Living in Germany – 6 things I've learned in 6 months
Kristi Fuoco


There are some truly wonderful German words (Germans have a word for everything) and one of
my new favourites is "Wanderweg" which is an incredibly poetic word for "trail" but I feel repre-
sents the German love of wandering, exploring and walking in the woods. I feel like this also
represents my adventure this year and my wandering.



It’s hard to believe that six months ago I arrived in Hamburg, knowing only two people and about two words of German. I still feel that my German hasn’t progressed as far as I’d like (although I am now highly adept at ordering pastries in German), but I’m happy to say that I now know a lot more people and really consider this beautiful city another home.

When you live abroad your experiences are intensified and in a seemingly short six months you can change and grow in ways you never expected. For instance, I now sometimes wait for the crosswalk light to turn green, even on empty roads. Damn you cultural adaptation! As humans we adapt to our surroundings, we can’t help it, but I’d like to think that by the end of my time in Germany I can keep the best of both cultural worlds. I kinda like our Canadian friendliness, after all. So, on this six-month anniversary of my frequent beer drinking, pastry eating and European living adventure I thought I’d take a moment to think about six things I’ve learned, either about Germany, or just about living abroad.


Okay so this sign is actually in the UK, but I
really think there must be an equivalent place
somewhere in Germany…
(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)


1. Brutal honesty – kinda nice sometimes. One thing that really takes some getting used to in Germany is the abrupt and incredibly honest opinions of people who are not afraid to tell you exactly what they think or feel. For a polite Canadian this is quite the change of cultural pace. My German roommate and I have had some interesting discussions about it and I have to say, sometimes I do miss the social niceties, but overall it can also be amazing because you know exactly where people stand and no one bottles things up. It also means that people get to the point really quickly and often it is a logical, well-thought out point that, once you get past the “oh man, did he just say that to me?” phase then becomes really useful. And, you can give it right back (I’m working on that one.) Sure, you need to grow a thick skin, but hey, for once you don’t have to always wonder if that person means what they said. “Yah, your German really isn’t so good.” Yah, I know. Thanks for telling me. I heard this one early on, but fingers crossed that my German has improved enough that I will only hear, “you actually have made progress” from now on. Here’s hoping!



2. Partying is for all ages. In fact, there are many things here not just for the young – like cycling, leather jackets (for better or for worse) and lots more. I have never seen such a wide mixture of people out late at night than at some typical German street festival. Kids up until 1:30am, elderly people with walkers groovin’ to the night beats, elderly people riding their bikes down the street without a helmet or apparently a care in the world. I still can’t quite get over it and it makes me wonder what it is with North American culture that segregates ages so much more. Coming home on the U-Bahn at about 3:00am on Saturday night a group of women who must have all been at least 75-80 were all sitting there with their little head shawls on. I don’t think I really clued in to how late it was at that point when I saw them, but that is something you just would never see at home. Rock on old ladies, rock on!


Recently at the STAMP Festival (one of Hamburg’s many street fests) I saw pretty much all ages making appearances late into the night. It was fabulous!



Yes, I have the kind of family that makes
Christmas cookies with our names on
them. And I love it. I miss those peeps!


3. It’s really nice to be missed and equally hard to be away. No matter how good a day I’ve had in Germany, I really love the feeling of knowing that someone back home loves me and misses me. I think about them all the time, but often when you’re the one far away from home it’s easy for people to put you out of their minds, knowing that they will see you again at some point but until then they will just carry on. So, some days when I get a letter or a postcard in the mail (it’s true, I still occasionally get REAL mail…and I love it!), or an e-mail from a friend or anything that reminds me that I’m not forgotten, I get that warm and fuzzy hot chocolatey feeling inside. Of course, it makes being away much harder to be separated from those closest to you (ie. my lovely nieces), but it reminds you that no matter how things turn out in your new country, there will always be some place or people to go back to. And…thank goodness for Skype.


