Monday, August 10, 2015

The Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award

It's always nice to get recognition from other blogs. Meredith from Kaffee und Kuchen recently nominated me for a Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award. It's similar to the Liebster Award in that people thank the blogger, answer a set of questions and then nominate other bloggers with new questions.

Thanks so much for the nomination! Here goes...

  1. What do you mostly blog about?
    I mainly blog about what it's like being an Irish expat living in Germany - learning the language, fitting in, experiencing German culture, dealing with homesickness. However I also write about my life in general with my German husband, nicknamed the GerMann. And I love to travel so I like to blog about some of the trips we've taken.
  2. What is the best city you have travelled to and what are your recommended ‘must sees’ in that city?
    We recently spent a few days in Dresden and I definitely found it worth a visit. We drove to Sächsische Schweiz and went on a fun hike there. The sights from the top were breath taking and the area itself was very pretty. And in the center of Dresden the Neustadt and Altstadt are separated by the river and both completely different and worth seeing in their own right. The old town was beautiful and the new town was cool with lots of quirky bars.
  3. What 3 items do you always pack on a trip?
    Let's see... my smart phone, usually with the local map downloaded, some comfortable walking shoes as I enjoy exploring new places by foot to get a sense of them, and one fancy outfit in case we go out to a nice place some evening!
  4. What is the best meal you’ve ever had and where did you have it?
    That's really hard to answer! I've had lots of great meals but difficult to pick one in particular. Italian cuisine is my favourite and when I travelled to Rome with my family a few years ago I remember eating some really delicious food there - pizza and pasta! 
  5. Which destination is on your ‘must see’ list? Why?
    Barcelona, as I've heard from lots of people it's really worth a visit and that it has beautiful architecture and design. And I love visiting Spain. It strikes me as a place that has the best of both worlds- lovely beaches for relaxing in the sun, but also lots of culture. 
  6. What’s your favourite way to spend a free weekend afternoon?
    Meeting up with some good friends for a chat over tea and cakes, going for a stroll around the town and then afterwards having a date night with the GerMann, maybe dinner and a movie
  7. Who would you pick to go on a cross-country road trip with you? Why?
    My sister! I don't get to see her often enough since moving to Germany and it would be nice to spend some quality time together. She's good fun to travel with and we could share the driving.
  8. What are your blogging goals for the coming year?
    To make more time for blogging and to take part in the monthly #ExpatLifeLinky.
  9. What’s your favourite blog post that you’ve written? Please share the link!
    After about a year living in Germany I wrote a post called What sort of expat are you when I was coming to terms with integrating into my new life in Germany. 
  10. What’s a new blogging skill that you’ve learned recently?
    To focus on one main topic or theme per blog post and organize my thoughts better.

My nominations are:
  1. Around the wherever
  2. Nearly Irish
  3. Starting over in Stuttgart
  5. California Globetrotter
  6. Diary of sugar and spice
  7. Three sons later
  8. Everyone else but me
  9. Allie and the German
  10. Expat eye on Germany

And now the questions;

1. Which celebrity would you like to invite to tea?
2. What do you normally blog about (link to some posts)?
3. Any good movies you watched recently you could recommend?
4. Likewise, any good book recommendation?
5. What meals can you cook well?
6. What is you favourite dessert?
7. If you could have a fictional character as a best friend, who would you choose?
8. If you won the lotto, what's the first thing you would spend the money on?
9. Who would play you in a movie?
10. What makes you laugh?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Surviving culture shock - what you can expect

When you live abroad (for longer than a few months) you will inevitably face some form of culture shock, which has also been described as feeling like a fish out of water. I've mentioned the term briefly before on this blog and I just thought I'd explain it a bit better and write about the different stages. I haven't met a single expat who hasn't gone through a rough patch after moving countries. It can be a real rollercoaster of emotions that first year!

  • The Honeymoon Phase
  • This first stage when you just arrive in a new country is overwhelmingly positive. You're seeing everything with rose-tinted spectacles and it's exciting and fun. Everything about my new country is wonderful! What a great adventure! I love it here.
    My first week living in Germany

  • The Rejection Stage
  • After awhile though you start to see another side to the place and begin to feel somewhat disoriented and frustrated. Why is it so difficult to fit in? I don't understand the language. No one gets me.
    When I was experiencing this, I started going back to Ireland as often as possible, which needless to say didn't really help me adjust to my new life here.

  • Depression Stage
  • This is the hardest. You will feel depressed, lonely and homesick. You start to idealize life "back home" and compare your current culture to what is familiar. I'm stuck here. Is this my life now? Did I make the right decision moving here? Some people give up when this happens and return home.

