Living and Working in Europe
This year, I've had the pleasure of living and working in both Spain and Germany. First I was an Au Pair in Girona, Spain and now I'm working as a Barista in Koblenz, Germany. Coming from the chill kiwi lifestyle, I've definitely experienced my fair share of culture shock and integration miscommunications, but I've also fallen in love with so many new places, people and languages and learnt far more than a classroom could ever teach me. One of my favourite things about being in Europe, is how central you are to everything and how easy it is to just pop over to another country. I've even found myself having breakfast, lunch and dinner in three different countries all on the same day! With travelling comes diversity, and there exists an undeniably long history of diversity here, especially in it's architecture, food, music, languages and the insurmountable number of dialects within one language. The richness in culture, the old style architecture and the unfamiliar tunes of foreign languages has me falling head over heels for Europe! Apart from German and English - Italian, French, Dutch, Romanian, Polish, Albanian, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, Swiss German, and Turkish are just some of the languages that I hear on a daily basis and it's honestly like music to my ears!
However, cultural differences do exist and are somewhat surprisingly extreme between countries. Spain vs Germany for one, the Spaniards are very chill, have a rather slow way of life, enjoying their mid day siestas - where every one goes home for a few hours for lunch and a nap break, thus most shops are actually closed between 12-4 and reopen again for the evening. Yes, this was a very new concept to me as we don't have this in NZ or Germany and I thought my Spanish host mum was kidding when she told me haha. In Germany, it's very fast paced and super organised, people have a schedule and stick to it. Punctuality is of the essence, whether it's a coffee date or a meeting. If you are 5 mins early, you're on time. If you're on time... you're late. For a kiwi like me, I have to keep my watch to be 5mins ahead of normal time so that I don't get in trouble. Otherwise, my sorry inexcusable last minute kiwi personality would not survive in Germany.
Since I plan to write a post about my time Au Pairing in Girona, I will focus this more on Germany, especially the region of Rhineland-Pfalz. I've put together my perception of the locals and the German language, along with a list of pros and cons of living in Germany.
In Koblenz, you get a real mix of people. The younger generation, having had the chance to travel more than their older counterparts, seem to be much more chill and friendlier, especially towards foreigners and really appreciate any effort to learn their language. Whereas the middle-aged and elderly seem a little more on edge, expect you to know and speak the language, definitely less inclined to small talk and are easily offended if you accidentally use the informal 'du' form instead of the "Sie" form. They also have no shame, scolding you in public if you happen to step one foot out of line, such as J-walking on the red man even though there are no cars in any direction, or walking directly into your bike and blaming you for not being not the bike path... yes I understand it's illegal to walk on a red man, but when did we lose our intuition to tell what's safe or not? We are like a bunch of sheep, following the rules because it's easier than thinking for ourselves! Anyway, moving away from angry old ladies (sigh), there exists a huge diversity of cultures here in Koblenz. In my cafe, our staff consists of the following nationalities: Romanian, Bulgarian, Polish, Albanian, Thai-German, Hungarian, some of them have such interesting backgrounds too and a few also speak Italian - just casually, no big deal, just one of my favourite languages! There's a large population of Turkish people and Middle Easterners living in my area, but overall I can't say I've met many English speaking expats here in Koblenz. Reliability and good listeners
In Germany, there are actually many different dialects, but the one that most people speak is Hochdeutsch - High German. It took me a while for my ears to adjust but I can now distinguish between some Swiss, Austrian, and Bavarian dialects. However, if you're new to learning German and find yourself in Bavaria, rural Austria or Switzerland... good luck. After spending a semester in Vienna and learning my German there, I initially had an Austrian accent, which I have now lost due to Hochdeutsch influence and people laughing at me when I say words like 'Schlagobers' instead of Sahne (Cream), and Schwammerl instead of Pilse (mushroom). The ups and downs in tonality creates an rather energetic and happy dialect, making it by far my favourite :)
German gets a bad rep for being a 'harsh' language. Even germans themselves think that! On the contrary I find it a rather soft and beautiful language, it's also very precise and to the point. Through learning german, you will come to understand the Germans a lot better. Often coming across as rude because of their short dialogue, but to them they said all the important stuff and need say no more. Unlike English, flourishy words aren't that commonly used, and the language is assertive rather than passive. For example,
English: "Hi there, what are you up to today? I was wondering if you might be free later on to grab a coffee or something? It'd be so nice to catch up, it's been so long!"
German: "Hey was geht ab, hast du Lust später zum Kneipe zu gehen?" - Hey what's up, do you feel like going to the bar later?
English: "Oh I didn't get a fork, I was wondering if you could maybe..." - and we usually trail off here and expect someone to hand us a fork.
German: "Kann ich bitte ein Gabel haben?" - Can I please have a fork?
Sometimes, German directness can really make me laugh. It's just so efficient I love it! Once you get over the grammar hump and start to self separate the super long words and realise they're not as scary as they look... it's not too hard a language to learn! Of course I'm excluding memorising the gender articles of every noun because I just inject whatever I think sounds good in the sentence and if it's wrong, then I pray and hope I said it fast enough so that no one noticed!
- Beer & Alcohol
The alcohol here is unbelievably cheap, I was stunned, the first time I grabbed a bottle of wine for less than 2 euros... and didn't even get ID. Some people here really do drink beers like water or juice, casually popping a few open throughout the day, after a football match, or even between lectures at the Uni Campus!
- The BREAD!!!
- Cheap living costs
- Bike Lanes and Public Transport.
- Punctuality - if you're 5-10 mins early... you're on time.
- German Bureaucracy and Paper Work
- Strict adhesion to Rules! - Traffic lights and no J walking
- Formality Rules - Herr, Frau, Sie not du... confusing as hell. Cant just say, hi how are you to a stranger.
- The amount of people
- Cash everywhere