Journal (01Sep11)by Tourguide on Tue 06 Sep 2011, 11 AM CET, Views: 1717
Hello friends and family.
I’m hoping that by the time you read this, Rachel and I will actually be in route back to Northern Virginia! Yes, we have a 1 week conference in Baltimore, Sept 13-15th. We’ll be flying in Thursday, the 8th, and leaving directly from the conference to the airport the following Thursday (sorry, we have Oktoberfest tent reservations, :)). We’ll probably spend most of Friday acclimating to the jet leg (when flying West you tend to wake up early and fall asleep early), but we’re looking to hang out with everyone Saturday & Sunday. It’ll be my second trip home since our move to Germany, but Rachel’s first. Now, her side of the family tree has been out to see us twice here in Europe, though, so it has balanced out.
So, as I write this I’m bumping along on a high speed train from Kaiserslautern, Germany to Paris, France. Rachel is reading quietly next to me, while I click away on my laptop. Funny, she likes to read words as a hobby, I like to write them. I wonder where that lands on the Myers-Briggs test? This train moves quickly, though, as it only takes 2 ½ hours to get to Paris. Amazing. Again, I’m always surprised by how *small* Europe really is. Countries here are like states in the US, truly. Look at this overlay of Europe over the East Coast of the US.
In addition to being our 1 year mark of moving to Germany, it is also our 7th year wedding anniversary this weekend. Congras to us! Both events seem just like yesterday. Yep, time flies, doesn’t it?
Its funny, our international travels have always seemed to line up with this same Labor Day weekend as our wedding day. I remember during our first year anniversary, packing up our bags to begin our World Tour, while also going over flash cards for the Trainer Certification exam. Our World Tour came to end almost exactly a year later too (then our 2nd wedding anniversary), as we flew home from Japan the week of Labor Day weekend as well. And here we are again, another Labor Day and another new milestone marker …One year in Germany. Funny, September 5th seems to be one of those dates the bio-rhythms of our lives pivots around.
Still, while the 12 months we spent hotel hopping around the world crawled by one hour at a time, this first year of our European Tour has flown. Rachel feels it is because we are settled here in Europe in a real home. Makes sense. Spending a year living in hotels, having to check out every two to three weeks, and having to set up somewhere else anew is *extremely* fatiguing. Not having a consistent place to center yourself, or feel secure in, wears on you on a spiritual level over time. I recall trying to sort this out in my own head in an essay I called “What is Home?” while living on the road. In hindsight, it was an interesting psychological experiment I guess.
But, as Rachel and I look forward to year two of our European tour, its fair to ask what have we learned so far? I commented last week that, while Rachel and I knew that a year of living overseas would certainly change us, the adventure has been in trying to guess in what ways. Already in this blog site I’ve lamented how frustrating it has been to view the United States from the outside looking in these last few months. But more so, Rachel and I have had an education on what it means to be an American. It’s always easier to see yourself through contrast. And, as two Americans who have suddenly found themselves living in rural Germany, there is a lot of contrast to identify ourselves through.
When I first got here, I was dumbfounded that things were never open on weekends. As an American I’m use to 24 hour access to food, ATMs and shopping. Not so here. If you want to get a haircut you have to get it down over a lunchbreak during the week. When Rachel and I were living in Korea, I often commented how I thought that Korea was *evolving* into the US, and that once their economy was strong enough, Seoul would resemble any major US city, from a business model perspective. Here in Germany, I don’t think that is the case at all.
Europe has made a conscious social decision to keep things closed on Sundays (even some websites, LOL). They know they could make more money by having weekend hours, they *choose* not to. They choose to keep Sundays as family day. There are rules about it (aka Ruhezeit codes). You can’t mow your lawn on Sundays, or do anything that might disturb the peace and quiet of a Sunday. Even in larger cities, Sundays are eerily silent.
Of course life on the Army post is always a hubbub of activity, but life outside the gates is significantly more sedate. Now the question I spent the first several months here sorting out is how much of that is due to being in a more rural area, and how much of that is just European culture. As with most parables in life, the answer is …a bit of both.