    I mention the rough patch in my second blog post (long commute, feeling homesick, not many friends here, finding the German language difficult.)

  • The Acceptance Stage
  • This is where you start to appreciate the new country and feel like you fit in and belong. Yes, I can do this! It's not so bad. I'm happy here. You are now able to compare and appreciate aspects of both countries. You start to feel at home in your new home. For me what helped a lot was when I started to really make more of an effort to integrate myself here, for instance taking German lessons, going to lots of meetups to make friends, getting to know the area.
    When I started to really settle in and look on the positives.

Some useful tips for fitting in as an expat here.

If you are living abroad, did you experience culture shock? How did you cope?

Expat Life with a Double Buggy

Monday, July 6, 2015

Surviving a heatwave German style #MicroblogMonday

We are currently in the middle of an extreme heatwave in Germany. Even Ireland is experiencing one at the moment, though a heatwave there is just like a lovely summer with weather around 26 degrees Celsius, and a nice breeze whereas here it is more like 35-40 degrees and unbearable!

Thankfully my office has air conditioning! It's interesting seeing how the Germans dress in this extreme weather. One guy at work wears socks with his sandals - keeping that particular stereotype alive and well! Others wear shorts and even flip flops. The girls at work mainly don summer dresses. Pretty much anything goes I've noticed!

In general German women don't tend to dress up much or wear feminine outfits. For instance, when they attend birthday parties or events they normally go casual in trousers and a nice top so it's been unusual seeing them all wearing pretty dresses now! It's a good way to keep cool in this weather.

At weekends the best option is to go to the local pool or lake for a swim, or hang out in one of the many beer gardens. We also recently bought a new fan for our apartment, which helps.

I'm hoping this Summer I might manage to get a nice tan. Right now I'm as pale as ever. That's the problem with having Irish skin! We go from white to pink. I have to always make sure to apply lots of sun cream and then maybe I'll get a light tan after a few weeks.

How do you manage to keep cool in a heatwave?

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Other expats come and go but I'm still here

One of the problems with making friends with other expats is that a lot of them are only living in Germany temporarily and eventually move back to their home countries (or some place else). In the almost five years I've lived here I've had to say goodbye countless times and it doesn't get any easier.

Finding people you really click with and building up the friendship takes time and when they leave, you naturally lament their absence. It's great that I now have lots of connections around the world, and these days with skype you can still keep in touch pretty well, but day to day I miss hanging out with the person.

Of course you're probably thinking I could make more of an effort to make German friends. And I do and I have some great ones now but in general I still find I have more in common with other expats and tend to connect with them faster.

I guess it's just a downside to living abroad, that you get to meet some great people and have them your life for awhile but then they move away. In another year or two everyone from my initial friend group here will most likely not live here anymore. Sometimes I feel like the last guest left at a party! At least I still have the GerMann to hang out with. And I can plan some more trips back to Dublin when I start feeling homesick.

Expat Life with a Double Buggy

Monday, June 8, 2015

House hunting in Germany #microblogMonday

Last week we almost bought our dream house. We've been looking on and off for over two years at this stage and rarely has something come up that's right for us as normally anything we like is either well outside our price range or in a location we're not so mad about. However this time we saw a great house for sale in an area we love and we both knew we had to go view it. Unfortunately loads of other people also saw the ad and the realtor was inundated with calls and visits.

The viewing went great so we arranged a meeting with the bank to get mortgage pre-approval (the low interest rates at the moment means the timing is really good) and then we made an offer! After that all we could do was to wait and cross our fingers (or press our thumbs as the Germans would say- Daumen Drücken!). Sadly we heard back a few days later that we didn't get it.

It was so disappointing. We had both gotten really excited about the house and I had decorated all of the rooms in my head already! So that's where we're at now, back to square one with the house hunting again.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Well...Are you fluent yet?

Without a doubt the top question people from home ask me has always been “are you fluent in German now?" They pretty much started asking me that from my first few weeks living here!

When I think of the word “fluent” I imagine understanding absolutely everything and since I'm not quite there yet then I feel bad about why not and tend to answer "no". However, a better definition of fluency is actually the the ability to get by in most situations, to make oneself understood and to be able to go about daily tasks such as working, going to the doctor, post office and so on without language problems or barriers.You might still have your accent and not sound like a native speaker but that's ok!