Back in the good old days…
(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)


4. Canada – new world with old ideas. I had a long discussion on Saturday night with some people about how many of us “new world” countries are much more conservative than old world European ones. My Aussie friend and I were explaining how hard it is for us to go to a German spa and strip down completely naked with a bunch of strangers and potentially friends and family too. I still haven’t had the courage to do it yet. Sure, I work right next to one of Vancouver’s nude beaches (when I’m back home), but in general, we have this obsession with covering our bodies and being ashamed of our sexuality. Europeans are so open about this that it’s unbelievable. Which makes it even more amusing to me when people stare at me for wearing a sun dress on a day that is not quite 30 degrees. Germans may have no problem stripping down naked in front of others, but they really think it’s weird not to cover yourself most of the rest of the year. Perhaps I’m just not used to the climate yet or I’m a tough Canadian, but seriously, the moment there was a sign of fall recently everyone had their coats, boots and fall clothing out in about two seconds flat. But I digress. In general, nudity, sex, all these things that North Americans make such a big deal of (particularly US Americans) really don’t matter here. Maybe we have something to learn back home…


On one of my little day trips around Hamburg
– this time to Bergedorf!



5. Life as an expat is always an adventure. No matter how bad a day I’ve had here, no matter how many people have shoved me on the U-Bahn, no matter how many Germans have switched to English after they hear my accent, no matter how homesick or sick and tired of Germany I may be (which I’m happy to report happens less and less at this stage of my culture shock), at the end of the day, I know it’s all part of a great adventure. Sometimes this is your only comfort, but it’s a pretty amazing one. My dad used to have a t-shirt that said, “A bad day of skiing is still better than a good day at work.” I kind of feel that way about my adventure. It’s not that a bad day in German is better than a good day at home (by any stretch of the imagination), but a bad day in Germany is always backed up with the knowledge of, “hey, I’m in Europe, every day I discover something new, I’m kind of exotic here and many people would kill to have this experience.” As an expat, you need these thoughts. And hey, then when you’re feeling down you really can just hop on a train and end up somewhere entirely new and entirely cool and have a true adventure. It makes it all worthwhile.


In full on happy explorer mode in Lübeck.
Coffee in hand, quaint cafe, journal and pen
and old buildings – perfection.



6. I really love living in Germany. Here’s the one that’s surprised me the most. You see, my plan wasn’t to move to Germany at all. My plan was actually to move to Brazil for a while (that’s another story which I will tell at some point), and then when that fell through my plan was to move to Italy. But, life has a funny way of pushing us to exactly where we need to be. Thanks to my cousin here and his love for Hamburg and Germany I gave it a chance, and I’m so happy I did. I’m not even sure if I can explain exactly what it is that I love so much…maybe I will save this for another post, but all I know is that despite the challenges, despite the difficult language and lack of warm and fuzzy culture, it’s utterly wonderful. Germans and Germany surprise me in quirky and smile-inducing ways each and every day. It’s a fascinating culture with a fascinating and mixed history and I can see how hard Germans are working now at re-defining their culture post World War II. There, I said it. I mentioned the war, but you can’t help it here. It’s now part of the cultural fabric of German society and you can’t ignore how it has changed everyone’s lives and German culture. So each day here I wonder, “what will Germany bring me today?” I can’t wait to find out.



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Kristi Fuoco

KRISTI FUOCO – Social media enthusiast, English teacher, writer, marketer, traveler, music lover. West Coast Canadian gal living and working in Germany and traveling around Europe. Current city – Hamburg.

Twitter: @kristifuoco

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My experience in Germany has been invaluable. In addition to learning German and taking part in another culture, I have learned so much about myself. I am confident that I can thrive away from the comforts of home and that I am dynamic and flexible. This is exactly what today’s employers are looking for – giving me a competitive advantage in the working world.
Kate from British Columbia – working for an international not-for-profit organisation.