Thursday, April 12, 2012

6 Months Already

Six months ago, we arrived in Germany bleary-eyed and jet-lagged. I remember feeling so foreign as we rode from the airport to our new home. All of the road signs were unfamiliar, other cars on the road seemed strange, and I wondered how we were ever going to become accustomed to all of the differences. Six months feels both long and short. Sometimes I feel as if we were boarding the plane in Atlanta just yesterday, and other times it seems like "before Germany" was a long time ago.

Upon our arrival (and even before), we were given lots of advice and some warnings. Looking back today, I find these pearls of wisdom amusing. 

"You will be miserable here the first six months. Everyone is and it's okay."
"Be prepared to gain 10 pounds immediately. It's the bread and cheese."
"Germans are unfriendly. Don't expect them to smile at you."
"You don't have to learn German. Everyone speaks English."

I can debunk all of the above. 

The amount of time one needs to adjust to moving to a different country is very specific to that person. As long as you don't lock yourself in your house, staring furtively out your windows at your "foreign" neighbors, you will get into the swing of things pretty fast. On a basic level, Americans and Germans (and Dutch and French and Belgians, etc.) are very similar. We all get haircuts. We all go to the grocery store. We all go out to dinner. Common ground is easy to find when you stop searching for differences.

I don't understand the weight gain warning at all. First of all, the bread is great here. It's baked fresh daily and doesn't come in a plastic bag with an absurdly long shelf life. Secondly, any time we visit a new city for sightseeing, we are easily walking at least five miles. Couple that with your newfound hobby of bicycling and I predict that the numbers on your scale will drop rather than rise in 10-pound increments. You can't sabotage yourself here by stopping at a McDonald's or Arby's drive-thru every time the craving arises. And guess what? Those urges will stop quicker than you think and soon you won't be sad about missing those golden arches cluttering the skyline.

When I think of how to describe Germans, perhaps 'friendly' isn't the first word that springs to mind. I think Germans are discerning and remain undecided about others unless they are well-acquainted. In general, Americans are louder and more boisterous than the average German. Even though I have quieted my naturally resounding voice significantly since moving here, I still find myself louder than most Germans and when I feel them giving me the evil eye I silently repeat to myself, "I'm in a library, I'm in a library," to help me lower the volume. With that caveat out of the way, I have met lots of affable and sociable Germans. They don't always smile first but they are most certainly not robotic or unfeeling. There are friendly and unfriendly people anywhere you go. It's best not to make polarizing generalizations or you might never give yourself a chance to meet the friendly ones.

As far as the language barrier is concerned, I would say that yes, most people here do speak English. I find this to be overwhelmingly true in The Netherlands. Sometimes I come across an older German who has only a small repertoire of English vocabulary but I am constantly impressed and humbled by the fact that it seems like Americans are the only people in the world who know only their own language. I'm working on learning German because I think it would be incredibly sad to leave here in a few years without being able to confidently order in a restaurant, greet your neighbor, or have a pleasant exchange with a stranger.

Of course I miss my friends and family. I miss Florida weather and the ocean. But when it comes down to it, I love it here. I can be in another country in a five-minute bike ride. I can drink the best Belgian beer at the oldest pub in Belgium. I can set sail for a dinner cruise on the canals of Amsterdam. I've climbed atop castle ruins overlooking an ancient Dutch city. I've celebrated Carnivale in two different countries, just two days apart. I've met interesting and wonderful people and sipped wine with them at lovely outdoor cafes. Who could complain about the life I'm living? If you haven't adjusted in six months to all of this... well, shame on you.


  1. Amanda, I am really glad you like it here!

  2. Me too, and I'm very glad we met!

  3. I'm a Floridian living in the Netherlands, going on almost 10 yrs now. The first year felt like a vacation, then reality set in. I too received all sorts of advice, but everyone is different. I love it here and once I learned the language an even newer bigger world opened up. (I still haven't figured out what Americans have against bread, I love the bakers here, ha-ha!) :) Danica Martin

    1. Danica, I agree! I think it's definitely a person-by-person thing, but the travel alone (and the bread!) makes it all worthwhile.

    2. Hi Amanda, I've tagged you for a questionnaire :
      Hope you decide to participate! :) Danica