Friday, May 25, 2012

The revolving door (a post about expat friends)

I actually don't really have too much time to hang out with my friends right now.  That's ok, most of them probably don't expect to see me for another month or so.  I mean, babies take up a lot of time.

I've lived in Germany for almost five years.  When I look back on what a long time that is it kind of scares me.  My best friends back home still email and Skype with me because they're awesome, even though I haven't seen anyone is over a year now.  My friends in Chicago will be my friends forever.

My expat friends have been a little bit different.

Being an expat is like riding a merry-go-round.  You jump on and at any time you can jump off.  My merry-go-round ride has lasted five years.  A bit longer than the typical expat.  About half the people I've met only stay in Germany for a year or so.  Then they leave and it is really sad because I go from having a couple great friends to having zero friends.  I have to start meeting new people all over again.  That can get tiresome.  It takes energy to make friends.

I am the kind of person who come across as self confident and outgoing.  (A therapist told me that so I'm pretty sure it's a neutral opinion.)  Secretly, I will never ever let on to this in public, people I don't know make me nervous.  Like palm sweating, heart pounding, anxiety nervous.  The only exception are my students.  Four years of standing up in front of strangers and teaching them stuff made me get over it.  There have been several times in my years in Germany when the thought of going out and meeting new people seemed exhausting and overwhelming. It wasn't worth the effort.  Of course, that meant that I became somewhat sad and lonely.

Another thing is that expats sort of drift together because they all have one great thing in common, they're expats.  For the first couple of years I lived in Germany I wasn't choosey about who my friends were.   Almost none of those friendships lasted.  Sometimes I didn't have enough in common with people, other times there were personality clashes and some people seemed nice but were expats because they had deep seeded issues that I didn't discover until I knew them better.

It took me a while to realize that part of the problem was that I was looking for friends in the wrong places.  I mostly met people in bars and coffee shops.  Most of the people I met were single.  They were hipsters looking for adventure and faux intellectuals who claimed to have fled the USA when George Bush got elected president.  Really.  I heard the 'I left the country because of George Bush' so many times that it became a running joke.  For whatever reason I have never gotten along well with anyone who labeled themselves 'intellectuals'.  I knew a lot of intellectuals in Chicago and I generally thought they were narcissistic, navel gazing, not so young adults who needed to feel superior because they dropped out of college. 

Now maybe you are thinking that I should have made friends with Germans instead of hanging out with expats all the time.  Hah!  I did have a German BFF in Hamburg.  In 2010 she met a guy, fell in love and moved to Marburg. I still go visit her and we're still friends but I was very sad that she moved away.

I have fewer friends now than when I first came to Germany.  However, the friends I have now are staying put for a while.  They do not have plans to hop off the merry-go-round because they have spouses or jobs or kids firmly grounding them in this country.  I also have more in common with my friends than just being expats.  And none of them are crazy or intellectuals.   Because so many of my friends have moved within Germany I know people all over the country.  That's pretty cool.

The expat pool is smaller than the normal pool a person would swim in.  There are always less than six degrees of separation between expats.  Everybody knows somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody.  People get reputations.  I once guest taught at a school and ended up having lunch with the ex boyfriend of someone I was friends with.  We only figured out that we sort of knew each other by association half way through lunch.  It was beyond awkward since I'd heard all sorts of stories about him.

To sum up: making friends is easy.  Making really good friends is hard.  Expats who come to the country for a year will have no problems finding other expats to drink beer with and have experiences.  People like me, who are staying much longer, might have to put in more effort to have true, lasting friendships like they left behind.

On a random note, while a ton of my friends are vegetarians I never seem to get on well with vegans and organic food people.  That's why I found this article to be so funny.

The end.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Are Germans more romantic than Americans?

This is something that I sometimes find myself wondering.  Romantic might not be the best way to put it but it's close.  None of my friends back home ever jet off to Paris for the weekend with their significant other but practically every couple I know of in Germany has done that at least once.  Including H and I.  It doesn't get more romcom than Paris in Summer.  I know it's not fair, Paris is only an hour away but surely great big America has something similar.  Wine country?  New York?  Miami?  New Hampshire?

Anyway, I wonder if I'm the only one who shares the sentiment that Germans make better relationship material.  Here are some random observations.  Keep in mind that this is just my perspective.

1.  Germans are not commitmentphobes.  It seems like everyone is always in a relationship and the relationships are always serious.  They usually move in together a lot more quickly than my friends in the US.  I never hear Germans complain that someone won't commit or won't take the relationship to the next level.  I've also never heard anyone complain about living with their significant other and not getting a timely marriage proposal. It's always meet, move in together, maybe get a dog and then break up or get married.  Rinse and repeat until you find the right one or decide to have kids.

2. A lot of Germans like their significant other and children.  This is weird.  I'm so used to Americans who complain about the burden of family life that I was actually shocked to hear my students say they didn't want to go on business trips to South Africa, New York or Australia because they don't want to be away from their families.  Say what?  I was always under the impression that everyone wanted to get away from their families!  That all parents dreamed of weekends lounging on sandy beaches with cocktails in hand getting plenty of 'me time'.  Not always so.  When asking Germans with families what they did over the weekend the answer is always something like 'I played with my children and took my wife shopping.' or 'We took the children to the animal park and then I took my husband out to dinner.'  For real.  Germans also like to talk about how great their families are.  They always say positive things about their significant others and children.  It's scandalous, I know.

3. They travel together.  Either as a couple or a family, Germans are all about travel.  And it's not like they don't also travel with their friends as well.  Taking family/couple trips seems to strengthen relationships and everyone loves to talk about their awesome travel.

4. Germans are all caring and gooey deep down inside.  They might have a stone cold heart reputation but once you get to know them they are actually all sweet and thoughtful.  Are you sick?  Expect the Germans to make you chicken noodle from scratch and bring you flowers and medicine and take out your trash.  Are you a student strapped for cash?  That's ok, the Germans will totally fly you to Berlin and put you up in a hotel for the week.  They also like to cook romantic dinners, drink champagne, and might surprise you with thoughtful gifts and will give your their coat if you're under dressed and cold.  They also really, really love their pets.

5. They don't seem to care if you split the bills 50-50.  They just love you, even if you're poor.*  You can move in and they will pay the rent.  They don't mind.  They might also buy you groceries and drive you around.

6. They return your phone calls and text messages.

7. Sometimes they are 1980s cheesy-romantic but they think it's cool.  So if you send a stupid sounding drunk text it's probably not going to be a deal breaker.

8. I've never met any Germans with Peter Pan syndrome.  They seem to be, overall, more responsible at a younger age.  They usually get their own flats when they go to school or start working so they learn important life skills like how to clean a bathroom and cook an egg.  Ok, so a lot of the college educated Germans don't have real jobs until they're in their late 20s but still, knowing how to mop the floor and pay the utility bill on time is priceless.  It also helps that they don't usually end up living in their parent's basements.

Any more thoughts?  No? Ok.

The end.

*This may apply to women more than men.