Friday, July 15, 2011

Friendly Friday: Papa Scott

Finally, finally, weeks (oh ok, months) later and with grovelling apologies to not only the exceedingly patient Papa Scott but also the Friendly Friday Followers: welcome to Friendly Friday. It's back!

I don't remember how I stumbled upon Papa Scott's blog, but I do recall the very first post I read there: an explanation of an joke about poodles that had been made at the annual meetup for expat bloggers in Germany, WEBMU. It had me weeping with laughter, and I’ve kept up with Scott's tales of his life in north Germany ever since. I was, therefore, extremely chuffed when Scott agreed to take part in Friendly Friday. So without even further delay, off we go...

Intoducing Family Hansen
Name: Scott Hanson
About: I am the quiet, steady analytical pole to my emotional, dynamic businesswoman wife. We are the perfect team
From: Rural Minnesota
Now in: Rural Jesteburg, in the Nordheide region south of Hamburg
Since: 1990
Because…? It was for my wife’s work. In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and a banking crisis hit the US, and we had the idea that it would be fun for her to work in Germany for a couple of years. I thought I could pick up the language quickly (ha ha, big mistake) and find something, but we’d stay maybe 3 years, 5 at the most.

So, Scott, good grief, you arrived here in Germany during the reunification: how did it feel to be here at such a interesting and exciting time – and how has Germany changed since?

May you live in interesting times, that’s a Chinese curse, right? My wife’s career had stalled, mine hadn’t started yet, and we suspected her company would be looking for native speaking help. Our timing was perfect… my wife had the the combination of German stubbornness and American hard work to get ahead, and I was able to start a career of my own.

At the time there was an exciting edginess, a sense that things were happening and that history was being made here and now. That was fun in our 20s. Now all that’s left of the edginess is the faded graffiti in Berlin, and in our 40s we’re happy to have a bit more stability.

And how did you come to end up in Jesteburg?

My wife's work was based in Hamburg, I was working near Lüneburg, and we were looking to own a house somewhere in between. The first place we saw was a lot with an endless view of fields and we both fell in love. That's where we built and have been ever since. It's very quiet, and 3 km from Jesteburg proper and the nearest shops. Living without a car would be difficult. But we're 5 km away from a city of 40,000 and the S-Bahn to Hamburg, so we're not isolated.
The Hansen back garden. Ready for that house swap when you are, Scott.
I grew up in a small town and couldn't wait to get out. Now I live in an even smaller town. It's a mix between natives and newcomers, every one greets one another by first name, the volunteer fire dept is the center of social life, and knowing a few words of Plattdeutsch (general term for the numerous north German regional dialects) doesn't hurt. Yield right of way to tractors, don't complain about the smell of the manure spreaders, show up for the Dorffests (village festivals) and accept Schnaps at least the first time when offered.

Having moved halfway round the world from a small town in rural Minnesota, you ended up in a small town in rural Germany. How do the two experiences compare?

I was desperate to get out of a small town at 18… fifteen years older and later a small town doesn’t seem so bad anymore ☺. The advantage of our German small town is that it’s close to a big city, as opposed to my US hometown that was (and still is) 200km from everything.

What other aspects of life in Germany do you enjoy - in contrast to your life in the States?

My favorite thing about Germany is the regional diversity. You can travel a few hundred kilometres from Hamburg to Cologne to Munich to Berlin and see 4 different cultures. In the US you can travel a thousand kilometres and the only difference is the colors of the local football team.

That's football as in American Football, right? ;) Where in particular in Germany, then, would you recommend visiting?

I’m partial to the coasts. Everyone knows about the cities and the castles, but beaches like St. Peter Ording and Sylt on the North Sea or Warnemunde or Boltenhagen on the Baltic are worth checking out too.

Extremely beautiful Sylt. (I'm fighting the urge to comment on the lack of beach towels on sun loungers.)
I would so love to visit the German coast: despite not having lived anywhere near the sea in the UK (relatively speaking), I somehow feel a little bit claustrophobic knowing I now live very much in the middle of an enormous expanse of land. But moving on: having shifted your whole life over to Europe, what motivated you to share your experiences online?

At first I blogged to keep in touch with friends and family, but these days I blog for myself, to write and tell stories. I blog about whatever comes to mind: my family, my job, politics, expat life, and just to keep in touch. However, I do my best to ignore memes like “Monday this”, “Friday that”, or “7 of the thing”. I keep to no schedule.

And I apparently am unable to keep to mine! You mention your job: tell us, how did you come to be doing what you do now?

I was a self-taught computer expert, and I ran into an English-language science publisher that was switching to desktop publishing. The internet came along, I got them going with that, and as the internet boom started I moved to a online-banking software company and got involved with administering web and mail servers and networks. In the meantime our son was born and my wife got a fast-track management job, so I was able to go part-time to look after our son. Through blogging I hooked up with another web company where I worked from home until my wife was offered a McDonald’s franchise. Now I work for her and do whatever she doesn’t feel like doing (mostly paperwork and computer stuff) ☺

I’ve been following with interest on Twitter as you’ve built and opened your latest franchise from scratch. I’m not really up on McDonald’s social responsibility, but in terms of your franchise at least there seems to be some interesting steps forward for the company, ecologically speaking.

