True Life: My Parents Are Expats

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There they stood, lurking in their small town’s daily market, among stalls of horse sausage, cheese-galore and asparagus, acting like they fit in. They walked like the others, but they did not talk like the others. These two adults were different. They were expats.

And so might begin the saga of my parents, who’ve just begun a brand new chapter in their married lives: expating. In Germany. I think the empty-nest syndrome must be a real thing, because why else would two perfectly happy people pick up and move somewhere that doesn’t have bagels?

Yeah, no idea.

My Dad’s job sent him to a new position outside of Halle an der Saale, Germany, a city which I explored for a few days (and found quite charming) when I first began this five-month trip around Europe. When I first arrived in Halle with him, he was going solo; my mom had been left behind to tie up loose ends around Pittsburgh before heading over herself. He was still living out of a hotel room when I left and the house they’d agreed to rent wasn’t quite ready for them.

But when April rolled around, I rushed into town as well. And by “rushed”, I mean stumbled in with baggage… I came down with a fever in Paris a few days earlier (plus a lingering chest cough, yuck) and had to spoil my poor parents’ fun with sickness. But I got better. And I wasn’t completely useless the entire time, in fact I was almost always up for eating cake.

Almost always = always.

We also spent a lot of time shopping, which is what happens when your parents sign a two-year lease for a house with literally nothing in it. My poor father spent several weeks building basic furniture – beds, tables, chairs – after work each day before my mom arrived, so they would at least have something to sleep on. In the three weeks I was there, the furniture grew by four patio chairs and an outside table (co-opted to be a dining room set in the interim), a large area rug, a grill and a very comfortable, if I do say so myself, corner couch.

When we weren’t shopping for furniture, we were outfitting the kitchen. Cutting boards and spatulas and a blender (Mom’s smoothies, hurray!) and the proper knifes and the list goes on. Then there were the actual food items that one needs in a kitchen; cinnamon and other assorted spices, almond butter, olive oil, Greek yogurt and where is the spinach? Are these sweet onions or normal? I’d almost forgotten about all those small details that can drive an expat mad before they’ve gotten into the swing of things. Bless my mama’s heart, she doesn’t even speak German and she strolled down those grocery store aisles and pointed to the cheese she wanted with confidence, and succeeded.

During my last week there, she even strolled down the street to the meat shop and got extra bratwurst for dinner, all by herself. Boom. She does a lot of strolling.

In between the shopping madness, my parents got to try some new foods.

Mom digging into her first currywurst. Needless to say, she approved.
Mom digging into her first currywurst. Needless to say, she approved.
One of many, many bratwurst my dad's consumed since arriving in Germany. Nom.
One of many, many bratwurst my dad has consumed since arriving in Germany.

And me? Well… I also ate. I ate so much, so well, so many different great foods while I was with my parents, that I’m going to have to put together a separate post on that once my final week in Germany is over in the beginning of July. Prepare to drool. Unhelpful Hint: Cake.

But, like any expat adventure, it’s not an adventure until hilarious and uncomfortable things happen.

Here’s an except from an email my father sent me sometime in early March:

I had a great Sunday morning here in Halle. At Jon’s behest I did 25 minutes of intense exercise outside. Maybe 42degF.  While in push-up position after about 10 reps I heard someone coming and maybe a pet in tow. I kept to my business of doing my reps but could not ignore the presence of an animal right next to me who was not going anywhere. I turned my head towards the presence and was dutifully licked in the face by a large dog twice as big as Finn with a face like Finn. The dog was not on a leash but was with the owner– a 30ish eastern euro looking man who didn’t care or wasn’t alarmed at his unleashed dog licking the face of a defenseless and vulnerable man on the ground. He said nothing to me, just calmly called his dog to keep going. I finished my push-ups and stood up to see what was going on. I guess dogs are irresistibly drawn to me.

As for my mom, she’s just had to try a lot of different ways of ordering a decaf latte, because what they have on most menus isn’t quite right. And she would also dropkick me from across the continent if I posted any actually embarrassing moments on the entire Internet, and so I will stay mostly silent on that.

