You can find all the old Ginger in Germany (Again) posts as well as new posts there from now on, as I’ll keep up with blogging via my new site. Bookmark it, come on over, check out my projects and send your feedback my way!
Huge shout-out to my web programmer (and smashtastic best friend) Chelsea Tredupp. Need a freelance project done quickly and well? She’s the dame to do it.
*To stay relatively sane, living and working as a non-native in Germany requires a tactical approach. The next series of posts will confront and conquer various challenges that the expat faces in this Land of Deutsch.*
To say that I experience culture shock in Germany would be a lie. Nevertheless, it’s been an interesting 6 weeks being back in a developed country after 5 weeks experiencing 3rd world/developing countries. The reverse culture shock has been considerably more fun to experience compared to the slightly stomach-churning reverse culture shock I feel whenever I go back to the US. It has me feeling a little like a sphinx with a mysterious smile on my face as I float through daily life in Frankfurt…
Let’s get this straight: I’m not Buddhist. I’m not enlightened (whatever that means, anyway). I’ve simply been using what I’ve learned in life/in my Buddhism-saturated travels to make my quality of life at “home” better. Perhaps my perspective is one you’ve heard before, if not, read on and employ it if you find it useful.
Float-Above-It Situation #1: Complaining
Here’s a sweeping, widely-known cultural observation for you: Germans like to gripe. Just Google “Germans complaining” and you’ll hit on plenty. From the weather to the not-always-exactly-punctual trains, to legitimate concerns about the Eurozone financial crisis, I got hit with a dark, low-hanging cloud of complaints upon reentry. The sunny Cambodian lifestyle was gone, replaced by lots of mental and actual fog. Bam — everything was serious, everyone had a problem needing to be fixed.
The real fix? Keeping the bird’s-eye view afforded by a few weeks in places that have immediate, life-threatening problems. Cliché, but functional. Why complain about how cold it’s getting in Frankfurt when the flooding in Bangkok just wiped out thousands of peoples’ livelihoods? We’re not just talking pension plans, here. Compare and contrast situations, my dear Germans, and you’ll see — life really isn’t all that bad!
Keeping an optimistic frame of mind does take effort in a country where so many are stuck in how “serious” life is. It’s been a fun little exercise of self-analysis, catching myself every time I get caught in an everyday conversation that has taken a turn to the pessimistic side. Quick solution? Give it perspective. Ask, “Will this matter in two weeks / two months / two years?” and bam! The complaint seems trivial at most. (Why is today a comic strip sound effect day? Don’t ask me). It’s amusing how quickly you can stop a snowballing pity-party by asking a polite variant of “Well, does it really matter?”; if we’re going by positive stereotypes, the highly logical German will realize if a complaint is actually irrelevant and let the issue rest.
Perhaps a disclaimer is in order, now that I’ve written these scathingly offensive claims. Let it be known that I do love being in this country, surrounded by these productive, hard-working, intelligent people. I’ll just reserve the right to analyze them as they do me, that friendly American girl with big hair and a damn good German accent 😉
Within the first 24 hours I’ve learned the “rules of the road” (see below), felt the awkwardness of being a “have” amongst so many have-nots, wound my way through the “Russian market”, haggled for new clothing and enjoyed the combined excellence of Cambodian cuisine (think amok and lok lac) and the company of my good friend Ramon.
Fresh off the plane from Bangkok, Thailand to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
This ride was considerably less hectic than ones I didn’t record. Figures.
The expat bubble in Phnom Penh is a tangible sphere made more obvious by the perspective I get from behind secure gates of Ramon’s movie house, The Flicks. I look through windows and over balconies into another layer of society, we interact with the Khmer locals whenever we leave the house, but the society doesn’t afford the opportunity of penetrating the bubble as a visitor. Perhaps not even as a child born in Cambodia to expat parents. It makes me slightly uncomfortable, but I haven’t completely wrapped my head around it yet…my thoughts need more time to develop.
For now, I’m looking forward to more $5 yoga classes, $5 45-minute foot massages, $1 meal options that blow your taste buds away, etc. Life inside the bubble is really nice…
I waited a grand total of two days before I got the phone call. Starting in mid-October, you can find me designing and producing all sorts of publications (similar to the one below) at the American Chamber of Commerce in Frankfurt, Germany.
