There was always a look of surprise on peoples’ faces when I told them we were moving to Germany. Like they were thinking, ‘Germany. Hmmmm. But why?’
We are a British family, and none of us speak any German. And we weren’t moving to Germany from the UK. No, we were moving there from Bangkok. And we loved Bangkok (once we got used to it). Really loved it.
And Germany…well it’s pretty much the opposite of Bangkok. Bangkok is all chaos and karma, Germany all order and correctness.
Not only that but, while the UK and Germany are close geographically, there are a lot of cultural differences. One friend told me had watched a documentary about a British family who moved to Germany. I asked him, tentatively how it had ended. He shook his head. ‘Not well at all’.
But the move was happening. My husband no longer had a job in Bangkok. He had a job in Germany. And as anyone in this expat life knows, when it comes down to where your are moving to, you often don’t really have a choice. As a person who likes to be in control, this lack of choice does not come easy.
But if I had learned anything from our first international move it was that I had to stop thinking I could control everything. That I may not have made the location choice for our next move, but I could choose how I dealt with it. And, for me, choosing to focus on the positives is the first step in a successful move.
So, what are the positives of living in Germany?
Germany is a fantastic place to bring up kids
Yep, that’s the number one positive for me. My children love living in Germany. To the point that my eldest says she wants to stay here forever.
But why is it so great for kids? Well, the main thing is the amount of space: countryside, forest and nature abounds. My youngest goes to the forest every Monday. At school. This would never happen in the UK. Nor in Bangkok (seriously, we worry about ticks here. In Bangkok it would be cobras…).
There is also a strong focus on family here. Ok, so the fact that all the shops are closed on a Sunday takes a while to get used to. But it forces family time. And now we love our Sunday walks in the park.
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There's always a fest...
And speaking of feeling happy... There is always a festival going on here! So everyone will have heard of Oktoberfest. But that just seems to segue right into the Christmas markets. And then after Christmas there's Fasching (basically lots of dressing up, parades and partying). And then there's the Wine festival. And then the Harvest festival. And then we're back to Oktoberfest. With lots of other smaller 'fests' in between.
I had only been to Germany once before, and that was a work trip to Cologne. Our look-see visit was in December, and it was a whirlwind of school tours and houses - all under grey clouds and driving rain. So I didn’t get the best impression.
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And I don’t know whether it’s because the fall of the Berlin wall was big news in my childhood, but somehow my perception of Germany was that it was very concrete and a bit bleak. Erm. No. Happy to say that my perception was all wrong. Ok, so we lucked out in that we have moved to the heart of the Rhine Valley, but it is just a beautiful country. From the wide, windy beaches in the north through the rolling vineyards on the Rhine to the Black Forest and the castles of Bavaria, Germany really should be on everyone’s ‘must see’ list.
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Germans appreciate the little things
This is perhaps related to the festivals but I feel that, here in Germany, the little things are celebrated. Like the appearance of spargel (white asparagus). Never heard of it before? Nor had I. But in springtime it suddenly appears – and it’s everywhere. In the markets, in the supermarkets, in the special Spargel stalls that appear on every corner. It's also on every menu in every restaurant. And, of course, I love this – and not just because spargel is delicious. But because this is seasonal eating done superbly well. This is about looking forward to something and really making the most of it when it appears. And it’s the same thing with strawberries and wild mushrooms. Not to mention the new wines.
Ah yes, German wine. Long disparaged in the UK as being super sweet plonk, I have been pleasantly surprised by the wine here. I am a convert to Riesling. I love a glass of sekt. Ok, so you can keep your German red wines but the whites are wonderful. And inexpensive. There is something very lovely about drinking wine in the area that it was produced. Especially if you pair it with spargel…
When we were living in Thailand we made the vague (and rash) promise to our children that we would get a dog ‘if we moved to Europe’. We thought we were going to be in Asia longer. We were wrong. And of course, the first thing the kids asked when we told them we were moving to Germany? ‘When are we getting the dog?
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I don’t think there is a better country to have a pet dog in. The Brits are known for their love of canine companions, but here it is taken to a whole new level. Our dog comes with us to cafes, restaurants, on the train and even into shopping malls. I take her pretty much everywhere with me and the unexpected upside is that she has helped me to make friends and practice my German. Everyone here stops to pet her and ask questions…and nothing helps make you feel at home like having conversations with the locals.
After living here for nearly two years, I have come to appreciate the orderliness of Germany. I have learned that, while there are cultural differences between the British and the German, we are really pretty similar. Yes, the Germans are direct while the British are known for, well, not being direct. But once I had got used to this, and accepted that the directness was not rude, just a different way of communicating, I came to appreciate it. OK, I don’t’ always appreciate it – there have been tears! – but I accept it now for what it is.
Lucky to be living here
And that documentary? Well, I never bothered watching it. Because if there’s one thing I have learned, it’s that a positive attitude towards wherever you happen to be living is your number one asset. And while I do miss the chaos and craziness of Bangkok, the one thing I didn’t leave behind was the feeling of karma.
Right now, I feel grateful that after having worried about moving here, I can now reel off a long list of all the things I love about Germany. We are lucky to be able to live here, to be able to travel freely through Europe and to have been accepted into this country. And while Brexit unfortunately means that there is a level of uncertainty, not just for us but for all the EU citizens in the UK too, I am grateful for the acceptance we have felt in this country. Thank you, Germany. Moving here really has been a stroke of good luck.
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This article was written by a Piri Soujourner: Rebecca Hilton.
Rebecca Hilton is a mum-of-two, a writer and an expat coach. Originally from the UK, over the last few years she has lived in Thailand and Germany. On her website, Making Here Home, Rebecca writes about moving and living abroad and her attempts to make wherever ‘here’ is feel like home. Drawing on her personal experiences and her career in marketing and change management, Rebecca offers coaching to other expats. Because, to paraphrase the wonderful Maya Angelou, we don’t want to just survive these moves aboard. We want to thrive.
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