Saturday, February 25, 2012

Living Abroad Problems


There are some really funny memes floating around on the interwebs about problems of a specific nature.  I particularly love the 1st WorldProblems and 1st Grader Problems.  I’ve come up with a few problems in the same comedic vein from our time here so far. 

1. The doctor speaks English, but the staff does not.  We purposely chose a pediatrician here in Berlin who speaks English so that they would be able to put our kids at ease by not having to speak/understand their second language, and so that both of us parents can adequately communicate and understand the doctor.  Point in fact: all Germans have had some form of instruction in the English language at some point, but not all of them use it regularly or remember it all the time.  So even though our pediatrician speaks English, and his staff at some point studied English, his staff was extremely happy to not have to struggle through their rudimentary English with us.  Let me also assert here my utter vocabulary failure when it comes to insurance and doctor’s office terminology. 

2. Cool Because I’m American? Since coming to Berlin, I have been told at least 10 times upon revealing my citizenship that I am cool.  I am not by any stretch of the imagination cool.  I am a mother with 2 small children, a graduate student with a paltry wardrobe, and a wife who routinely wears sweatpants all day at home.  I never wanted to be cool either, well, except for about a week in the 6th grade before I realized that I could never tease my bangs or peg my Guess jeans just like the coolest girls in my grade.  Anyone who has said this to me here, has also been under the age of 25, so I’m going with the assumption that they just want to impress me with their use of the American slang term of “cool” and don’t actually think I am.  What’s funny, is that surely the word “cool” is out of style now, but I live such an insulated grad student/mommy life at home that I wouldn’t even know what to tell them would be cooler to say. 

3. Autocorrect in 2 Languages SUCKS!  Autocorrect in English (my first language) is bad enough, but I’ve set my phone to toggle between English and German so that I can send texts and emails in both languages.  This is a really useful tool to have, so that it doesn’t keep autocorrecting my German to English words or vice versa.  But autocorrect is buggy and sometimes comes up with hilarious corrections that are just horrible, and when you add another language to the mix, it really gets crazy! 

4. English Rape is a term that I’ve been using for several years now.  I define English Rape as being forced to speak English against my will.  I speak German.  I did not come to Berlin to speak English or to help you practice your English.  Whenever someone insists on speaking English to me I now ask them where they learned English.  If they learned English at home and it is their first language, I obligingly speak English with them.  If they learned it at school and are nice about speaking it with me, then I might reluctantly speak English with them.  If you are not nice at all about speaking English to me, such as switching immediately to English upon hearing my accent and refusing to answer my questions in German at all, then I will persist in speaking my hilarious accent for you and will NOT switch to English out of spite.  English rape is a real problem in Berlin, where it is most definitely possible to never learn German and get by fine as an English speaker, but I’m not going to take it anymore.

5. Not Knowing is the biggest problem we have as foreigners living here.  This is a pretty all-encompassing and consuming problem sometimes, and takes on many forms.  A short list of things we just don’t know because we’re not from here:
            -Where to buy things
            -When/what all the holidays are
            -What’s the appropriate attire to wear for all occasions
            -Formalities—with whom do we use the formal and informal terms for you (Sie/Du)?
            -Who to ask?  (Luckily we have some very understanding German friends, so this isn’t always a big     problem for us and we sometimes end up being the experts for other Ex-Patriots here.) 

Living abroad comes with a definite set of culture-specific rules, regulations, and customs that we are finding out about during our journey here. The best way we have come up with for dealing with the sometimes massively frustrating problems we encounter by being foreigner’s here, is to just laugh at them—both the problems and the cultural prescriptions behind them. 

Did I mention that we really do love it here and are having a great time?     

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