Unsettled and never quite satisfied with job and plight, my journey led me to Germany in the spring of 2012. Though teaching brought me here, staying is a result of everything the country and continent have to offer, including love. Each new destination is an adventure. With camera(s) in hand, I hope to capture and remember every bit of what I am seeing and experiencing.

 

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How to Stay Sane in Germany

August 29, 2015

I'm not saying I'm sane. In fact, my (German) boyfriend says it's too late for me. But what does he know? 

 

It's true that some days the outlook isn't very good. One can go wacko here in Germany. The gray skies will get to a person, but that's not it... so much. People keep to themselves; there aren't friendly faces many places you go. Customer service doesn't include a smile, and at work, formality demands that we use each other's last name when speaking, even if we've known each other for a long time.

 

What's worse is my closest German friends continually give me advice on how to live my life, because obviously I must be doing everything wrong (though I've been surviving happily for almost half a century). Saddest of all, I honestly can't remember the last time I had a good time.

 

Here's a priceless tidbit: no matter how much they insist otherwise, Germans are not known for being fun. Industrious, intelligent, organized, efficient, yes. Fun, no.

 

Instead of losing it, there are ways to keep your sanity in Deutschland, or at least feel momentarily better and not so deranged. I've made a list below.

  • Silently give the offending person the bird. I know it's crude and immature, but if someone pisses you off, acts superior or bosses you around, secretly flip them the bird, hiding it in your non-dominant hand. Someone is rude to you at the grocery store? Curse them under your breath (or in your mind) in English while smiling at them, because they won't understand. Beware: if you say something insulting to them directly, especially in German, they could take you to court. Therefore, be careful. And if you must cuss, make sure you're using the F-word, because this releases stress. Speaking the F and K consonant sounds expel air from your lungs and help to relieve tension. Change it to "Fork," "Frank" or "Frick and Frack" and it becomes G-rated.

  • Stay in touch with your family and friends back home, or wherever they are. Get a calling plan that costs you very few euros per month to make long distance calls. Use Skype. The hard part is that there could be an 8-hour time difference between most of your family and friends and you, so you may have to wait until they're awake to call or catch them late at night. Write to them on Facebook. Send e-mails and postcards. Write letters. Yes, it's mostly one-sided, but as a German friend once told me once about people back home: "They're not the ones that moved to Germany."

  • Go back home! Or go somewhere. Travel, get out of your city or town, or get out of Germany. This is mandatory, and it's easy. You don't have to stay at home. Europe gives you many travel options, with beautiful places close by.

  • Find other Americans. There are expat groups in many cities, and they are probably going through some of the same things you're experiencing. One of my best friends here -- who recently moved back to the U.S. -- was a source of therapy and sanity in times of crisis. We worked together for about 15 months, and we went out for cocktails/beers on Friday afternoons once a month at least. That's when we could compare notes on our German mates. 

  • Wait for your friends and family from America to come visit you. They will. This can be difficult, because when you're dying to flee, they say they're coming over, or it takes them a long time to plan a trip to Germany. It's okay... hold out a little bit longer. 

  • Bake. Or cook. Paint or write. I like to bake cookies and muffins on weekends and bring them to work with me on Monday. Some Germans don't like American-style sweets, because they say there is too much sugar. Ha ha! Add an extra half cup! Or just bake them with your normal American recipe. That'll show 'em! I have a co-worker who leaves the baked goods I make for her out overnight, as if letting them ripen or cure. No one said German behavior was easy to comprehend.

  • Exercise. It is vital to your psychiatric survival. You have to get out there and walk in the woods for forest therapy or just go jogging or walking through your neighborhood. Get some of those ridiculous German alpine walking sticks (never thought I would, but I did) and use more muscles walking up a hill. Swim. Ride a bike. Have sex. Do yoga. 

  • Be like a German and clean. Stay busy. Clean, clean, clean something. But don't ask a German if you're doing it right. You won't be.

  • Drink alcohol. Yes, it works. There are so many good beers and wines in Germany, it's almost a daily requirement! Get a cheapo 3-euro bottle of Spätburgunder and drink the whole thing in an hour. Don't worry if a German person tells you you're drunk. Refer back to the first tip and use it on them -- sofort.

  • Find someone to talk to that has experience from abroad. I have several friends who have spent time in the USA, and they get me. I have another friend who grew up in Tenerifa, Spain, though she is German. She is the most American non-American I know and wonderful to spend time with. Anyone who has left Germany for awhile will not act so much like a strictly-German German.

  • Go to Bavaria. It seems like Bavarians are the friendliest Germans in Germany. I've met several who are simply more open and happy. And of course, they will toast you at Oktoberfest. They're also quite friendly in the Pfalz -- could be all the wine they drink added to the measure of sun they receive annually. 

  • Try to have fun. I don't know how you'll pull it off, but find fun people. Play a game. Drink excessively if you must. Act stupid. Laugh. SMILE. Don't worry about what people think!

  • Be yourself. Don't try to change to be like a German, because that is very difficult and you might become hard and practical. I am the furthest thing from practical, or logical for that matter. I don't want to be hard-hearted. I want to be happy and lighthearted, even though I am viewed as kindisch in the eyes of my sternest German critic. I say "young at heart," not immature.

  • Get a grip. Be grateful for what you have and the experiences you are going through. Many people would die to be in your shoes. And some do. Don't act so spoiled, and learn to appreciate, for life in Germany is good. There are butchers with Leberwurst right in your neighborhood and bakeries with Mohnschnecken at the grocery store. One cannot forget pretzels. And for God's sake, they're letting you drive on the Autobahn! That alone should be reason to stay sane, or go crazy in a different way...

If none of these tips work, try the first one again, repeatedly. Sometimes the small steps are the best, and they won't cost you a thing.



Wörterbuch/Dictionary


kindisch - childish, immature

(die) Leberwurst - liverwurst, a tasty (in my opinion) liver sausage, like a Pâté, that you can spread on rolls

(die) Mohnschnecke - a cinnamon-roll-type pastry with poppy seeds

sofort - immediately

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