Life around here moves at a slower pace, comparable to North Carolina I figure. However, I’ve come to realize now this is truly by design, not by lack of economic stimulus. Hanging out, watching animal life out your backyard and spending time with your family is practically mandated by law. Of course, the average backyard in Germany is really something to behold. I’ve got a whole album dedicated to ours. 🙂
Life in Europe is not the rat race it is in Northern Virginia. People don’t identify themselves through their car or career. It is fascinating, when meeting locals out at a bar or something, you can talk to someone for an hour without the subject of work coming up. Europeans don’t see themselves as their job. You ask an American who they are, and you’ll likely get answers starting with “I work at…”. In Europe, the responses would range from “Well, I’m a father of four” to “I’m an Irishman living in Frankfurt.”
It is an interesting question to ask, who are you? Are you really your job? For musicians, or perhaps teachers or maybe even doctors, …yes. That is truly how you identify yourself, it is your passion in life. But for the rest of us, it shouldn’t be. There is saying I’ve heard several times since moving to Europe, “…what you do from 9am to 5pm determines what you have, who you do from 5pm to 9am determines what you are.”
It is a powerful statement. Your job should be a means to end, nothing more. Life should be about what happens after work. Europeans get a month of vacation a year and use every sacred moment of it. Americans get two weeks, and sell most of it back,
So this is what I’ve come to learn so far living in Europe, …embrace the life you have outside the office and make *that* who you are.
So, what has Rachel taken away from this year so far? Well, I’ll let Rachel tell you herself.
“Rachel, I’m ready for you to type up your part… No, it can’t wait one more chapter in your book. Come on just a few paragraphs …Ok, …I’ll wait”
“…Is your chapter over yet?”
“ ….Yes, it is important, …folks want to hear from you too.”
….Ok, …here’s Rachel
One year has passed……. I can’t believe that one year has gone by already. I remember saying that I would only give it a year overseas and Mom and Lisa said that a year would fly by. I didn’t believe them. Until now. It took us 3 months to find a house then another 3 months to make it feel like home. So for only the past 6 months it has been Home. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be if we were packing everything up to go back to VA right now.
The year has been wonderful. We have both enjoyed and succeed in work, we have traveled, and have made friends. What is there to complain about when I can take a quick train to Paris for my anniversary and have it not be a big deal? People ask what we are doing this weekend and we can reply with a casual “going to Paris.” Or Oslo or Amsterdam or Garmisch or Istanbul or Dublin or Greece. And the funny thing is that it will actually cost us more to take a train to Paris than a flight to London. We have seen really amazing things or just lounged in a foreign country.
I feel very lucky that I have enjoyed work as much as I have. I like working with the doctors and the hospital clinic teams. Although I often work with people that remind me of my students…… When we came over I was afraid that I would just be Ron’s wife, but I have made my own path and am respected as my own employee as well. Of course, I do have a direct line to one of the ‘big brains’ in case I need something fancy done that I take credit for. 🙂
Ally enjoys Germany just as much (except for the fact that she has been eaten, well tasted at least twice). She is rather embarrassing since she is not the obedient dog that most German dogs are. She barks if anyone comes in a 5 mile radius of our yard. But everyone thinks she is cute, as always. And clearly, some think she is tasty too
(she’s been bitten twice :(). She is enjoying having her own fenced off yard where she can run around, play ball or guard the house. It will be hard to have her go back to the town house’s yard.
It is a strange feeling to have a home and think of it as Home, but then be homesick at the same time. But Ron and I are happy and healthy and are taking advantage of being in Europe. Ron and I are lucky to have made a *home* in Germany, for now at least.
And we love to share it – so anyone who is looking for a central hub to the rest of Europe – just give us a call (or, more realistically, email)!
Missing you all,
Hi again, Ron back.
“Thanks Rachel!, …I’ll be done in a few minutes.”
Well, I can see the rolling hills around us are beginning to give way to industrial outskirts. A big city must be near. And, looking out the window, I can see Paris beginning to show along the horizon. One year complete on our European Tour, our half way point. And, more importantly, seven years has passed on our marriage, and there will never be a halfway point on that. Time to put this contraption away and get back to enjoying both.
See you guys next week!