An American Immigrant

soccerLife is magical if you live it. If you look outside the box, move outside your comfort zone, question government, converse with people, and enjoy the beauty of the world. Through my life, I’ve always been one not to conform to the norm. Traveling was always something I enjoyed, and I’m one who embraces change. This set me apart from many people within the different circles of my life.

I’ve been given a different opportunity to live outside the box, outside the familiar, and continue to question people and things I experience. Opportunity presented itself with the simplicity of an American girl falling in love with a German boy. What is life if we don’t question or wonder? It helps us learn. Everywhere on the web, people are offended by something. Everyone wants to be heard, yet no one wants to listen.

I wrote a blog post about How to be German. It was regarding some of my experiences in Germany told with a few exaggerations. I received some backlash for it, but I’m not apologizing for it. It’s my life and my experiences. Americans are very much the same. If one questions government, or says something negative about the “American way”, one can hear the gasps followed by patriotic roars. But why shouldn’t we question or wonder? Laugh at our faults. Cheer for our successes. It’s healthy, and in no way makes us any less German, American, or any other race, religion, culture, etc. It makes us wiser.

On my blog, I will sometimes talk about my experiences living in another culture. It should be a given that my experiences don’t include all Germans or all Americans. They include my small sliver of the world in Chicago and those I meet in everyday life in Hattingen and travels. Here are a few observations and experiences as an American immigrant.

1.  When I first came to Germany, I thought it was crazy that everything closes on Sundays. All shopping malls and grocery stores are closed. The only things we’ll find open in our area are bakeries, and they close around noon. People must do their shopping by Saturday evening or they’re out of luck until Monday. This seemed outrageous to me. In America, Christmas is the only time the majority of places close. I couldn’t even imagine not having stores open.

Now I love it. Sundays are so peaceful, and you see people spending time with each other. Not that they don’t other days, but on Sundays most are taking advantage of walks or bike rides around the neighborhood or the River Ruhr. It’s awesome to see. Instead of wandering through malls or grocery shopping, people are embracing family and friends.

It wasn’t until moving here that I realized and appreciated the peacefulness, being outside with nature. Growing up in Chicago, it seemed like the pace continued to pick up as I matured. If we slow it down a bit, maybe we’ll see a reduction in stress, depression and anxiety among other things. Shut off the phones and televisions, get outside with the family, and explore new places. Instead, we’re on the go, schedules stuffed with sports activities, and the beauty of the world around us ignored.

2. While shopping or enjoying the sites of Germany, I’ve encountered a little too many pushes than I have in the United States. Someone who needs to get past just pushes me out of the way, sticks their hand in my face, or maneuvers in front when queuing up in line (I’ve been stepped on, pushed and squeezed waiting in line for Ryanair flights). More people tend to push and then say, “Entschuldigung”, whereas in the U.S., they will say, “Excuse me” first. I usually keep to myself, spend almost all of my time with my husband, so it bothers me when someone touches me without first having the courtesy to ask me to let them through. Sure, there are rude people in the States, but I’ve come across a little more in Germany who lack social graces.

This is one instance of many where manners are tossed to the wayside. My father visited in October. We were at the grocery store, and he was talking to his friend about something. Apparently, he didn’t move up enough, so a woman took her cart and kept pushing it into my dad’s back. I didn’t know this until we were outside. If I had, I would have gotten in her face and told her off in English! I might be an immigrant, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to be impolite to my family or me. In the States, I’ve treated immigrants with respect.

3. Germany has many walking and bicycle paths. They’re great. Aside from Sundays, I see many people walking into town or riding their bikes, including my husband and me. When it’s decent out, we hop on ours. We’ll see either die-hard bikers or people past their 20s and some in their 70s. It is amazing how many of the older generations are fit.

074 - Hattingen ( Bike Ride-Me)
Where I grew up, there weren’t many bike paths. I would have to drive to the forest preserves or a park. It just wasn’t convenient. There are more bikers in downtown Chicago then there are in the southern suburbs. Biking isn’t what it used to be when I was a child. Kids don’t play outside much anymore. They’re either too involved in sports activities, watching television, or playing a video game.

