|Frau Dietz's guest Resident: wave hello!|
Jen’s blog was one of the very first blogs I discovered when I first arrived in Germany, and I was instantly hooked: aside from writing a lot about the sorts of things that particularly interest me (travel, books, language, film), Jen writes so very carefully and thoughtfully and with such respect and wonder for our corner of the planet. Plus she's hilarious and takes fabulous photos. Her blog totally has an aura of cool, so I was chuffed to bits when she agreed to answer a few questions from Frau Dietz. And here we are!
Welcome to Friendly Friday, Jen ☺ First things first: who is Resident on Earth, and how did she come to be living in Germany?
Guten Tag! Thanks for having me on Letters from Frau Dietz. I was born in the earthquake prone, desert landscape of Lancaster, California, and, as a product of my parents’ divorce, I split my time between there and Kansas. I guess you could say I’ve been traveling by airplane since I was seven years old and travel is in my blood. When I was released into the wild, as an adult I also developed roots in Seattle (thump, thump, goes my heart), Maryland, Oklahoma (gasp!), and now, Germany. A few years ago I met a German, The Mann, while he was living in the U.S. and when his company sent the Germans home, I decided to come along and experience the German lifestyle. I’ve been here for 15 months now. We live in the Frankfurt area, in a little town so adorable I could smother it with affection. Now that I’ve gotten a job in Cologne, I’ll be spending my weekdays in Cologne and commuting home for the weekends.
|Timer-framed houses and cobblestones? Tick.|
And I told you she was good with a camera.
Crumbs, how exciting! I suppose a lot of people will have heard of Cologne (Köln), if not actually visited it, but please tell us a bit more about the town you live in…
Our town has been around for something like 1,200 years and its Altstadt is a medieval, Fachwerk wet dream. It’s the kind of place I’ve always dreamed of Germany being like, with the timber-framed houses and little cobbled squares. We live in a modern, newer neighborhood, but it’s always fun to go into the old part. I never grow tired of it. I like that in our town (and Germany as a whole), they really keep their development contained, which means we have a really tight town center surrounded by farm fields and woods. I like this lifestyle. I can ride my bike out into the fields near our house. I can buy fresh strawberries in the summer straight from a farmer’s field that I can see from our balcony. I am always delighted to pop into the outdoor market in our town square on Saturdays for groceries, which is radically different from the American giganta-store Wal-Mart shopping style.
Why did you decide to document your new life online?
I decided to blog because I'm a writer by nature and it helps me to process and analyze my experiences. It's important to me to have a record of my experiences. It's like a way of marking time. I can read back and see what I've done, and sometimes laugh about my earlier observations. I think it helps to have an outlet, to say what I'm feeling and seeing, and to share those with other expat bloggers. Also, I want to share what Germany is about, because often it's not what people think it's about. Germany has certainly sharpened the focus of what I've learned about my own culture!
In terms of creating a new life for yourself overseas, how have you gone about making new friends?
In some ways, it’s actually been easier to make friends here than in the U.S. With other expats, you know you have a culture and an experience in common, and it binds you together. My German friends I’ve found by default through The Mann. My local friends I’ve found through going to language class. My expat friends I’ve found through blogging and through the WEBUM meetup last year in Hamburg. And Twitter – I swear I love the internets – has been a fantastic way to share and get information. It’s like a daily conversation with other expats. For me it’s important to have both German friends and English-speaking friends. Germans can help guide you in their culture, while other expats give you a touchstone from your home culture and can help with expat issues.
I couldn't agree more. I think it's a huge shame that the German stereotype is so negative.
I think a preconception I had about Germans is that they are a cold and unfriendly people. But what I’ve learned is that there is a sharp distinction between their public lives and their personal lives, (enforced by their language with the formal Sie form for “you” and the informal du form for “you”). Publicly, they may be cold, reserved, and unhelpful (though not always, as every person is individual), but on personal terms I’ve witnessed a level of caring and loyalty for their friends and family that goes far beyond what I’ve known from my own culture. It’s like they reserve the best of themselves for the small circle of people they trust and know. I like to say Germans have a crunchy exterior with a soft, chewy center.
And what about Germany itself, as your new country of residence?
While Germany is not perfect, I really love how they have a sense here for collectively taking care of their people through their social system. I’m proud of my new home and I feel like I really have a country, if that makes sense. As far as daily living things, I really dig the public transportation system here and how it integrates into their city planning. The infrastructure of the cities and towns is compact and made for pedestrian areas. I can easily walk, bike, or take public transportation into the center of a town and there I can find shops, restaurants, houses, apartments, parks, walkways, and open squares stuffed with benches for enjoying the day. Everything and everyone is together in a network. The landscape can be so beautiful here and there are endless things to do.
