Moving to Germany has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. But, it’s not been without its drawbacks.
The truth is, expat life is nothing like you expect it to be. Whatever thoughts, dreams and ideas you had before you got to Germany, you’ll find they play out much differently.
It’s a journey of highs, lows and feelings that you can’t quite put your finger on.
And while you’re not the only expat to ever feel this way, it can often feel like you’re alone. Partly because you’re detached from where you were, but not yet comfortable with where you want to be.
But the truth is you’re not, and there are many realities new expats have to face.
In this article I want to share with you 10 of the most common thoughts, feelings and experiences of new expats here in Germany so you know that what you’re going through is completely normal.
You may not experience everything on this list, or you may have experienced more. But this are the 10 most painful parts of being a new expat for me, and I hope you take some solace in reading about them.
01: You Constantly Feel A Bit Out Of Place
This is a super personal one for me that I’ve spent a long time trying to put my finger on. And I came to the conclusion that it’s not just one element that makes you feel out of place, it’s lots of little one’s together.
The language you hear in the background isn’t yours. The faces you see don’t look familiar. The food you eat is that little bit different. The songs on the radio don’t sound the same. And you’re ever aware that you’re not where you grew up.
This difference can often be the reason you came to Germany in the first place. To live in a new country with a different outlook on the world.
But no matter how much you wanted to move at this point in time it’s still not quite home yet.
02: Everything Feels Like Work
Let’s take a look at the to-do list for the new expat in Germany. From day one it just keeps growing, growing and growing with big jobs that take a lot of mental energy:
- Unpack all furniture
- Find a date for my Anmeldung
- Learn the entire German language
- Meet new people
- Find sports and activities to do
- Eat well and not let my diet slip
- Finish building [X] piece of IKEA furniture I’ve been putting off for two days
All while working (or finding work) and fight your way through the early stages of using your second language.
I had a few breakdowns in my first few weeks here in Germany, and during my month without English, because my brain could never really switch off. I had to run two businesses, take care of projects around the house, improve my German, go to Rugby training, meet new people, try and eat right, get enough sleep, and keep in touch with people back home
It feels as though you’re never quite able to sit down, relax and sip a beer without needing to be pulled in seven or eight directions.
03: Meeting New People Is A Chore
I’ve written about meeting people in Germany before. And while it’s important to get out there and make new friends, it can really feel like extra work you don’t want to do. Why?
Expat nights often feel hollow and forced. Going to sports training in the middle of January isn’t an attractive thought. And you’d often rather lie on the couch than force yourself through another round of small-talk.
It feels like work you need to do and not that you want to do.
The silver lining is that you always feel better when you’re there and get through the first few minutes. Sometimes you even wonder what the fuss was about before you went. But dragging yourself off the sofa to go out there and do it can feel like climbing Everest at times.
And it may have a lot to do with the next feeling…
04: Deep, Natural Conversations Seem Few And Far Between
Did you ever watch the old sitcom, Cheers? Do you remember the theme song that was called, Where everybody knows your name? If you’re not familiar the main gist can be summed up in this sentence:
“Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name”
And those lyrics have never felt more poignant than when applying them to life an expat. Because oftentimes you find yourself having the same superficial conversations with people you kinda know.
Don’t get me wrong, they’re always great people and I have a lot of time for everyone I’ve met in Germany so far. But they’re not yet people that know the intricacies about you.
You’re constantly at that third date feeling where you know you like someone, but you’re not quite ready to tell them that you believe the world is run by a committee of Illuminati lizard people that can shape shift.
When I’m back in Manchester in the pub with my friends, I’m so comfortable. I don’t have to think about what to say and I can put the world to rights with people who know me (and I know them) at a much deeper level. There’s no awkward silence or pressure to say something.
I always try my best to be me in all situations, but sometimes when you’re in the process of getting to know people this can be really hard to do. It’s nobody’s fault, it just happens.
05: You Have Lots Of Projects You’ve Never Quite Finished
Life an expat in Germany is never boring and there is always something to do.
But a direct result of that is your life is often split between half unpacked boxes, shit-I-thought-I’d-done-thats and oh-bugger-I-forgot-all-about-its.
It feels as though there is always something more pressing or important that has come up and it throws itself right to the front of the queue. Meaning other projects that matter to you often get left by the wayside.
For example my dream was to have my guitars hanging on the wall in the living room when I moved here (I know, dream big guys). So before I’d even got a date for moving out, I’d bought the wall mounts and was ready to go…
But it took me 12 weeks from moving in to actually get the damn things on the wall.