The biggest challenge for my parents during the three weeks I was there was undoubtedly attempting to get Internet. Every single morning, my mother and I would wake up and head to a local cafe with our computers in tow and use up our daily allotted two hours on their network. We struggled to find a better cafe with unlimited WiFi and enough outlets for us, and both of us had high hopes that the Internet conundrum would be solved before each week was up. But each day and week passed, and the kind-of-crappy satellite still wouldn’t pick up a good signal and the software was outdated, to boot. Dad’s work friends came over, the landlord came over, the company was called and complained to, the local experts were asked how much they might charge to fix it. For three long weeks (and more), Internet was illusive. When I left to continue my trip, it was still unresolved.

Turns out, the router just needed a good restart. They finally got Internet in the house about a week after I left: mission successful.

Now that they’ve settled into the house, gotten a long-term rental car and set themselves up with Internet, the news is that my parents are very happy at the moment indeed. And I’m very excited for them; these are going to be two years to remember.

And so they laughed over a cup of coffee as my father eyed up a strawberry shortcake on display a few feet from him, wasting away a lazy Saturday in a place they now called home.

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Have your parents or family ever lived abroad? What do you think of my parents living in Germany? Do you need recommendations for restaurants in Halle an der Saale? (My dad can help you out!)

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12 thoughts on “True Life: My Parents Are Expats”

  1. Your parents sound awesome! (And I’m so jealous of them for moving to Germany…) Sounds like the expat life runs in your family, but funnily enough, my situation is the exact opposite. I’m very much the black sheep of my clan. (Though my youngest sister is showing signs of catching the travel bug, much to my glee.) Neither of my parents have a passport, and my mum’s never been on a plane! I like to think that I’m racking up enough miles to make up for them. 🙂

    1. I’m also jealous of them, I don’t get a visa either… haha. Actually this is quite out of the blue, my parents have never internationally traveled much and I was also kind of the odd one out. But then I dragged my mom to Istanbul and now she’s been crazy enough to let my dad drag her into expat life in Deutschland. So who knows, things change. Hopefully you won’t be a black sheep for long. 🙂

  2. Currywurst is my all-time-German-favorite 🙂 Bavaria is sausage heaven though and I’d reccomend a trip to Nürnberg! 😉 My hubby’s parents moved here from the Boston area and have been living here for 3 years now. They seem to love it and won’t move back anytime soon.

    1. You’re not the first person to recommend Nürnberg to me, so I’ll definitely try to get there before I fly out!

  3. I think it’s so awesome that your parents have become expats! Two years to remember, indeed. That must have been so frustrating not having internet at home – glad they were finally able to get it working.

    I hadn’t thought about the visa – what if you did want to live with them while your dad’s working there, is there any way to get some sort of visa as their child?

    My mom visiting me in Madrid for a week in 2009 was a huge deal, as my parents do not travel anywhere (they’re at home in our small town every night). Also, my dad will not fly, so even a short trip abroad is not in his cards. Luckily these facts haven’t prevented me from developing a relationship with traveling.

    1. Baby steps! It was also a big deal for my mom to travel with me in Istanbul last year, who knows what the future holds for your Mama. Before you know it, she’ll be in Morocco with you and your dad will be on his way via ship! Haha. Okay maybe not, but still, who knows what they’ll do in a few years with you. I’m glad it hasn’t stopped you, though. 🙂

      As for a visa, I could probably work something out if I wanted to live there and be their dependent, but at the moment it’s not in the cards (and I’d also not love being a dependent again…). I’m not sure, but in any case, if that was something I wanted to pursue, I’d hope someone at the embassy could steer me to a visa.

  4. What a cool thing for your parents to do! I think it’s great that they ceased the opportunity of being free from responsibilities of having children in the home and went for it =) Very inspiring for a lot of people their age who feel nervous even thinking about doing this.

    1. I think my mom was definitely nervous, but that’s what makes it all the better, that they went ahead with it anyways! Yummy German food made it all worth it, I think. 🙂

  5. Your parents are awesome! 😀 You also kind of look like your dad. My parents have more stamps in their passport than me now. Ever since my baby brother turned 18, they travel constantly. I can definitely see them waiting a few years until retirement then becoming expats somewhere too.

    1. Haha my whole family looks alike. It’s weird.

      That’s awesome that your parents travel so much, it’s such a great thing to do at any age. Do you ever ask your mom for travel suggestions? Haha!

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