, I caught myself starting to walk forward to grab a table before stopping myself. I’ve had a few moments like that since being back – little things that happen when you’re in auto-mode and not thinking.
What was the one thing that you were excited to have again upon entering the US?
This is an easy one – water! Restaurants in Germany don’t provide free tap water, and I’ll usually have 3-8 glasses at a meal. Also, spicy food and BBQ. The food in Germany hasn’t been stellar, and often consists of meat and potatoes. I’ve missed having a variety of options, and especially spicy food and good BBQ.
Are you eager to return to Leipzig after your time away, or would you rather stay in the US for longer?:
I actually am excited to go back, mostly because it represents stability. I lived in hotels in LA, Brussels, and Leipzig for about 5 months, and I finally got our apartment and household goods shipped and setup in Leipzig just a few weeks before my trip to the US. I’m excited to be done living out of a suitcase hopefully for an extended period of time (other than the occasional long weekend trip!).
Are you comfortable with the fact that your wife uses her blog to poke fun at you? And what sort of retaliation do you have in mind?:
I guess it’s better that it’s to my face than behind my back. Though being in public isn’t ideal…
As for retaliation, just know that websites are really cheap and easy to setup.
Thanks for reading! Have another question you’d like to ask Craig? Leave a comment!
Interested in being an expat interviewee at Live, Laugh, Leipzig? Send me a message via the “contact me” box to the right!