This means, of course, that more blog material is to come, as Ginger will still be in Germany…if all goes well, for a solid two years.
But wait! you say, Isn’t Ginger supposed to be in Cambodia/Thailand until the end of October?
True. I have no time-turner, nor can I teleport (yet), so I’ll be adjusting my travel plans and flying back to Europe three weeks earlier than originally planned, cutting my Asian adventure from 8 weeks to 5. Still, not too shabby.
Back to the present…though I know you’re still ogling Bill Gates on that beautiful magazine cover…
I’m a big fan of side projects. Work is work, but when work is fun, work isn’t work. Right? Well, this next opportunity seems especially well-suited to me: I’ll be translating a transcript for a humorous audiobook aimed specifically at getting Americans to learn German and I’ll likely also be doing the voice-over for one of the characters in the book. Freelancing is fun, what can I say?
Now if I could just find a snazzy, inexpensive, conveniently located place to live in Frankfurt…
Au pair work is going well, really, it’s a breeze. The important thing is to find a family who is accommodating and flexible, and one who doesn’t view you as a servant. I’ve been lucky to find a bilingual family using GreatAuPair.com and I would recommend the website to anyone looking for au pair work anywhere in the world.
The pros outweigh the cons: I have 20 hours of “work” per week for this seven-week period, for which I am paid Germany’s standard 260 Euro per month, plus insurance, all food and travel expenses and I naturally don’t pay anything for rent either. It’s a perfect arrangement that has allowed me to dedicate plenty of time to my real priority — the Great European Job Search.
This journey is a sort of one I hope leads me to … well … Germany. Frankfurt would be ideal. I’ve been grateful for my contacts who have helped me already to polish up a German CV and revise my American resumé to fit a more European CV style. I’m currently playing the waiting game, as I’ve already had one interview for a position that fits me very well. Press your thumbs and/or cross your fingers for me, please?
The spare time has also been enough to fill with more private English conversation lessons, which I’ve been enjoying as it means I get paid generously, tax-free, for doing something I do anyway: speak my native language. Otherwise, I have few updates (and I’m sorry that this post is more housekeeping than anything culturally interesting). My prep work for Cambodia and Thailand is still going on, having already had two of three rabies shots and a typhoid vaccination as well (all great fun, I assure you).
I’m going to Paris in a few weeks for one last European hurrah before the expected chaos of Cam/Thai takes over for a while, but other than that my travels have been slowing down. Instead, I’ve taken the time to discover and rediscover a few excellent dance clubs in Frankfurt (Cocoon and Living XXL), done a bit more travel writing that is in the process towards publication, and read four wonderful books — The Kite Runner and the Millenium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson.
Right now Sir Henry — that’s the family cat — is nuzzling me very intensely, so I think I’ll let him have a bit of affection for the time being…stay well!
Returning to the promises I made to myself at the beginning of the year, now is the perfect time to take stock of what exactly I’ve done to fulfill them.
1) Experience at least 3 new countries this year.
After having visited Luxembourg, Spain is the next new territory to conquer. I’m here now (!) and it’s the first country I’ve ever been to where I don’t speak the language well enough to talk about things other than numbers, colors, food, the weather, public transportation, or myself. More on this in the next post about Madrid and Sevilla, though if you want to have a sneak-peek, pics from Madrid are already up here.
2) Noticeably improve my Spanish.
Related to #1 I had been working with Hugo, my Mexican tandem partner, on a weekly basis since February. You know I hate going to a place and imposing English on people as a default. Part of the plan was to get my Spanish up to par for communication needs as a tourist, but I plan on continuing to learn.
3) Launch my personal website by the summer.
This one is still in the works, though the design is completely finished. Big shout-out to my best friend, graphic designer/programmer/artist Chelsea Tredupp, for her creative genius! Expect the site to be up by the end of August.
4) Do something crazy.
5) Inspire you to do something crazy.
Well, that remains to be seen, doesn’t it? Some of you have told me your stories…my favorite is the friend of mine who stayed at an all-gay sex party in Berlin (observing, not participating in it, surprisingly…not that that’s better or worse) because he thought to himself, “Ginger would be disappointed if I didn’t stay – it would make a great story!” Very true.