Often I'll be sitting in a meeting at work and have no problems keeping up with the conversation and tricky technical speak and I'll feel confident and fluent at that moment but then at another time I might be on a night out with a group of Germans in a noisy pub and I find it hard to follow the conversation with the background noise and then I feel a little lost. I used to ask people who had lived here a long time at what stage they felt really fluent and I was often told it took them three years living in the county but others said it took them at least five years.

Recently, I came across an article that helps explain how to tell whether you are fluent. One of the ways is that people don't modify their language for you anymore. When I first moved here I noticed that a lot of Germans would try to speak Hochdeutsch (high German - without using dialect or slang) and speak clearly to make it easier for me to understand. Now they talk quickly and normally using local dialects, which I'm now able to keep up with. Also I can watch TV shows and read articles in German and understand without having to stop to think about the translations in my head or acknowledge that it's not English, which is great.

My first month or so living here I found myself exhausted each night from the effort of having to constantly translate everything in my head, formulate an answer in English and translate that before speaking. Now something like 90% of the time I understand what's being said without having to try to think of the English equivalent. So I guess I would say I am fluent now!

If you speak other languages, at what stage did you feel truly fluent? Or do you think you will never reach that stage as a non-native speaker?

Expat Life with a Double Buggy

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Run for your life

To be honest I don't particularly enjoy jogging like some people seem to. Once the weather started to improve here recently I decided I would take it up again but I knew I needed some kind of extra incentive to motivate me. The GerMann and I follow the zombie TV series The Walking Dead and when I heard about a zombie jogging themed app I decided to give it a try!

The full app for your smartphone costs about four euro but I went for the smaller version that is focused on training you for a 5k marathon and costs half that. The idea is that you listen to it while you jog and using GPS it can determine your route and speed. There are different chapters or levels and as your running improves the story progresses. You are known as "Runner 5" during a zombie apocalypse world and you are sent out on mini missions to help the base camp, such as to find medical kits or bring back supplies.

The story began with an exciting start when my helicopter crash-landed into an area surrounded by zombies who I had to then escape to reach the base camp. Through my earphone I had the voice actors telling me whenever any were close and when that happened, they would shout "move!" and I had to run faster. It was really quite realistic - I could hear zombie groaning in my ear if I wasn't running fast enough!

At one point I was getting really into it and nearly jumped out of skin when a cyclist whizzed past me from behind just as I could hear zombie groaning in my earphones. And I found myself scanning my terrain for possible weapons to defend myself from a zombie attack..such as big sticks or rocks.

I've only done a few missions so far and the first was the most exciting. The ones after that so far have just been more or less training drills with a mixture of walking then running in short bursts back at the base camp.

What's good though is that you can choose your playlist from music on your phone and the songs will be interspersed throughout the story. However, it made me laugh at one point as just after escaping a zombie, the Sugababes Get sexy song blasted into my ear which somehow just didn't seem appropriate during a zombie apocalypse!

I've signed up for a 6km marathon in less than six weeks so I'm going to have to try to aim to get out running twice a week if possible. Once I've completed more "missions" in the app I'll let you know how I found it!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Hey You! The tricky subject of the German "you"

Something that causes a lot of confusion for English speakers here is figuring out which form of "you" to use. The formal "Sie" or more casual "du". The rules go something like this...

If the other person is around your age or younger or a good friend then you can probably use "du" when referring to them. If the person is older, someone you don't know or someone deserving of respect then you should use the formal "Sie", unless they tell you it's ok to use "du".

And when you use "Sie" it also means you would refer to the person using their surname. Germans use their surnames a LOT. When I go to my hairdresser they always say "Guten Tag Frau X". Hello Mrs. X. It makes me feel a little old!

Normally if you meet someone and as you become friends they would probably ask "Können wir uns duzen?" Shall we refer to each other using the informal "you"?

At work, a lot of companies have a general "du" policy where employees refer to each other with the "Du" form. The boss may still be "Sie" though and any clients would naturally be the more polite and respectful "Sie". It's also considered an insult if you had been on "Du" terms with somebody and then you start referinig to them with "Sie".

I was also recently told by someone that you would use "Sie" during self-defence, which surprised me. I thought that if someone was hassling you then you would not feel like using the respectul "Sie" term but my German friend pointed out that anyone listening to the conversation would more likely come to your aid if you used "Sie" as then it would be clear that the person is a stranger to you. So you would say something like "Hauen Sie ab!" Get lost! or "Lassen Sie mich in Ruhe!" "Leave me alone!". Just something worth bearing in mind if you ever find yourself in that situation!

Some more tips and rules are outlined here.
Even Germans can get confused sometimes about which they should be using! So I wonder what hopes us non-native German speakers have of getting it right!