Book Review – The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul

This is the first book review I’ve done on this blog, and I wouldn’t normally write things like this but a combination of me feeling bad about not having so many expat-y things to write about anymore, and me having a positive response on Twitter when I mentioned it and also the author, Deborah Rodriguez tweeting me back all made me think that it might be nice to blog about it. [Read more…]

Orange is the new Expat

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I just finished reading Orange is the New Black, a true story about a middle class white woman who ends up in jail for 15 months. As I was reading this I was thinking of how the prison life that Piper described seems a lot like expat life. Here are my musings.

Yes, people don’t have a choice but to go to jail and we can choose to go abroad but this is just a fun piece of writing that came to me as I finished the book so let’s take it lightly, ok?

  1. Make use of what’s available.

In OTNB Piper and co use things they’re given to make delicious meals – like boiled eggs and mayo to make deviled eggs, and biscuits and liquid pudding to make cheesecake.

As an expat, especially in places very far away from home, it’s difficult to get home comforts and we have to make do with what’s available. In Japan this was very true of my expat friends and I. Although the range of things in the supermarkets was often very slim, we’d always find a way to whip up some mexican food, or some scones, or some carrot cake. When I say “we” with all of these things, I mean my amazing friends. (Ashley I miss your cake so bad…!!)

  1. Small communities stick together.

Piper found herself stuck in small living spaces with lots of kinds of people she’d never even spoken to before. But being part of a community helped her grow as a person and she ended up missing those people a lot when she was out of prison.

In many countries, there are so few expats that the expat community is small and sticks together no matter who they are. In Japan I made friends with the jock-type American guys who I would have avoided otherwise, but now I’m out of Japan I do sometimes miss them and appreciate how we stuck together in the face of Japanese life. Here in Germany there is a slightly bigger pool of expats from which to make friends but again I do find myself being with people I wouldn’t necessarily call my “type” of people. Regardless, we are a team and we help each other out and I would still help a person if they needed it because sometimes expat life IS hard and we need to stick together.

  1. There will be a Queen/King Bee.

Every tight community needs a queen or king bee. For the jail in the book, this was Pops, an older lady at the end of a very long sentence. She controlled the kitchen, meaning that she had a lot of access to things that could be traded.

Usually in an expat circle the queen/king bee is also someone who has been there the longest, since they know the ropes and can function in that new culture, and also have the most contacts thus having the most friends/followers.

  1. Welcome/farewell parties are a thing.

Like prison, the expat life can feel like you’re stuck in some revolving doors sometimes. People come, people go. Some people stay for 20 years, some for 20 days. But in most communities there are people there ready to help through the culture shock and give you everything you need for your new life, and then of course there are farewell parties to wish you all the best wherever you’re going to.

  1. You’ll find yourself waiting desperately for visitors.

When Piper talks about sitting around desperately waiting for her fiance and family to come and visit, I knew that feeling well. While we pretend to be off leading awesome lives, sometimes there’s nothing better than someone from home visiting and bringing a slice of normal life with them.

  1. At mercy to jailers/locals.

Piper’s life was completely dictated by whether the staff at the jail were in a good mood that day or not. Getting on the wrong side of someone there could mean being locked up in a tiny room for a few weeks – or worse.

While no person is going to lock an expat into a tiny room (well…unless you want them to…), expat life can go really well or can go really crappy depending on how kind the locals are to you. For example, one time I went to pick up a package, only the sender had used a name for me that is different to the one on my passport. The woman at the post office gave me a lecture and made me feel like crap just because my middle name was missing on this package and it ruined my whole day. The other day the cashier at the supermarket got angry with me because I didn’t understand the German for “would you like cash back” right away, which made me stress out a bit which caused me to drop my eggs and smash them on the floor.

The people around expats can have very big influences on how our lives go!

 

When I thought up this post idea I was really excited to write it but was worried people would take it the wrong way and complain that I can choose to be an expat etc and that I’m just whinging. Hopefully this will be taken lightly and I won’t get too much hate mail 😉

And as for the book Orange is the New Black – I loves the series, but the book was a little too easy-reading for me. The story didn’t have so much structure and was like someone threw a load of anecdotes at the page. Still, if you want something quick and easy to read then I say give it a go!

Charlotte Answers!

I can see the majority of things that people search for when the find my blog. Most of the time it’s normal things…like “brunch in Frankfurt” or “what to do in Japan”. But sometimes I get the strangest search results…or questions that I know I’ve never answered on this blog so far. So I’d like to help these people, and perhaps next time someone googles that same term, they’d be able to find their answer!

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Hmm. This is a hard one. I guess it depends on WHERE abroad you live. Even then you live in a place where a certain language should be spoken, it’s sometimes hard to pick it up. In Frankfurt you really have to try hard to firstly find German people to be friends with and then get into the habit of speaking in German. One of my flatmates is really great and when I say that I want to practise German she’ll speak to me in German for the rest of the day. I have another German friend who pretended to not understand English when we first met so I was forced to use German. But mostly, German people here in Frankfurt are just amazing at English that it’s easier to speak in English – so it IS hard.

I suggest looking out for a language exchange. Are there people where you are who study your native language? Is there perhaps a language school with a noticeboard? These kinds of strategy are very useful in improving language skills.

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Again, a hard one. If you’re in a big city you should have lots of chances to make new friends. I used to go to the international centre in Nagoya and put little notices on the board to make new friends. In the countryside it was much harder. I had a rule that I wouldn’t turn down an event and so I went to everything that was offered to me. Sometimes it’s hard because even when you meet people who want to spend time with you, you can see that they want to hang out with you because you are a foreigner, not because they are interested in you. It’s best not to think too deeply about relationships like that, and just take every new person as they come and try to build a friendship with them.