There is a certain physicality to life here that I’m finding it difficult to adjust to. I’m used to more open space, including between people. Here, I’m frequently jostled or bumped into. Shopping in the grocery store is horror to me, as people either practically spoon you in line (if they’re not cutting in front of you) or jamming your ass with their carts.
'A certain physicality' – beautifully put!! To move quickly on from the thought of a surprise spooning in the supermarket: knowing how much you love to travel, what would be your recommendations for exploring Germany?
For those people living here, I would say to first start in their own area. There are so many interesting castles, villages, festivals, museums, stories, nature walks, etc., all around. Make it a point to go out and get on a train and explore. For travelers and expats alike, Germany has a wealth and diversity of overlooked places. See more than Munich and Neuschwanstein! Regensburg and Bamberg are two of my favorite places in Germany and they’re relatively untouristed. Berlin is a totally exciting city and fascinating on so many levels. Thuringia has its charms. Go to Hamburg and the North Sea coast. Check out Dresden and points in East Germany. Develop a few interests, such as castles, modern art, hideous monuments, quirky people in German history, or whatever, and travel through the country based on those themes.
|Jen's local market place (just in case we're not clear on the |
German cobblestone/Fachwerk situation)
What a great idea. And I’ve never been to Munich or Neuschwanstein ☺ As well as travel, you and I both write alot about the pains of trying to master the German language. What’s your favourite German word?
My favorite German expression is: "Ach, so!" I think it’s so cute. You have to kind of draw out the 'so' with a: 'zooOOooh'. One of my favorite words is 'Handschuhe', the word for mittens, which literally translates as “hand shoes”. It tickles me how German can be such a “picture” language with really literal words, and that the language has so many components that you can mix and match. I like the word 'Wortschatz' (vocabulary), which literally translates as “word treasure.” A word that I hate, however, is 'Frau'. I can’t stand being called a Frau. Makes me feel so…frumpy.
Oh dear… is it too late to change my blog name?! Staying on the linguistic theme a moment longer, do you have any embarrassing stories you'd like to share?
I once asked the shoe repair guy if he could give me a drug fix, as I used the verb 'fixen' (to fix) instead of 'reparieren' (to repair). But how could I know such usage and cultural implications?
Tell me about it: I once arrived home and announced to B that I'd missed my bus, but used the wrong verb; instead of telling him I hadn't caught it ('verpassen') I actually told him I regretted its absence ('vermissen'). It took him a while to stop laughing. Aside from the importance of learning the language, what one bit of advice would you offer to someone about to move their whole life overseas?
Learn to develop a sense of humor about your misadventures. Almost every day I feel stupid about something, but I try not to take it to heart. Sometimes it’s best to just have a good laugh over it.
A very sage piece of advice! Ok, last question, and a most important one for someone trying to teach herself how to cook like a German: what are your thoughts on the German cuisine?
A subject close to my heart! I think Germany has such a bad reputation for food, as if it’s all sausages, pretzels, sauerkraut, and beer. The truth is, there is an incredible diversity of food and it’s very regional. One of my favorite things is to pull out my Culinaria Germany book and read the stories, legends, and recipes by region. That said, I like to eat and drink as locally as I can. My favorite beer is from our local brewery, brewed right in our town. So fresh and tasty! I also like Apfelwein (apple wine), a Frankfurt/Hessen specialty that looks and tastes like piss the first time around, but grows on you. An excellent German Riesling is a must for many meals. As far as food, I like the Frankfurter Grüne Soße (green sauce) with some potatoes and hard-boiled eggs. This summer I want to try and make it – outdoor markets sell packets with the seven required herbs. From Swabia I adore Maultaschen, Germany’s answer to ravioli, topped with caramelized onions. From Thuringia, I like to make their style of vegetable soup – homemade broth with crunchy sugar peas, green beans, kohlrabi, carrots, chervil, and at the very end cream is added to give it a sweet balance. I could go on about dumplings, kartoffelpuffer (shredded, fried potato cakes – and it’s so fun to say!), and glühwein (warm, mulled wine).
I had to exercise extraordinary willpower not to interrupt that last answer with a "me too!" after every single sentence! Jen, thank you SO much for taking the time to answer all these questions, it’s brilliant to get to know you a little better, to hear more about your expatriate experience and to offer your thoughts and feelings as part of the bigger expat picture. You can keep up with Jen's adventures both on her blog and on Twitter and if you have any more questions for her, please post them in the comments below.
I’m really excited about next Friday's interview with another expat whose blog I have been following pretty much since my new life in Germany began: Laurel of My Expat Germany. Can't wait! I'm also itching to post my latest attempt at trying to cook German food (which yes, involved another slight misadventure - but unlike with the Schupfnudeln, I'll actually document this one - I'm hoping someone out there will be able to offer advice!). I'll post it just as soon as I've got this assignment out of the way. See you on the other side!
**Photography credit: Resident on Earth.
**Photography credit: Resident on Earth.