Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Stranger in a Deutschland: Surviving Our First Week

For those who may have just come in on this crazy story, my family (consisting of my hubby, Capt Awesome, and our four kids and I) relocated to Stuttgart, Germany on January 1, 2015. It was part of a promotion for Capt Awesome's job with the Department of Defense.

So I'm starting a new series: A Stranger in a Deutschland, for any posts about our German life/travel/woes/joys.

In case you need further clarification about where we are:

We are right smack in the middle of Europe. Almost exactly. And we've been here almost a week.

Right now I'm trying to get coherent thoughts together about how we're doing. Witty and fun stories I was sure I would have.

I got nothing.

Seriously, this has been a pretty exhausting venture so far. Physically, mentally, emotionally. Ugh. I know the first few days of traveling anywhere multiple timezones away are tough. Jet lag and all that. So I don't know exactly what I was expecting.

happy animated GIF
But... Um, no. That's not how it has been.

I will give you, this is the lovely view from our back window:
And kiddo #1 seeing Europe for the first time from the plane as we came in over Paris while the sun was beginning to rise? Very special:

Plus our first authentic German meal our second day, at a restaurant full of character and a sense of history:

All pretty great. But so far those have been just about the only good things. Everything else has just been hard. (And we've only been able to see the lovely view off our patio a few short hours since we've been here because 1) it's only daylight between 7:30am-4:30pm and 2) it's been rainy, cloudy or foggy 90% of those daylight hours. Not to mention cold.)

But, fine. I'm not one to let rainy days and Mondays get me down, so I can deal with that. It'll clear up. And when it's daylight until 10:30pm during the summer I'll be wishing for the winter.

But really what's been so exhausting (besides the jet lag and having four kids at home) has been THE ADJUSTING.

At first I was saying I was frustrated with all the things that are different here. But really "frustrated" was the wrong word -- too strong. I am ADJUSTING to all the differences here. 

And it's not that the differences are bad, they're just different. But it's still pretty exhausting.

The biggest pitfall is easily recognizable and understandable: we don't speak the language and everything spoken around us is impossible to understand. We have to rely on others to know our language to be able to do the simplest of things. Here's my joke about myself:

What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Trilingual
What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual
What do you call someone who speaks one language? American

Hahahaha. Hilarious. Except for if you're trying to order food at a restaurant and the waiter doesn't understand what you want and you have four hungry kids who are bickering with one another. Then not quite as funny.

I admit, I have learned three German sentences that have gotten me pretty far: Es tut mir leid. Mein Deutsch ist nicht sehr gut. Sprechen sie Englisch?  (You can probably figure it out, but if not try Google Translate. It's become my most used app)

There are other adjustments:

- A frig roughly 1/3 size of mine in Virginia, that still needs to keep enough refrigerated food for six people.
- Kids having to share room.
- Pressing down on the light switches when you need lights to come on. And the outlets? Luckily I'm married to an engineer who figures out voltage converters and math stuff...
- Euros rather than dollars. And don't even get me started on exchange rates (math again).
- Our bathroom in all its yellowness:
- Different types of food, none of them quite American, even the American chains.
- Our bed, which is as soft as the ground.
- New phones (Viber and WhatsApp has become an important part of our lives. What to chat?)
- This train map being my primary means of transportation:
(Asking for directions is comical. I can't pronounce any of these stops/towns.)

So yeah, week one is almost down, and it has been A CHANGE. I know we'll continue to adjust (kids starting school on Thursday will really help), and that things that were once normal (laundry, dish-washing, grocery shopping) will become so again. 

And that we'll stop referring to Virginia as "home" and will start thinking of here as home.

I know it will all happen. I just hope it's sooner, rather than later.


  1. Odd coincidence. That "bilingual, trilingual, American" joke was used on a comic-related podcast I was listening to on my way to work just this morning. While I've understood the reality behind it for a while, this isn't a joke I've heard often, so twice in one day is... odd.

    Appropriate, considering the source, I guess.

    1. Yeah, then I heard it again a day later after not having heard it for years. Weird. But I am DETERMINED to learn more German while I am here. But I guess it doesn't all have to be the first month. :)

  2. Good luck adjusting, Janie! I love the Trilingual, Bilingual, American joke! I know soon you'll have lots more fun adventures to share and you'll feel less adjustment-laden! ;)

    1. Thanks, Liz. It will get better. It will get better. It will get better. :)

  3. Awww, Janie. I just want to give you a big hug. First, let me say how much I love your writing. I really feel your "adjustration". (Yeah, you can use it. ;-) ) Second, I can't imagine doing what you've done, but I have complete faith that you'll figure it out. In six months you'll be giving directions to the newbie Americans wondering if you ever looked as confused as they do. Finally, with a fridge that small, you and Capt Awesome are going to have to start using the same creamer! LOL You can't afford the space luxury of having different tastes. One of you will have to give. Or, just go hard core and take it black!

    1. Thank you Tracey!!! (Adjustration -- uh, yeah I will DEFINITELY be using that). <3