Yes, we announced our new restaurant, our 4th, which we opened on June 30. McDonald's was in a rush, so instead of the usual 12 week building time they finished in 9 weeks. The opening was very hectic, and as I write this a week later the hectic still continues, but we're slowly getting the problems solved (no DSL, freezer out for 3 days, new undocumented register system, unfinished electrical installation).

We're right along side the Autobahn A1 as part of an "Autohof" (truck stop) complex. Among the innovations we're offering are self-serve touch-screen terminals and a charging station for electric cars (with 100% eco-power). We also have a brand-new E-Smart as my wife's company car. She loves it, she's gotten some good press as a result, and it's a real head-turner. The motor doesn't roar - it's more of a hum!

It certainly looks pretty snappy from the pictures you've shared online. Now, apologies for wanting to satisfy my own inane curiosity, but… it seems that all around the world, fast food menus often accommodate cultural idiosyncrasies - in India, for example, I saw adverts for the Maharaja Mac. Does the menu here reflect German cuisine or culture in any way?

The menu is different, but to increase sales and not so much for the culture. Americans come in at all hours for a snack, but Germans like big burgers with lots of garnish. Instead of a Royal with Cheese (like in Pulp Fiction) we sell a Royal TS (with lettuce and tomato).

Damn. I was really rooting for a McSpießbraten (my favourite German pork butty). Knowing how much the Germans love their paperwork, I imagine that setting up and running a business here must be a bit of a challenge. How does the German work ethic and environment differ from the US?

The difference is day and night. In Germany you need official permission for pretty much everything you do, employment law is tilted pretty completely on the side of employees, and the taxes are outrageous. They are restrictions you learn to live with, and your competition has to deal with them too.

And how about differences between the German and American people?

Germans are arrogant, right or wrong. Americans are optimistic, right or wrong. That pretty much explains their respective success and failures.

Succinctly put! Having been here for over 20 years now, do you feel an affinity with the Germany, the people and their culture?

I can’t say I feel an affinity with Germany, but I’ve been here so long it feels just as much like home as the US. Maybe coming from the rural, conservative Midwestern US, I don’t find the way of thinking that strange at all. I bet I’d feel less at home in England (where the language would lull me into a false sense of security).

Interesting you should say that: as a Brit, I suffer far more linguistic and cultural confusion with my American friends here than the German ones! So, finally Papa Scott, do you think you’ll ever return to the States?

We came intending to stay for 3 to 5 years. It’s turned out longer than that, but we don’t intend to retire here. We’ll go someplace warm.

That, to me, sounds like a very nice idea indeed. Scott, thank you so very much for taking part in Friendly Friday, it was an absolute pleasure to have you here, and definitely worth the wait! If anybody has any questions for Scott, please fire away down below in the comments. You can go on to follow his antics on his blog, on Twitter and also on Flickr; Scott also has a sideblog, Sucker For Girl Groups.

Next week’s interview is with the boundlessly, infectiously enthusiastic Texagermanadian, who is in fact about to pack up her belongings here in Germany and head with her husband for Finland – we’ve bagged her just in time! Pop by next week to hear her retrospective interview on a rather unique experience. I can't wait!

Photo credit: all images curtesy of Scott Hanson.


TexaGermaNadian said...

What a great Friendly Friday!! I especially love "Germans are arrogant, right or wrong. Americans are optimistic, right or wrong. That pretty much explains their respective success and failures." haha, soooo true. Can't wait to check out his blog, really love his style.

Mandi said...

Yay, great interview! Definitely worth the wait. :)

fiona said...

Yay, at last! I've been looking forward to this!

Warnemunde is indeed lovely, and I too love all the coastal places I've visited so far and long to visit more. Thanks for the additional tips.

Jen said...

That was a tasty McFriendly Friday! :-p

Frau Dietz said...

Thank you all very much, I am very pleased you enjoyed it!!

@TexaGermaNadian: that was my favourite quote too!

@Mandi: phew!

@Fiona: oh hang on was that the place you just went to? I so want to visit all these places - they just seem so far away from down here!

@Jen: ahahaha ;)

fiona said...

No, but it was on of the first coastal places we visited and it's only taken Stevie ooh, a year nearly to get over how hilarious it is to make jokes about how the Baltic Sea wasn't in fact baltic...

PapaScott said...

Thanks for making me look so good. I doubt that I'm so clever and charming in real life... :-)

And as for the McSpiessbraten, we know the Head of the Test Kitchen for McD Germany (he's English and runs ultra-marathons as a hobby), so we'll run it by him.

Frau Dietz said...

@Fiona: Oh no... I think I also find that really funny. The hilarity baton has been passed :S

@Papa Scott: I didn't do anything - they're all your words!! And wow, Head of the Test Kitchen - now there's a job...