4. Learning a new language is difficult. I can now truly sympathize and understand how immigrants in the U.S. feel. When I moved here, it was a culture shock. I spent the first year becoming familiar with the culture and my surroundings. Over the years, I’ve signed up for German classes, sitting in a room with people from other countries. Total immersion is challenging, and it doesn’t help when you can’t ask a classmate a question.

The teachers who taught the classes spoke fast and expected us to catch on, sometimes letting us know they were pissed by yelling. I’ve come across a few Germans who commented on why I don’t know the language. One woman worked at the place where I got my German Visa. I wanted to say to her (my poor translation of German/English), “Ich lerne Deutsch aber es ist schwer. Ich verstehe kurze und langsame Sätze. Ihr Deutsch ist schlecht.” Translation: I am learning German but it is difficult. I understand short and slow sentences. Your German is bad. Of course, I didn’t say it because I get flustered and my mind seems to freeze when I have to talk German.

The thing, and something my husband (a teacher) gets aggravated about, is that Germans are required to take 6-years of English, yet many of them don’t understand the language. He’s also said that many Germans don’t speak proper German either.

My husband and I have had a few heated discussions with his parents, who have complained that I should have a better grasp of the language. This is coming from two people who have been living in Spain for the last 20 plus years, and they still have difficulties with Spanish and don’t know Catalan, which is spoken in their area.

Plus, I’ve come across a few people who assume I want them to speak English. I’ll try to figure out what they said and struggle to answer in German. When they hear my husband talking to me in English, they change to the few English words they know. I never expect or assume people in Germany should speak to me in English. I’m in their country; I need to learn the language. But if Germans want immigrants to learn the language, a little patience and help is much appreciated. Since the end of last year, I’ve been trying hard to keep up with Duolingo on a daily basis, and when I have questions, I’ll ask my husband. Right now, Duolingo shows that I’m 44% fluent in German.

Have you or do you live in a country you’re not a citizen of? Do you travel to other countries for the culture? Are your experiences positive or negative?

Cultures and Understanding,
Baer Necessities

16 thoughts on “An American Immigrant

  1. Hello Denise. This was an interesting post. I’m actually trying to learn German now too, so I could appreciate the humor. I’m doing it just for fun and bought the Rosetta Stone software. I have German heritage (partly,) and my paternal grandmother spoke German. Most recently, I haven’t been keeping up with it too much, partly because I’ve been busy and partly because my desktop computer that has the software installed has been getting slow. I’ve read a few simple stories on my Kindle that are in parallel German and English, and that has been somewhat helpful. I’m sure I would struggle like you if I was living in Germany and had to communicate in the language. I’m sorry people have not always been patient with you as you’re adapting and learning, but you have some interesting experiences to share with us.

    1. Susan, Thanks for sharing. You are gutsy to learn German in your spare time. I thought about getting Rosetta Stone, but I found Duolingo (online) and it’s free. German is part of my heritage, except no one speaks it in my family. It’s funny though, things start clicking and falling into place as I keep with learning. Then I try to figure out word endings myself and piecing words together to help me memorize words. Sometimes I wonder if certain people are too inept to learning different languages, and then I wonder if my age is causing all these speed bumps. Not everyone is impatient with me. There are plenty of nice Germans willing to fall asleep while I figure out how to form a sentence. LOL! I appreciate you stopping by and commenting.

  2. Yes, Denise! I am an American who once moved to the west coast of Ireland: Connemara, to be exact, though I worked in Galway. It took me close to a year to release my American frame of reference, for the Irish are a specific culture, whose social mores are very subtle compared to America, but then old cultures are all so. It was an eye-opening, pivotal experience to live in Ireland in every way; so much so, that my second novel is set there and entitled “Dancing to an Irish Reel,” (2015 release by Vinspire Publishing.) I’m glad I’ve come across your post and have enjoyed it!

    1. Claire, I looked up pictures of Connemara. Beautiful. Yes, living here has definitely opened my eyes to the German way, but also how they perceive Americans.

