Do You Call Yourself An Expat Or An Immigrant – And What Is Really The Difference Between The Two?

Words are powerful, especially the words we choose to describe ourselves with. Therefore, I’m especially interested in what words people living outside of their home country choose to use to describe themselves. There is a whole range of them, but the two most commonly used are Expat and Immigrant – and they are used in very different ways. Here is how I choose to define them, the way you do may be completely different. An Expat is someone who for work reasons moves to a new country for a fixed period of time, usually between 1-3 years, before returning to their home country. An Immigrant is someone who for economical reasons or because their wife/husband is from a different country moves to a new country but there is no plan to return to their home country. The word Expat is viewed favourably and is mostly used by reasonably well-off people (usually white) coming from Western countries. People will call themselves an Expat, even though they have lived in a foreign country for 10 or more years and have no desire to return to their home country. Immigrant is a word that is viewed quite negatively, particularly in the media. It is a word used to describe poor white people and all coloured people, regardless of their situation. To be quite frank, this pisses me off, especially in the racist world we currently live in.

After making the decision to become a permanent resident in Germany, I stopped referring to myself as an Expat and started referring to myself as an Immigrant, as that is precisely what I am now. I have no intention of moving back to Australia. I had, for all intent and purposes, ‘taken’ a job away from a German (and hope to ‘take’ another job away from them asap) and whilst my German is improving, it is obvious to all who speak to me that I am a foreigner. For me to continue to use the word Expat is, in my opinion, exercising my white privilege and that’s just bullshit. If an Arab woman who is in the exact same position as I am can’t call herself or be referred to as an Expat, then why should I? Anyway, when did Immigrant become a dirty word? My guess is sometime around the 1970s, maybe earlier.

I would like to see more people in the ‘Expat’ community – those who have moved here because their wife/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend is German and those who have chosen to make Germany their home, at least for the medium term, to start referring to themselves as Immigrants. If we want to stop the media from bashing Immigrants daily more of us ‘privileged’ folk need to start identifying as one. Most people, especially here in Germany, don’t consider white Westerners as Immigrants. I have on numerous occasions had Germans bitching about Immigrants to me and as soon I pointed out that I was one, they replied that no, I wasn’t because I’m not Turkish or Arab. I was an Expat. No, I’m fucking not. My time in Germany is not limited to a 3 year work contract and I have no plans to return to Australia. I am every bit as much of an Immigrant as the woman from Turkey who is also making her life here. Hell, at the moment, I’m also an Immigrant who has come over here and is stealing ‘our’ benefits (I’m on unemployment benefits at the moment). I just don’t get criticised for it because I’m white and from a well-off Western country. That is not fair and it is not right.

Perhaps referring to myself as an Immigrant and asking others in the same position as I am to do the same is not going to change anything on this matter. However, I like to think that every German I inform that when they bitch about Immigrants, they are bitching about me too might go away and think just a little longer before they do so again in the future and every person who reads this post might think a little harder about who they class as Immigrants and who they class as Expats and why or about how they choose to self-identify. Perhaps if more people in the same circumstances as I am in did this too, then just maybe we might be able to bring about a tiny change in the words we use to describe people and the reasons why.

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The Results of the B2 German Exam Are In…

…. and I passed!! I’m so excited. The exam was so difficult that I was sure that I didn’t have a hope in hell of passing.

Ok, so for the breakdown, here’s what I received.

Reading: 64% – as the most difficult section of the exam, I’m surprised I did that well

Listening: 74% –  given that the first part of this section was ridiculously hard, I have to assume I aced the second part.

Writing:  72% – given my writing skills, this is amazing.

Speaking: 90% – What?? Speaking is my worst skill and what I get criticized the most about by my teachers. How did I get 90%??

Total Score: 75%

Happy doesn’t even begin to cover how I feel at the moment.

When Quitting Your Job Is A Crime

Crime Time

Photo credit: Wikipedia

I’ve now been unemployed for three months and honestly I could not be happier except that my bank balance is looking scarily low. Therefore, I applied this week for unemployment benefits and got a very unpleasant introduction to Die Agentur für Arbeit (The Agency for Work aka The Employment Agency). The people there were nice enough but it truly is German bureaucracy at its mind-numbing ‘best’. It turns out that I should have applied for unemployment benefits on the very first day that I was unemployed or up to 3 months beforehand, despite the fact I don’t qualify for unemployment benefits until 3 months after I quit my job. Therefore, I need to supply a written statement about why I applied so late. Then, there comes the matter of quitting my job. It turns out that quitting your job in Germany and not having another job to go to straight away is almost like committing a crime. I not only have to provide a written statement on the reasons why I quit my job, but also explain what I did to prevent quitting, what I did to delay quitting and explain why I quit even though my company would have fired me anyway (which they wouldn’t have) plus give the names, dates and times of the people at my company I spoke to about all of it – and I need to do all this in German. Then there comes the usual massive number of forms that you need to fill out when dealing with any public service in Germany. I find all of this so ridiculous that I have been laughing at the absurdity of it for the past 4 days.