Having spoken to expats that have been here for years it seems to apply when you’re an old expat too. There’s still that one box you never managed to unpack or that picture you’ve still been meaning to hang on the wall.
06: Your Partner Gets The Full Force Of All Your Problems (Or Vise Versa)
When I first got to Germany it felt as though all of the usual channels for dealing with my problems were gone.
You often forget how therapeutic it can be to meet up with friends through the week, or on the weekend, and vent about stuff that’s happened over the last week or so. And even though these friends are often only a phone call away, it doesn’t quite feel the same as doing it in person.
That meant that Marie, bless her, felt the full force of my problems because she was the only available in-person person to talk to about them. And I’m sure if we’d have moved to England I’d be that same person for her. This can put a bit of strain on your relationship, especially if your partner feels responsible for why you’re in Germany in the first place.
It’s also quite common for your partner to think you’ve become negative. Why?
Because you rarely talk about the good that’s happened. Instead you want to vent and share the problems that you’ve had to face. Like being a manager in a retail store; people only ever come to you to complain they didn’t have your shoe in their size, not when they were able to walk in and pick up a pair no problem.
So it does pay to take some time to share the good stuff that’s happened in your time there, too. You know, just for balance.
07: Keeping In Touch With People Back Home Is Seemingly Impossible
When I first moved here I remember thinking to myself (and telling people), “Oh I’m not that far away, I’ll be home once a month!”.
Since I moved here though I’ve only been home twice. Like I said, the realities of living here soon take over.
You also find yourself thinking, “I really need to text/call/Skype with [Person]” and make a mental note that you’re going to do it at your first availability. But, you forget it almost as quickly as you thought of it.
It’s not that you don’t want to keep in touch with people. Heck, you’d love nothing more. It’s just that the need to keep in touch with people hasn’t quite sunken in yet. You’re still used to them being around the corner.
Note: I’ve found a great way to get around this is to send two Emoji kisses to people I know I should text once a week. This either starts a conversation or lets them you know still care, even though you’ve not really said anything.
08: Getting People To Speak German To You Feels Futile
When you’re trying to learn German, getting Germans to actually speak in their native tongue can take forever. It’s as though they hear an English accent and go, “Woo, free English lesson!”.
In fact many of my early conversations went like this:
- Me: “Hey, sorry, can we speak German? I live here and I really need to practice.”
- German: “Oh yeah, of course, sorry!”
- Me: “Also, was machst du Heute abend?”
- German: “Ich gehe wahrscheinlich…to the cinema to watch that new Wolverine film because it looks incredible”
- Me: *thinking* “Can I kill a man with a Strudel?”
Although complaining about the problems of learning German will get you nowhere when it comes to learning the language, actually finding people who are willing to give up their native tongue can take a lot of work.
09: You Just Wish Something Was Like Home
In a world of the unfamiliar you just wish something (anything) was like it was back home.
When I first moved here I knew a lot was going to be different and I embraced a lot of it. But I pinned all of my hopes on having Rugby as the constant that was going to be like home. So when I went down for my first few sessions and it was completely different to what I’d been used to for the last few years, It really got me down for a couple of weeks.
In fact I probably overreacted about how different things were at Rugby because I’d put a lot of pressure on it myself to be the same as it was back home. (I later accepted Rugby here as a new experience and really began to grow as a player and make new friends there. But that’s a story for another day).
You’ve probably got your own hang up that you wish was like home, too. That’s normal. You can be the most well travelled person in the world and still want to have a constant, like a favourite food or a TV show you watch. It’s almost a defense mechanism for when life becomes too different too quickly.
10: You Get Caught Up In Old Habits
Old habits die hard. And the ones you’ve formed over years that don’t fit with the new culture can make life annoying at times.
For me, it was always shops being open on Sundays.
When you’ve been able to buy milk on Sundays for the last ten years, you get used to not having to pop out on a Saturday evening to do your last minute shopping. Or having to decide what you want for lunch on Monday on Saturday morning.
But then you wake up on Sunday and remember the shops are all shut and you’re going to have to try and dig out some old frozen Goulash meat from the back of the freezer…again. (That might just be me).
I’m sure you’ve got your own (and I’d love to hear them) and though they may sound trivial they can really affect your life here after a time.
Wrapping It Up…
Okay that post was a little hard for me to write, but I hope that you took some solace in hearing about some of my more emotional experiences since living here in Germany.
Thoughts or comments? Let me know below!