      My current WIP is a crime mystery set in Chicago. It is going to be a 2 book series, and the second book’s setting will be in Germany.

      I wish you the best with your book. I’ll have to check it out. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. I hope you’ll return to leave a link to a blog or website. Take care.

  3. a very funny post 🙂
    # ” Everywhere on the web, people are offended by something. Everyone wants to be heard, yet no one wants to listen.” Ein sehr schöner Satz! Das stimmt!

    And yes, the change of your opinion about almost every thing closing on Sundays, I had that change too… Every thing is peaceful on Sunday! Das stimmt auch! Man hat mehr Zeit für die Familie, gesund Hobbys… und so weiter (etc.)

    1. Moa’bite, How’s it going? I’m glad you enjoyed and found the post funny.

      Yes, you are from another country too, so I’m sure your experiences here are somewhat different than mine. Life is a great learning experience. I’d love to hear what immigrants in the U.S. have to say about Americans. It would be interesting.

  4. Hi Denise – skipping over from Jeri’s blog. I lived in Germany for a year and still couldn’t understand the language! I had to get used to the fact that Germans don’t smile at strangers! (or didn’t in the 1970s) I’ve always got a silly grin on my face. Jan

    1. Jan, Thanks for stopping by. LOL! Yes, I wrote about the solemn faces in a prior post and I don’t think it was appreciated. Germans do have a very stern look, but when you say hello or talk to them it’s as if someone turned a light on.

  5. I have traveled to Germany several times within the last three years. I found the people to be friendly and helpful in providing directions and helping us to order in restaurants. I only speak English. I was surprised when the waiters said they were required to take so many years of English in high school but was unable to speak or understand very little English. Throughout my world travels, I have found that smiles, food, drinks and sign languages foster communication in any country. Part of the setting in my next book is about the Germany countryside. Gracie

    1. Gracie, The people are friendly, but I think experiences differ from cities to towns. You’ll find English speaking Germans in larger cities due to tourism. We live in a little town, so speaking English is limited. I’m glad you found the customer service helpful.

      You’re right about the smiles, food, drinks, and hand gestures. The Germans I come across don’t use their bodies to communicate. It would help. Looking forward to hearing about your next book.

  6. The most my German came in handy during my Oktoberfest trip was when I stepped in to translate for other tourists whose native language was Chinese. My German was better than theirs, at least enough so I could translate their German into English that the bed and breakfast owner would understand. I did try to say common phrases in Germany and also in the Netherlands, but once my accent was heard, every person slipped into English.

    1. Jeri, That is too funny about the Chinese. There are some nationalities in Germany who I can’t understand. People from the Middle East speak very fast, so I have difficulty understanding their German and English.

      The funny thing is I know lots of words, I’m just hesitant on creating a sentence. Some sentences are straightforward English, and some, the objects, verbs are flipped around and there are more words than in the translation. BUT, I order for myself in restaurants, and I think I do alright. Kann ich eine große Wasser mit Gas (Can I have a large water with gas?) No this does not mean to pass gas, it means carbonated.

      When we travel to a bigger city, and they hear me speaking English, they’ll switch to English.

  7. You shouldn’t apologise for it because people should be able to speak their opinions, as long as they are doing it nicely! I moved from Britain to the Netherlands and we experienced a lot of the same things – surprise at things being closed on Sunday and then loving it, and loving those cycle paths. I cycle to and from school every day and now love it!

    1. Olivia, I bet you could write hundreds of blog posts about your experience in the Netherlands. When we go to Amsterdam, my husband and I wonder how the heck people are able to find their bikes. There are thousands of bikes in bike parking lots, chained on top of others along the canals. I should come up with a GPS device so people can find them. 😀

  8. Ich spreche ein bisschen Deutsch, aber mein Deutsch ist nicht so gut.

    I’d love to live in a place where everything is closed on Sundays. I don’t care if you call it the Sabbath, and it has nothing to do with religion. I just love the idea of a day once a week where everyone takes it easy.

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