Good-Bye/ Tschuess Hannover!

Thank you, people of Hannover, for hosting us. It wasn’t easy in the beginning (two short years ago) but we’ve learned so much, done so many new things, and we’ll always think of our friends and our time here fondly.

I wish I could write this good-bye in German, but I’m not quite there yet. Vielen dank, Hannoverians, for listening to my broken German. What a shock that you actually understood me, and even better, that you wanted to understand me. Thank you for your patience—-may I be just as patient with every new English learner I meet.

I had no idea what a whole new world was waiting for me behind that language barrier. Thanks for opening the door wide when I so timidly began to knock.

It’s been exhausting saying good-bye to everyone, knowing that we can’t pop back over for a quick “hallo!“whenever we like. But I do hope we’ll be able to get back here.

I was reading Little House on the Prairie to my kids not long ago, and this passage from one of the last chapters (“Going Out”) really struck me:

“Then Pa hitched Pet and Patty to the wagon. Ma climbed to her place on the seat and held the lines. And suddenly Laura wanted to see the house again. She asked Pa please to let her look out. So he loosened the rope in the back of the wagon-cover, and that made a large round hole…

The snug log house looked just as it always had. It did not seem to know they were going away. Pa stood a moment in the doorway and looked all around inside; he looked at the bedstead and the fireplace and the glass windows. Then he closed the door carefully, leaving the latch-string out.”

Off to say some more good-byes. See you in America!

5 Tips for the Would-Be Expatriate

Lately I’ve been getting emails from friends and friends of friends who are moving to Germany. They’re curious as to what they should do to prepare for the move. I’m no expert, but here are a few tips I shared about what to do before you go:

1) Run, don’t walk, to a language class.

If you’re moving for a job, this would often be covered by your employer or your spouse’s employer. Having some language skills under your belt when you arrive is so worth the time and trouble. When you arrive, you’ll be busy settling in and may not have time to study again for awhile. For me, the better my German skills, the more at home and independent I feel here.

2) Read up:

Learn something about the culture you’re entering and the expat experience. You can’t avoid culture shock, but you can prepare yourself a little bit.
The Expert Expat : Soooo worth reading!
Culture Shock! Germany  : This series includes books for many countries.
First Thousand Words in German : It’s a kids’ book but great for the visually oriented—a cross between a picture dictionary and Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever in German. Also available in other languages. It seems to be out of print, but I’ve linked to a used book site above.

Reading books and watching films that take place in your host country can also be very instructive.

3) Clean out your closets.

It would be almost unheard of to have closets here in Germany, and the wardrobes they use instead are way smaller. This was the hardest thing about fitting our things into our new space. The more you get rid of, the easier this part will be. I imagine this is a helpful step no matter what country you’re moving to.

4) Get an internet phone service.

Do this while still in the U.S. and bring the box with you. Yes, Skype is great, but there will be times when you need to call businesses (or have them call you) and times when Skype just isn’t practical. Also, this way, friends and family can call you without having to pay for an international call, and without having to leave your computer on all the time.

5) Think through electronics.

Some will work in your host country with a transformer (blender, sewing machine), some will not or may be a little risky (tv, dvd player).

Before we came, we bought a dual-voltage TV so the TV would work when we bring it back to the US. It was also much cheaper than buying one in Europe. If you’re moving with a firm, you’ll most likely get an allowance to buy things like large appliances. For the most part, it will make sense to buy them in your host country, but it’s worth thinking this through before you go.

We’re celebrating one year in Deutschland today! What a wild and wonderful ride it’s been.

Also, NEWSFLASH! Spring has arrived. I’ve switched from my parka to my wool coat (yes, it’s THAT warm!), the sun has been making appearances, and  flowers are popping up. The best part is that we no longer wake up and come home in the dark.

Writing Exercise: Language Barrier

The other day I was speaking in German to another parent at my son’s kindergarten. It’s a great place for me to try out my language skills because the people are friendly and patient.

I was making (admittedly boring) small talk, trying to tell her that I had been shopping for dishwasher detergent tablets, but I didn’t know the word, so I made do. I said I had been shopping for “plate soap” or teller seife. Of course this got me a friendly laugh, but she knew what I was talking about and then taught me the right word(geschirr- reiniger tabs).

It got me thinking, though. Trying to communicate in another language makes you think of new ways to get your point across. The important thing is making yourself understood. It’s  similar  to when I’m speaking with someone who doesn’t know a lot of English. I can’t always use my “English major” words. I have to use simple, direct words, and using a limited pallette can lead to interesting things.

So here’s the writing exercise:

Take a section of text, from your own writing or from a book, and rewrite for someone who doesn’t know a lot of English words. Another way to think of it is to turn the text into an easy reader. The idea is to think about the words in a new way. Shades of meaning will be lost, but you might gain a new perspective.

Here’s my attempt at “translating” the first paragraph of Dicken’s Our Mutual Friend. First, the original text:

In these times of ours, though concerning the exact year there is no      need to be precise, a boat of dirty and disreputable appearance, with two figures in it, floated on the Thames, between Southwark Bridge which is of iron, and London bridge which is of stone, as an autumn evening was closing in.

The figures in this boat were those of a strong man with ragged grizzled hair and a sun-browned face, and a dark girl of nineteen or twenty, sufficiently like him to be recognizable as his daughter.

Here’s my “translation”:

One fall night there was an ugly, dirty boat floating on the Thames River. The boat was between two bridges, one of metal and one of stone.

One person in the boat was a strong, rough-looking man with a tan face. The other was a young woman with dark hair. She looked like him. She must be his daughter.

Variation: Re-name everything in your kitchen according to the same rules. For example, the microwave could be renamed the quick-cooking box. Interestingly, the German word for refrigerator is Kühlschrank, which literally translates to “cool closet.”