Fortunately, things were bad enough at my previous job that I don’t lack any explanations for my reasons for quitting. I’m just worried that they won’t believe all of this stuff was actually going on. The fact that three of my former colleagues (although not from the same office as me since I was the only one there besides my boss) have handed in their resignations since I quit shows that this shit is still ongoing and probably always will until they go out of business. Words can’t describe my relief about being out of that place, even if it does mean having to deal with a mountain of paperwork and no doubt a million and one appointments with the Arbetisamt. If I actually successfully navigate this process and receive my unemployment benefits I will write a How To Guide for other foreigners in the same situation as this whole process was a complete mystery to me (and still is).  For now wish me luck in surviving it all.

The Christmas Fire Hazard

This Christmastime has produced some firsts in my life – namely the first time I have decorated a real (ie not artificial) Christmas tree and the first time I have been invited to a traditional German Christmas Eve celebration.

My first time decorating a real actual Christmas tree was in early December when my fellow expat friend E invited me around for tree decorating and hot chocolate.

Isn’t it cute? And yes, that is a toy fish on the top.

The second, obviously, occurred on Christmas Eve when I was invited to join my friend L’s eclectic mix of friends to celebrate Christmas. There was a mixture of people I knew and people I didn’t know and the people I didn’t know were a lovely, if not slightly weird, bunch which matched the lovely weirdness of the people I did know. When I arrived the living room door was shut and strict instructions were given that we were not allowed to enter. I soon forgot about the secret in the living room as we were treated to an amazing four course meal and I started wishing that I wore bigger pants. At around 11:30pm, a bell was rang and we were told that we could enter the living room. This is the sight that greeted us.

A beautifully decorated 6 foot Christmas tree featuring real candles. I was simultaneously swept away by how magical it looked and really worried that the place would burn down. Thankfully L had the mandatory bucket of water next to the tree in case of unexpected combustion, but also as a veteran of real candles on real trees, she had positioned the candles perfectly so that there was no risk of the flame coming anywhere near one of the branches. As the night wore on I became less worried about the fire danger and more in love with how magical it was. I now understand why Germans risk burning down their house at Christmas time. Fake candles and fairy lights are no match for the real thing.

After we all oohhhed and ahhhed over the tree L further spoiled us, by giving us Christmas presents. Just look how gorgeous the gift tag was on my present!

I almost felt bad for opening it. Everyone’s present was chosen with care and with expert knowledge of the recipient. But the presents did not stop there. We had all brought a Schrottgeschenk or Secret Santa gift which all went into the middle of room and using a dice and a set of increasingly difficult rules the gifts went from person to person until we all ended up with a gift that wasn’t ours.

Around 1am I headed home on the bus along with a older woman I had just meet that evening, J. We had a conversation I felt the need to record for prosperity just because how totally out of left field it was. The conversation started talking about long haul flights and which airline I use to fly to Sydney

Me: The last couple of times I have flown to Sydney, I have flown Emirates.

J: Aren’t you worried about the terrorists?

Me: (puzzled) Ummm…. no.

J: Well, I expect they wouldn’t shoot one of their own down.

Seriously WTF??  I am starting to wonder if the Germans have their own version of Fox News that I am completely unaware of as this is just crazy talk. She also told me that she would never fly into Heathrow as it was a terrorist hot spot.  Righty-oh then.

I also got lost on the way home as I don’t get buses all that much and where I thought I had gotten off wasn’t where I actually had gotten off and it all went a little pear-shaped. Thank god for Google maps. Obviously I need to get the bus more often and stop relying solely on the U-Bahn.

Still Christmas Eve was just wonderful and by far my favourite one since I have moved to Germany.  If L will have me over next year, I will totally be there.

 

Football German-Style

I can now tick off another thing on my German Integration Checklist: Attend a local football match.

Fellow expat Scott (@papascott) invited me to join him at the HSV vs Stuttgart match last night and of course I jumped at the chance. I loved watching the World Cup and had, subsequently, wanted to attend a Bundesliga match.

