Where are you originally from?
I’m from the United States. Portland, Oregon, specifically. This makes me a ‘Portlander,’ though I wish with all my heart we were called Portlandians. Or Portlandites. Or Portlandafarians.
In which country and city are you living now?
I am living in Hannover, Germany, which actually feels a bit like Portland. Probably because it’s a big city with a small town vibe and it has a lot of green spaces. Parks and such. Also because I live in constant fear of being run over by skinny people on bikes.
How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
I’ve lived in Hannover since September 1st of 2012. I plan on staying until my wife informs me we’re leaving — the same way she informs me it’s time to do the dishes. Or pay the rent. Or take a shower.
Why did you move?
I moved to Germany in order to be with my wife. She’s hilarious, even when she doesn’t mean to be. For the past few years, I’ve been keeping track of all the funny things she says, especially when they involve German words or expressions translated directly into English. We like to call these quotes “Denglish,” or “Deutsch-English.” Here’s an example:
On December 27th, 2012, The Wife and I were preparing for a visit from one of our close friends from Portland. After we finished cleaning our apartment, it was my task to go to the store for some extra groceries. I put on my coat and headed for the door, saying, “I’m buying eggs. Should I also buy a 6-pack of mineral water?” to which my wife replied:
“That would be, of course, two flies with one slap.”
What do you enjoy most about living here?
The thing I enjoy most about living in Germany is the fact that I’m always learning new things. Literally everything is new to me here — the language, the culture, the people — so I’m never bored. I’m forced into a perpetual student role, which keeps me engaged and curious. For example, I often find myself wondering why Germans seem to be in such a hurry all the time. What’s the rush? If you take too long in the checkout line at the grocery store, I promise some jerk behind you will sigh audibly, as if you are intentionally destroying his afternoon. If you are running to catch a subway train that has been stopped for longer than 10 seconds — even if the conductor clearly sees your efforts to reach it in time — you will still find the doors closing right in your face. If you find yourself in a car full of Germans (God forbid) and you hit a traffic jam, you can expect them to flip out about it like a bunch of geese fighting over a bag full of smashed bread crumbs.
What has been the hardest aspect of your expat experience so far?
By far, the absolute hardest part of my experience as an expat has been my inability to understand spoken German. I can walk up to German people, sling a few words around, make general statements and ask obvious questions, but I’m totally lost the second they respond. Here’s an interaction I had with a drug-store clerk last week, if you were to translate everything directly into English:
ME: “Please excuse me dearly. I look for toothpaste here in this store. In your store, formally speaking.”
ME: “I would gladly have toothpaste.”
CLERK: “Oh. Go to aisle four. It’s right there past the cosmetics, on your left.”
ME: “My God you talk fast. I am right now, at this very moment, learning German.”
CLERK: “No problem. Aisle four. Right there, where I am pointing.”
ME: “I get the ‘four’ part, but please, just for me, slowly speak.”
CLERK: “Aisle… four.”
ME: (Blinking twice, looking scared and confused) “Absolutely. Thank you. Thank you so hard.” (I then wandered off in the general direction he’d indicated, staggering through the drugstore like an American tourist with blunt force head trauma.)
What advice would you offer to anyone following in your footsteps?
For the love of all that is holy. For the love of God and Jesus H. Christ on rice, learn the language of the foreign country in which you plan to live. Every single word you learn, written or spoken, will make your life easier. Be glad you are starting now, rather than later. Feel angry you weren’t born a native speaker, but be grateful you can learn to become fluent. Learn as much of the language as you can before you get there. Keep on learning while you’re there. If you return to your home country, keep on learning it anyway. Throw yourself into that language like a fat kid at the deep end of the pool.
I took classes, bought books and software programs, practiced with my wife and taught myself as much German as I possibly could before I moved here. This added up to exactly 1.5 years of language training, and I still depend upon my wife to translate any interaction more complex than, “Would you like another beer, Sir?” “HELL yes.”
If I could download the entire German language into my brain like in The Matrix, but it would cost my entire life’s savings, I would do it. I would do it right now. If I had to pay my entire life savings and then kick a puppy too, I would hand over the cash and punt that little doggie like a football.