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Good luck with that.

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Turkish food is a real problem these days.

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Uhm…

 

So in the end I wasn’t able to help so many people. BUT I’d really like to do some kind of Q&A session on here – but I need some real questions! If you have anything you’d like to know about Frankfurt, Japan, Germany, being an expat, or any of the places I’ve visited, then please either let me know in the comments box or send a tweet my way @Charlottesteggz

Things You Should Know about Germany

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You’d think that Germany wouldn’t be so different from living in, say, Britain. But actually, there are loads of little things that are quite unique to Germany that take some time getting used to.

A lot of these may be Frankfurt based, but some can be applied to all of Germany, so if you’re planning to come and visit or if you’re moving to Germany in the near future, these may be of use to you!

1. Shops shut on Sundays.

You may not think that this will affect you so much, but as someone who works full time, I’d love to be able to spread my shopping errands over Saturday and Sunday. Some handy info, though – shops that are in train stations and airports are still OK to be open on Sundays!

2. Germans are ok.

“Oh, you live in Germany? I bet those Germans get on your nerves!!”

Sigh. No, German people aren’t all humourless control freaks who throw towels everywhere to mark their territory.

German people have such dry, dark humour they’re hilarious. Anyone who thinks they take themselves too seriously should take a look at the German satire magazine Titanic. As for the towels…if anyone thought Brits they met abroad (especially in places like Mallorca or Ibiza) represented the average British person, I’d cry myself to sleep every night. But I think most people see Brits on holiday as one set of people, and British people in general as another. And so you should do the same with Germans. And perhaps Russians (for they are a pain when they’re on holiday too).

Take this from someone who lives with 4 very different German people – Germans are great.

3. Lots of pork.

Do you like pork? Awesome. You’ll get it with everything, even things which do not usually contain pork will have pork in.

4. Safe, on the whole.

One of the things that surprises me about Germany is how trusting they are of passers-by. When I lived in my old flat, there was some construction going nearby and the building materials were just left out in the open overnight. If that was England, they’d be stolen right away.

At the Christmas markets, goods for sale dangle dangerously close to the end of the stall, so that it would be very easy to just stand out of sight and take something. But no one does. I doubt the thought goes through the German mind that this is a thing that might happen.

Germans always say that Frankfurt is really dangerous, but mostly it’s drug or corporate crime that bumps up the stats. There was a guy who got shot near to my flat but that was just a rare thing.

Saying that, I have known of a few people who fell victim to pick pocketers, so if you do come to Frankfurt, don’t let your guard down. As long as you use common sense, you should be as safe as in any major city.

5. Buying things from outside Europe

You need to buy a certain thing. You look on Amazon, and find a seller selling that thing. Awesome. Only, they are not in Europe.

When that thing is sent to you, the chances are, it’ll be sent through the zollamt – customs office – and that will be nothing but a huge headache.

Anecdote 1 – I move from Japan to Germany, send two suitcases with heavy books and winter clothes to my new home by boat. I have to go to the zollamt to open the cases myself so they can check what’s inside them, then pay about 10 euros per case in taxes/fees before I can have my belongings.

Anecdote 2 – I can’t find anyone in Europe selling the game Apples to Apples so I bought one from America through ebay. It was sent to the zollamt and, when asked if this was something I’d bought or whether it was a gift, I gave the wrong answer and said that it was something I’d bought and so had to pay 20 euros in taxes. ALWAYS SAY IT WAS A GIFT.

It’s even worse because the zollamt in Frankfurt is really out of the way and not easy to get to. If the thing you’re picking up is heavy or difficult to carry, you’re going to struggle.

6. Rules in the contract

Whether it’s a job contract of a contract for your home, be sure to read – or have someone help you read – it all the way through. Germans take their contracts very seriously, and I almost got into trouble for not knowing my rental contract all the way through when I wanted to move.

7. Insurance

Germans love insurance – and you’ll need it! Home insurance as well as rental insurance are a must for expats!

8. Journeymen

You’re sat in a German restaurant, full from your mountain of pork and making your way through your 7th bucket of beer. When all of a sudden some young men dressed in a weird way enter and start Germaning really fast – maybe as a poem or a song? Then they come round to each table with their hand out, asking for money. What’s going on?!

They are most likely to be carpenters on their “waltz” – men wanting to go into these professions have to spend 2 or 3 years on the road traveling from town to town relying on the kindness of others. Some may be looking for a place to stay in exchange for them fixing broken things in the home, but most seem to be looking for extra euros.

In my 2.5 years in Frankfurt I’d say I’ve seen journeymen about 3 times now – and that’s from a person who rarely goes out eating in German places!

9. Religion

Are you Christian? If you say so when you register as living in Germany, then you will have to give a certain % of your salary to the church each month. It’s not a lot, but is something to think about just in case you put christianity down as your default reply.

10. Germany is awesome for expats

German people are awesome, it’s illegal for you to work more than 10 hours, workers’ rights are great…there are so many reasons why you can easily make a comfy life here in Germany. Plus, they’re the strongest economy in Europe – so that’s also reassuring!

Is there anything I’ve forgotten on my list? What do you think people should know about Germany? Let me know in the comments!

Reader Brittany has written a post about things you should know about living in Bavaria – it’s a really great post so check it out!

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