It was a chilly and damp winter’s night but that didn’t stop 48,223 fans from turning up to a game in the middle of the week. But even with that many people it didn’t feel overcrowded. We arrived an hour before game time which gave us time to leisurely grab a drink & in my case a pretzel before heading to our seats. It also gave Scott time to warn me about what was about to happen – namely a local celebrity King Karl being hoisted up in the air on a cherry picker to sing HSV’s pre-game song ‘Hamburg, Meine Perle’ (Hamburg, My Pearl) during which all dedicated HSV fans stood up and waved their HSV scarfs in the air. It was, let’s say, an experience.

Despite being up in the top section, we had a great view of the game.

The camera makes it seem so far away but we had no problems seeing the players and the ball and regrettably the HSV players forgetting that the main aim of the game is to take the ball with them and not leave it behind.

Scott also pointed out to me the pen in which the opposing team’s fans are kept.

That’s them there in red with the line of police in fluro. Sorry about the somewhat blurry photo. The sad fact of German football is that to help prevent violence the opposing team’s fans need to be kept separated from the rest of the stadium. There were only about 500 Stuttgart fans in attendance, but what they lacked in numbers, they made up for in noise. They spent the entire game banging on drums, singing and chanting. I guess you need to be a pretty hard core fan to come all the way from Stuttgart for a mid-week game.

The game itself was pretty exciting. The teams were fairly evenly matched, both of them being at the bottom of the Bundeslinga table. Whilst the HSV team could get the ball to the goal, they just couldn’t get it into the goal, much to the disappointment of the fans. When they left the field at half-time after Stuttgart scored a late goal, the HSV fans actually booed their own team. I have to admit I have never seen a team’s fans actually boo their own team, but the HSV fans were not happy – and I can’t blame them.

During the second half, tempers were frayed on the field with a Stuttgart player getting a red card for what looked like a minor scuffle and a HSV player got a yellow card for trying to start a fight with a Stuttgart player. However, up in the stands the fans were kept happy by the mobile beer sellers.

Unfortunately the score line remained at 0:1 so I never got to see how HSV fans react to their own team scoring. However, it was nice to note that language is irrelevant at a football match ‘Yeahhhh!!!’ and ‘Awwww! are universal. As are hurling whatever abuse you feel like at the ref that missed an obvious foul.

Getting back to the train station was almost as exciting as the game itself whilst the arena tried to deal with over 48,000 people trying to leave all at once. Waiting for and then trying to get on the shuttle bus involved a fair dose of humour as we were basically herded like cattle. Fortunately, despite the loss, the cold weather and the large amount of people, everyone was laughing and I saw no aggression or even yelling, just good humoured comments about all of the above.

Thanks Scott for a wonderful night out! You might make a HSV fan of me yet.

Nikolaustag

It’s not just Advent Calenders that supply Germans with a steady stream of chocolate in December, but St Nicholas (Nikolaus) also gets in on the act.

On the night of the 5th December, German children clean their shoes (the bigger the better) and put them outside their door. If they have been good, then on the morning of the 6th, they wake up to find their shoes have been stuffed full of chocolate, lollies and other goodies.

Unfortunately, as an adult if I put my shoes outside my front door all that would happen is the strong possibility that someone would steal them. However, the business centre in which my company has an office plays St Nicholas for us grown-up children and every December 6th we arrive at work to find chocolate on our desks. This year was no different, but since the 6th falls on a Saturday this year, we got our presents a day early.

Along with a note explaining why. Apparently Nikolaus is a busy man this year.

Rough translation:

Tomorrow on Saturday 6th Saturday…no, comes not Santa but naturally Nicholas.

And because he also has so much to do this year, we allowed him to show up a day earlier at the office to leave a little something to sweeten the pre-christmas time.

So, story time is over:  Unpack and enjoy… and continue working.

I just love this tradition! And that the staff at the Business Centre get really into it.

If you also work in Germany, does your office do something similar? Or are you forced to buy your own chocolate to celebrate Nikolaustag?

Chocolate: It’s What’s For Breakfast In December

Growing up in Australia I didn’t know that Advent Calenders were a thing.  Sure, I knew about Advent as I was dragged taken to church every Sunday, but having a calender associated with it was not something that Australians did in the 80s. However, here in Germany Advent is a huge deal, especially the Advent Calender – and it is a tradition I have embraced wholeheartedly as who can’t get behind having chocolate for breakfast for the first 24 days in December.

The first Advent Calender I got was one designed especially for children so the chocolate came in all kinds of festive shapes

and ones that were supposed to be festive but looked strangely suspicious

Then the following year, I discovered that After Eights did an Advent Calender and due to my addiction to mint flavoured chocolate there was no going back after that.

So now every December I start my mornings with a piece of mint chocolate and life couldn’t be better for those 2 minutes it takes me to eat it. Actually I would be in favour of extending Advent to cover the whole year. I think the world would be a happier place if everyone started their day with a delicious piece of chocolate.